To BARD Be The Glory, Great Books

by Kevin Burton

   Today I am singing the praises of BARD and of technology. For my sighted friends, that means I am singing the praises of books.      

   One of the few good things about being blind is you can read a lot of books for free.   The National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped (NLS) runs the Talking Book program.

   Talking books are the reason my television is usually set to “off” unless tornados or NFL footballs are in the air.

   BARD is the software by which I can search the database of recorded books, order up anything I want and have it within seconds. 

   Isn’t technology great?

   Well, I can be counted on to be the last one on the technology bus.  Exhibit A is my flip phone. Back in the day there was no way I could have been the one stuck with boxes of movies on Betamax. I don’t react that quickly.

   I am not a card-carrying Luddite, but if I asked into the club they’d probably let me in.

   So it was that I was late with the lightning-fast book-ordering technology.  I have known about BARD for years. But I could never figure out how to use it.  Just about all my blind friends use BARD.  It embarrassed and annoyed me that I couldn’t figure it out. 

   The old way to borrow books is to wait for a catalog called Talking Book Topics to arrive, read all the little paragraphs about the books that are newly available, fill in a square on a checklist next to the books you want and put that checklist in the mail. 

   My cooperating public library would then send the books I had requested, a few at a time.

   Little book elves do this work, God bless them every one.  They do the work that is, unless there is a worldwide virus contagion that forces them to work from home. 

   One day, it must have been in April, I noticed I wasn’t receiving any books.  I called to speak with one of the elves and got a pandemic-based recording to the effect of “working from home, leave a message.”

   In other words there would be no books coming.  Who knew for how long? Cut off I was and exceedingly sorrowful.

   I used to have a mini celebration when the catalog would arrive. If I ever ran out of books I would have to resort to talking with my wife.  Now I either had to do that, or face the technology.

   Double shudder! What to do?

   It seems that in the years since I last tried to conquer BARD, they had dumbed down the process so much that even I couldn’t mess it up.

   But I did not know that when I called one of the elves to plead my case. She very patiently talked me through the process. As the steps worked one after another, my heart soared!

   I ended up not writing the elf into my will, but the thought crossed my mind.

   Now I am swimming in books, great books.

   When ordering from the catalog I would order some that were only of mild interest to me.  Now I just read the best of the best.

   And now I am in the digital age. The last time Talking Book Topics came, I ordered the books I wanted, then recycled the catalog.

   My father got me started with talking books when I was nine. They sent a record player about the size of a small suitcase and hard plastic records. After a while they started using thin flexible plastic records. Then the cassette tape players came out. The books were read on four tracks on slow-moving tapes.     Now it is all digital and I am up to date with the latest technology! I celebrated this feat by ordering a pizza….on my flip phone.

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