Volunteers wanted for talking books

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          Library worker Zhang Xinli teaches people how to use the audio material.

                                              Zou Hong / China Daily

Xinmu Library, Beijing's first non-governmental library for the blind, needs more volunteers to record audio books to enrich the cultural lives of visually impaired people, according to the librarians.

The 15-square-meter library officially opened its doors at Beijing Hongdandan Education and Cultural Exchange Center on Gulou West Street on Jan 29. It offers the city's visually impaired people free access to all sorts of books, from classic literature, such as Ba Jin's Home and Helen Keller's Three Days to See, to best-sellers including Go! Lala Go! and The Love of the Hawthorn Tree.

Zeng Xin, one of the librarians, said the library was actually initiated in 2008 and has been accepting visually impaired readers every day. However, it was not official opened then because the organizers wanted to accumulate more audio books before formally opening to the public.

"Back then, we had only the hardware, 10 reading machines donated by the Japan Braille Library, but now we have the software as well. That is, the audio books recorded by our volunteers," Zeng said.

With a little instruction, all the readers can easily use the machines. But the problem is the choice of books is still very limited.

"We badly need more warm-hearted volunteers who can speak standard putonghua to read books for the blind, the more the better," Zeng said.

Since 2008, more than 100 volunteers from all walks of life, including university students, lawyers, teachers and doctors have recorded more than 80 audio books for the visually impaired free of charge.

Some visitors to the library spend almost two hours on the road traveling from the suburbs of Pinggu district and Miyun county, transferring buses three or four times, to read several times a week.

Qi Guangdi, 51, who lives in Tongzhou district, told METRO she had a wonderful experience listening to Helen Keller's Three Days to See.

She said she was amazed by the audio book recorded by 30 anchors from China Central Television who volunteered their services.

"It is such a warm and touching story, and it is skillfully performed by the professionals with beautiful voices and rich feeling," Qi said.

"I enjoyed listening to it very much. I hope there will be more books recorded for us."

Dong Lina, a blind girl from Dalian, Liaoning province, who wants to enter the Communication University of China (CUC), said she was very grateful to the volunteers at the center who especially recorded an essential textbook for her so she could practice being a television host.

"I listen to the recording read by professional broadcasters and practice hard every day. I believe I will be admitted to CUC," Dong said.

Zhang Xinli, who is in charge of the library, said although there are more than 100 public libraries in Beijing that have reading rooms for the blind, they are not as convenient for visually impaired readers because Xinmu has individualized and specialized services for its readers.

"For example, the system can take note of where a reader pauses so that he/she can easily find the page to continue reading later. At readers' requests, we will also ask volunteers to record particular books," Zhang said.

Zhang also said if the number of visually impaired readers exceeds the current capacity of the reading room, they will think about opening more rooms next to this one in the future.

Xinmu Library is named after Xinmu Cinema, a small cinema for the blind also run by the center since 2006, where movies are played every Saturday morning and a skillful volunteer simultaneously describes what's going on the screen.

The mini-cinema attracts an average of 30 people for each screening.

Xie Yan, director of One Plus One (Beijing) Disabled Persons' Cultural Development Center, said the fact that Xinmu Library, which now has 80 audio books, is the first civilian-run library in China is good news for a country with more than 17 million visually impaired people.

However, in Japan, a country with only 0.3 million blind people, there are about 100 civil libraries for the visually impaired. Eeach year 300 new audio books are published.

"There is still a long way to go for China. Blind people need all-round care from the public. We should make the best of volunteer resources to improve their lives," Xie said.


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