The Kansas Talking Books Service celebrated its 50th anniversary Wednesday via Zoom due to COVID-19.

Originally, the anniversary was supposed to be an open house. Nonetheless, the celebration was successful with 48 participants.

“It’s a little disappointing that we weren’t able to meet in person as originally scheduled,” said Michael Lang, director of the Kansas Talking Books Service. “But very exciting that technology exists for all of us to meet virtually to celebrate this milestone.”

Lang hosted the hour-long celebration. There were two guest speakers and two recorded messages.

Gov. Laura Kelly had a recorded message to play at the celebration. Her brief message encouraged everyone to celebrate the service designed for “Kansas residents who are unable to use standard print materials due to visual impairment, physical impairment, reading and/or other print disabilities.”

KTSB began on July 15, 1970 in Topeka. Talking Books is a no-cost service to help Kansas residents have the opportunity to read.

“In 2019, there was about 160,000 items that circulated across the State of Kansas and close to 5,000 patrons,” Eric Norris, the 17th state librarian of Kansas and one of the event’s guest speakers, said. “That’s a pretty wide sweep of the population, but when you think about others out there who would like to know about this service, I do my part and talk about Talking Books.”

Norris shared his personal experience with how he discovered KTBS.

Norris’ grandfather was a lifelong reader, but he was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease.

“Reading was very important to his life and I wish [KTBS] was something I had known about,” Norris shared.

After Norris’ speech, there was another video message that played.

Karen Keninger, director of the National Library Service for the Blind and Print Disabled, opened the message with congratulations, but briefly stated how unfortunate it was to cancel the open house due to COVID. However, Keninger turned the statement about COVID into an opportunity for NLS to adapt to better serve their patrons.

Due to new technology, NLS is “inventing alternative ways to fulfill the need to read,” she stated. Keninger discussed the history with NLS that began in 1931 and how the program changed with technology.

Keninger concluded her video message, briefly informing the audience about the digital braille system and the braille and audio reading download (BARD) service.

The last guest speaker was Christine Owens. Owens is a KTBS patron and serves as the chair of the advisory for KTBS.

Owens reminisced on the evolution of technology from when she began using the service in the late 60s to now. From cassette tapes, to cartridges, to audio books and to the BARD service.

“I love BARD,” Owens laughed. “I love to download books.”

Lang ended the celebration thanking the patrons, the audience and his staff.

“Over the past four months, COVID-19 has presented us with challenges for which we were unprepared,” Lang said. “However, overcoming them has been less difficult than I feared and all credit goes to my remarkable staff who have all proven themselves adaptable, understanding and dedicated to serving our patrons.”

The future of KTBS was scheduled to have quicker access to books online for download and increase to access digital braille by the end of 2020. However, due to COVID, these plans have been postponed until further notice.

To read more about the Kansas Talking Books Service and how to become a patron, visit its website at www.kslib.nfo/talkng for more information.

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