Perkins Library unveils new reading room for patrons

Library members are invited to read accessible books, relax and learn about technology in the renovated space.

Perkins Library Director Kim Charlson welcomes Library members to the Patron Reading Room and Technology Center on Thursday. Photo Credit: Anna Miller.

For many years, the Perkins Library drop-in center consisted of exactly two chairs and a desk. When patrons came to drop off or check out materials, they had little reason to linger.

That changed on Thursday, when Perkins Library Director Kim Charlson officially opened the Patron Reading Room and Technology Center, a sparkling new space where Library members can browse titles, chat with librarians and relax with a good book. 

“We’ve come a long way,” said Charlson during a packed open house to introduce the new center. “Patrons can actually come in and look at books on the shelf, read some braille (publications) if they want to or just kind of hang out like you do at a library.”

The sunny inviting space features a long communal table and comfortable seating surrounded by bookshelves full of braille books and audio book cartridges. There’s also a row of accessible books for children.

Visitors to the reading room can meet with Assistive Technology Specialist Cory Kadlik, a former Perkins School for the Blind student, to learn more about assistive technology available for reading. Since coming on board in January, Kadlik has helped patrons download audio books, connect braille displays to their computers, and become confident users of popular media players like the Victor Reader Stream.   

At the open house, Kadlik demonstrated one of his favorite pieces of technology – the PEARL Document Camera, which converts print to speech with just the click of a button. Kadlik used the PEARL to read aloud the title of a DVD.

“Our DVDs have accessible labels on them, but if you were to get a DVD in the mail, maybe from Netflix, you can read it in a snap with this,” he said. “It’s so simple.”

The Perkins Library provides services to more than 28,000 people who are blind, visually impaired or unable to read traditional print. While many receive their accessible books through the mail, local patrons sometimes prefer to stop by in person. Since the reading room opened, drop-in rates have skyrocketed, Charlson said.

“We did a soft launch, where we said we’d be opening soon,” she said. “The minute we said that, people started dropping in.”

Dozens of patrons attended Thursday’s open house, curious to see the newly renovated space, which is adjacent to the Library’s old main entrance. Among them was Anne Defeo, who attends monthly book club meetings at the Library with a friend. She anticipates visiting more often now that the reading room is open.

“It’s fabulous, all the technology and the fact that people can drop in here and use braille or whatever they want,” she said. “It’s wonderful.”

Defeo and others mingled in the new space, exploring new titles as well as a display of antique talking book players dating back as far as 1930. Before leaving, many admired a plaque dedicating the reading room to the memory of Roz Rowley, a long-time Perkins teacher. 

“When you think of libraries, you think of books, you think of literacy and the power of literacy to improve people’s lives,” said Charlson. “Roz Rowley meant a lot to a lot of people. Hundreds of students learned to read braille and print from Roz. Literacy was her life passion.”

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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.

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