“You Want to Learn? Come!” – On Volunteering at the Library for the Blind and Physically Handicapped

Did you know that April 12-18 is not only National Library Week, but it’s also National Volunteer Week? This bit of serendipity makes perfect sense to us, because the volunteers who help out in various roles across our system are such a big part of what makes the Library a special place.

One set of amazing volunteers are the folks who dedicate their time to narrating, recording, and editing audio books for the Library for the Blind and Physically Handicapped. We sat down with volunteers Russ Kuba, Sister Jeremy Mahla, and Joe Farinacci to shine a spotlight on the special work they do.

Some background info: The Library for the Blind and Physically Handicapped loans recorded books and magazines, equipment to play the recordings, large print books, and described videos to patrons with visual or physical impairments. Many of the audio books we loan out are provided by the National Library Service, and are basically the same audio books available in the general Library collection. These volunteers, however, record and edit audio books based on local interest that might not be otherwise available in audio format; all the books they work on have some connection to Western Pennsylvania.

photo of volunteer Russ Kuba

Russ’s favorite thing about volunteering at the Library is learning something new!

What do you do at the Library for the Blind and Physically Handicapped?

Sister Jeremy: I’m mostly an editor and I’ve been doing that for more than four years. I mostly fix up mistakes made in the recording process.

Russ: Mostly editing and monitoring recording, reading in braille. [Because I am visually impaired] I use special editing software that allows me to edit book computer files based on audio cues instead of visual cues. I’m all self-taught on using the software.

Joe:  I started as a narrator, but I do recording monitoring too.  I always say ‘What you need!’. If you need me, I’ll stay here as long as you’ll have me.

Why do you volunteer? What keeps you coming in?

Sister Jeremy: I enjoy it! I especially enjoy working with the people here and working with computers. It’s a very real learning experience. I always tell people ‘You want to learn? Come!’

Russ: I’ve been a patron here my whole life and I wanted to help others. It’s in my genes – my mother was a school librarian and I lived across the street from a library.  Maybe it’s a love of learning, but there’s always something new and interesting. The camaraderie is good and everyone gets along.

Joe:  I knew someone who was volunteering here and I had some experience with sound recording, plus my wife is slightly visually impaired and listens to audio books. I thought I would give it a try, and I loved it. I feel like I’m helping, plus I love the process. It’s an awesome service and a fantastic place to volunteer.

What’s your favorite book you have worked on?

Sister Jeremy:  One thing that’s fun about this work is you get to hear all different stories – all different kinds! I even worked on a book written by someone I went to school with.

Russ: Two great ones were Hatchet and Plow and Steel Ghosts.

Joe:  Hemlock Grove was a good story, and it was a fun challenge to do the different voices. I also liked Behind the Stage Door, which is about concert promoter Rich Engler. There’s all kinds of stories about concerts in Pittsburgh, including Joe Cocker, Paul McCartney, George Carlin, and Jimmy Buffett.

(Note: These special, volunteer-produced audio books are only available to LBPH patrons, so the links in this blog post will go to print copies in the general collection. If you or someone you know might qualify for service through LBPH, please call 412.687.2440.)

After our chat, Joe was kind enough to let us film him for a behind-the-scenes look at the recording process:

As a part of National Volunteer Week, we’re hosting tours and a service project at the Library for the Blind and Physically Handicapped. Feel free to sign up if you’re interested in learning more about this extraordinary Library!



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3 responses to ““You Want to Learn? Come!” – On Volunteering at the Library for the Blind and Physically Handicapped

  1. Reblogged this on Blogging Book Topics and commented:
    [Ed. note – this blog was originally posted on 4/16/15 on the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh’s Eleventh Stack blog. We thought it most appropriate to share it here in case you missed it.]

  2. Pingback: Community Advocate and Outstanding Partner Nominees – 2015 | Eleventh Stack

  3. Pingback: Frequently Asked Questions about Library Volunteering | Eleventh Stack

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