I’ve heard it said that everyone believes in cutting government programs until you get to the one they like. Now here’s my confession. I’ve got one too. I’ve been an avid reader as long as I can remember. For me, reading generally means listening to a book that someone else has read aloud onto a recording. The source for most of those recordings has been the National Library Service’s Talking Book Program. First the books came on vinyl, then cassette, and now finally they are moving to digital media. I even read a Braille book or two on the way, mostly at the insistence of teachers who lacked the ability to conceive that one might comprehend just as well a book listened to. I’m not sure that the process of getting the information through one’s fingers is all that much like the visual process they thought to force me to emulate, but they meant well. I would point out that the books I read by their compulsion are just about the only ones I read that way. Whatever shortcomings my education may have had, I think it’s safe to say that literacy and vocabulary were not among them. Spelling, ok, you have me there. J
I’m digressing from the point. The availability of all those recorded books largely contributed to my development. I can’t imagine life without the benefit of that resource and would find it hard to say that it should be denied to others. However, I double checked, and I do not see any constitutional authority of Congress to create and maintain libraries. They are a time honored feature of civilized society and of great value to the general betterment of them. I do not say that we should defund and close down libraries, but I find myself wondering what things might be like if governmental agents hadn’t entered the market for books.
I tend to think that government distorts this market just as it does everything else it touches. The library byes one book and lends it to numberless patrons who will not need to purchase their own copy in order to enjoy it. Can that statement be extended to the specialized services for those with reading disabilities? Granted, we are a small niche, but my experience suggests the market might have done a better job sooner without government competition.
Here’s why. My library usage has fallen precipitously over the last few years. The reason for that is namely audible.com. NLS is only in the past couple of years rolling out a digital book program, but Audible preceded it by nearly a decade. Audible discovered a market for digital audio books and did it better. I was thrilled to be able to get books as soon as audio versions were published and read them without resort to a bulky cassette player and the need to wait for the postal service. The library may still win on selection, but I wonder if that will last. How much sooner might this have happened if blind people were a part of the general market instead of receiving the same thing for free.
P.S. I wrote this in 2009. It’s 2015 now and technology has progressed further. It is now possible to read just about anything and it’s not even necessary to have someone record it. That’s still a nicer way to hear a book than to have a computer read it, but we’re no longer dependent on narrators. If a book comes out today and I want it, I can go to Amazon, Barns and Noble, or Google Books and buy it. Apps on my phone will read it to me. Yes, I think a little arm twisting may have hastened the process along. I’m not sure how I feel about that, but that’s a topic for another blog post. We’re here, and I do still wonder if it might have been sooner. Not that I’m complaining. If we were given the choice most of us would not choose to be blind, but we are blessed to live at this time in history. There has never been so much available to us.