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Talking Books

Advocates for the blind were sharply critical of House appropriators last week for failing to include more funding in their version of the fiscal 2008 legislative branch appropriations bill for a digital “talking book” program run by the Library of Congress. [IMGCAP(1)]

After details of the $3.1 billion appropriations bill were made public last week, National Federation of the Blind President Marc Maurer released a statement saying “the blind of America are shocked and disappointed that a House subcommittee has callously disregarded our literacy needs” by providing just $7.5 million of the $19.5 million that the Library asked for to begin transitioning its books-for-the-blind program from analog to digital technology.

“The talking book program is at a crossroads because the analog tape used for the past 36 years has become obsolete and must be replaced for the program to continue,” Maurer said. But with the bill presented last week, “the subcommittee has effectively voted to shut down the only public library available to blind Americans,” he said.

Overall, the Library is targeted to receive $572.5 million in the House version of the fiscal 2008 spending bill. And while that funding level is an increase of $64 million over fiscal 2007 enacted levels, it actually represents only about a 2.5 percent increase in overall spending for the agency after a $50 million rescission — which was included in the fiscal 2007 emergency supplemental — is factored in.

Though the bill includes language that allows the Librarian of Congress to transfer additional funds to the talking book program with the approval of Congress, Maurer said he hopes the full Appropriations Committee will take a second look at the talking book effort when it takes up the spending bill this week.

— John McArdle