Women’s Prize for Fiction at RNIB Library

Lynne Livingstone from the Royal National Institute of Blind People tells us how blind readers benefit from the Women’s Prize for Fiction longlist every year and the value of reading to them. 

This year is the 25th anniversary of the Woman’s Prize and RNIB Library have followed its journey from the beginnings of the Orange Prize through to 2020 by producing its books in accessible formats, like braille, Talking Book and giant print. It is important that our customers can join their sighted friends in reading award-winning fiction.

The RNIB Library has over 50,000 customers and it’s completely free. We have over 32,000 Talking Books, 22,000 braille books and over 5,000 giant print books. We send our braille all over the world to be read as far away as New Zealand. The Talking Book service allows readers to choose between receiving books on DAISY CDs and USB, and we recently opened a new Reading Service which has audio downloads and downloadable braille. This is invaluable for our younger readers who are often using braille readers for their work.

People with sight loss often find themselves isolated or excluded. Reading is a way to open their lives up again. If they can read the same books that everyone is discussing, it affords blind people a voice in the national conversation. It is incredibly valuable to have the Women’s Prize books in the library for this reason.

Thanks to the Women’s Prize team, our job is made easier. We receive the digital files for each of the longlist titles. We are then able to turn the electronic print versions into braille with greater ease. Each resulting braille version is then checked over by our transcription team who make sure that the braille is perfect. The braille is then added to our library to be available in hard copy or download. An average book is about seven volumes of braille. Each volume is the size of an A4 binder so our braille collection takes up a lot of space in our library.

Braille changes lives. It gives thousands of people independence, learning, literacy, and the enjoyment of reading. Braille opens doors, and gives hope and inspiration. The uses of braille extend way beyond just reading books. From dialling a phone number to checking a bank statement, the ability to read braille helps blind people be independent in so many ways every day and reduces the need for support.

The Talking Books Service was established in 1935. Thousands of soldiers lost their sight on the First World War battlefields. They returned to Britain no longer able to read and not all of them had been able to learn braille. Some found the language too difficult, while others had injured their hands making it impossible to read with their fingers. Without state compensation, it was up to RNIB to find another way for them to read books. Eight decades of innovation have made it the biggest and best service of its kind. We record books in our own state-of-the-art Talking Books Studios in Camden. We also work with publishers to get their audio content into the library.

Now, we send out over 1,000,000 Talking Books a year. The Service is a lifeline to many people. It is an escape, an entertainment, knowledge, and company for those who are alone. It makes ‘life worth living’.

Thank you to the Women’s Prize team for helping RNIB Library pursue our goal of providing great content for the library and our customers.

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