LoC’s Billington turns back on key program for the blind

In Kelly McCormack’s article “Library of Congress head: Talking book funds sufficient” (June 26), James Billington, head of the Library of Congress [overseeing] the National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped (NLS), graciously accepts a reduction in funding for the digital conversion of the talking book program. Thousands of blind people feel he has turned his back on 17 years of painstaking research by the NLS as well as blind Americans by not countering the GAO’s misguided suggestions that NLS consider iPods and CD machines — both inaccessible to blind and physically handicapped Americans. The NLS machine would have no moving parts, be far more durable than CD players (which are rapidly becoming obsolete) and be possible to use by people with tactile and motor limitations as well as people with visual impairments. Furthermore, it would comply with the copyright agreements under which NLS now operates that mandate that the talking books be in a format that is not readily accessible to the general public.

Why then would Billington turn his back on a program he has theoretically been supervising? The answer is called a “transfer clause.” For the first time since its inception in the ’30s, funding specifically earmarked for NLS will now be available to Mr. Billington to do with as he wishes. So, that’s an extra $12 million for Mr. Billington’s favorite programs, which obviously don’t include talking books. No wonder he’s so gracious.

The production of machinery and parts for the current cassette format has already been discontinued. Many see this as the beginning of the end of the hallmark of services to blind people and a vital part of blindness culture. With blindness on the rise, The Hill should look more closely at Mr. Billington’s motives.

~ From Donna Hill, Meshoppen, Pa.


Save the wilderness, not pennies per gallon

Rep. Dave Reichert’s (R-Wash.) op-ed on diversifying the nation’s energy portfolio and looking beyond the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge demonstrates why he is a leader in congressional energy debates (“ANWR not answer,” June 27).

The 19.6 million-acre Arctic National Wildlife Refuge is a spectacular wilderness of unparalleled beauty and home for the Gwich’in people, who rely on the refuge’s porcupine caribou herd for their culture and livelihood. Any proposed drilling would take place in the biological heart of the refuge, home to polar and grizzly bears, wolves, muskoxen and nearly 250 other species of wildlife. As Reichert points out, we must pursue an agenda that invests in diverse, renewable energy sources for the sake of our economy, environment and homeland security. By the Department of Energy’s own estimates, peak drilling in the refuge, which would take about 20 years to be reached, would affect gas prices by only a few pennies per gallon.

Adding the Coastal Plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to the National Wilderness Preservation System would permanently protect one of the last remaining great American wilderness areas. We should extend the legacies of presidents Eisenhower and Carter by supporting Rep. Reichert in his efforts to further protect the arctic refuge under H.R. 39, the Udall-Eisenhower Arctic Wilderness Act.

~From William H. Meadows, president The Wilderness Society, Washington

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