Alabama Regional Library for the Blind and Physically Handicapped (BPH)
The Alabama Regional Library for the Blind and Physically Handicapped (BPH) has been serving the state’s visually impaired residents for many decades. Initially, Alabama patrons were served out of a school in Georgia. E.H. Gentry was instrumental in moving the Regional Library for the Blind from Atlanta to Talladega in 1964 when the service was included with others on the campus of the Alabama Institute for Deaf and Blind (AIDB). In 1978, The Alabama Public Library Service (APLS) in Montgomery, Alabama, added an addition to its existing structure and the library was moved to that location. Today, the Alabama Regional Library for the Blind and Physically Handicapped (BPH) is located on the ground floor of the APLS building. In 2020, BPH observed its 42nd year of operation as a division of APLS.
In its early years, BPH had five subregional libraries located in Talladega at AIDB, and in public libraries in Anniston, Dothan, Huntsville, and Tuscaloosa. Those libraries, along with the regional office, first provided audio books to residents. They later included titles in Braille.
With the responsibility of providing services to residents of the state who are blind, visually impaired, or have a physical disability which prevents them from holding printed material, BPH serves more than 7,300 active patrons. The remaining subregional library in Talladega has its own client database which includes more than 700 active patrons. Together, the libraries give more than 8,000 eligible residents in Alabama an opportunity to enjoy the pleasure of reading.
BPH provides digital recordings of books on cartridges—along with the equipment on which to play them—to patrons who meet the criteria for service. Once an application is received and approved, the patron does not have to come to BPH—all materials are mailed to them and they are allowed to keep the cartridges for three months. No fines are assessed for overdue or lost materials. All material and equipment is free and provided through the National Library Service (NLS), a division of the Library of Congress.
BPH also has an extensive collection of Braille materials. For example, The Bible is available in at least 15 to 25 large bound volumes and all are mailed directly to eligible patrons upon request and at no charge.
Through NLS, the Alabama Regional Library for the Blind and Physically Handicapped (BPH) has access to a catalog of more than 281,000 book records, of which more than 74,000 are Braille books and Braille music scores and 207,000 are audio or “Talking Books.” The National Library Service began with 19 libraries in 1931. Today, the network has expanded to 55 regional libraries, 26 subregional libraries, and 16 advisory and outreach centers serving all 50 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and Guam.
Throughout the year—every Monday through Friday—BPH staff spend their days recommending great books to patrons; adding requests to patron records; processing new digital books; processing new Braille titles; mailing needed equipment to patrons; and processing an average of 350 returned items daily, as well as mailing out the same number of new items daily. Additionally, staff are always focused on recommending changes to network library standards, handling outreach programs throughout the state, training volunteers, and juggling temporary assignments.