Perkins Library shares the joy of accessible books

During National Library Week, April 9-15, patrons talk about the importance of braille and audio books in their lives

A young woman holding a white cane is handed a pile of four audiobooks by another woman in a black cardigan.

Perkins Library mails out audio books, braille and large print reading materials, audio-described movies and more to 27,000 people across Massachusetts. Patrons can also visit the Library in person to browse or chat with a reader advisor.

April 12, 2017

Two decades ago, Linda Hillyer was devastated to think she’d never be able to read her favorite mystery novels or history books again. Hand injuries made it difficult for her to hold a print book, and a neck injury meant she had to lie down to read, which quickly became uncomfortable.

Luckily, she discovered the Perkins Library, which the Jamaica Plain resident has used to borrow audio books for 23 years.

“I’m just so grateful – it’s really made such a difference in my life,” said Hillyer, who reads about six books a month. “To be able to learn, to have that kind of entertainment and pleasure, it really opens up worlds to me and connects me to the world.”

Hillyer’s story is one Perkins Library Director Kim Charlson loves to hear – especially right now, during National Library Week, April 9-15. This week, libraries across the country are promoting their services and reaching out to new and existing patrons to encourage library use.

“We have the opportunity to spotlight what we do all year long,” Charlson said.

For Perkins Library, that means providing accessible reading materials to people who are blind or visually impaired. The library also serves people with reading disabilities like dyslexia, or physical disabilities like Parkinson’s disease that make it difficult to hold a book.

Charlson estimates that the library mails out about 2,000 audio books and 40 braille books every day, as well as large print materials and audio-described movies, to its 27,000 patrons across Massachusetts.

Included in that number is Adam White, who has been using audio and braille books with his daughter, Perkins Lower School student Wren, since she was just a year old.  

“When you’re learning what to do when you have a visually impaired child, and activities and modifications you can make for those early learning skills, it’s an invaluable resource,” he said.

Seven-year-old Wren, who is blind with light perception, has benefitted from braille books that include raised symbols of everyday objects, as well as audio books that entertain her during car rides.

In North Dartmouth, patron Christine Devlin, who is blind, calls the library’s audio book selection “exceptional.” She’s used the library since middle school, and even got one book specially recorded for her when she needed it in college. Three decades later, she uses audio books for everything from leisure reading to audio-described yoga.

Seeing the impact of the Perkins Library on Hillyer, the Whites and Devlin makes Charlson more determined than ever to expand its reach.

“We estimate there’s 100,000 people in the state who are eligible to use our free services but don’t realize that they qualify,” she said. “We’re a well-kept secret in the commonwealth, but we don’t want to be a secret anymore.”

Not yet a Perkins Library patron? If you are a Massachusetts resident with a visual impairment or other reading disability, you may qualify to have free audio, large-print or braille reading material sent to you. For eligibility guidelines and to apply, visit Perkins.org/library/apply. Or call 1-617-972-7240.

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