So last week I signed up for BARD.
BARD, or Braille and Audio Reading Downloads, is a program that allows blind and visually impaired patrons to download specially formatted braille and audio book files, which can then be displayed or read on a specialized player.
Like the state Library for the Blind and Physically Handicapped, BARD is a program of the National Library service – in fact, you need an account with your state or region’s LBPH in order to sign up for BARD.
I’d put off signing up for BARD, because I felt I already had a gracious plenty to do and didn’t want the pressure of still more audiobooks hanging over my head, waiting for me to read them.
But a combination of factors, including some extra reading time and slow holiday mail, led to a gap between library books, and I decided I wanted something to read right away. In addition, though I could request books I wanted from the LBPH, I had no control over which books I would receive from that request list or the order in which I’d receive them.
It was time to give BARD a try.
I called the NC LBPH and learned that I needed to fill out the BARD application online. I also learned that the person who approves such requests was out for the holidays and wouldn’t be back until the following week.
Well, I thought, I can at least get the ball rolling. And I filled out the (simple) online form.
Imagine my surprise later that same evening when I checked my email and found an email from BARD with my new username and password. I was in!
Getting to Know BARD
One of the first things I discovered about BARD is that the website is extremely easy for blind users to navigate.
Headings at various levels are used liberally and consistently. Form fields and buttons are clearly labeled. Embedded links contain words that make sense. Each page has a link back to the main page, and subpages (like the description of a book) contain links back to the page (such as a list of books you searched for) you arrived from.
If any of that doesn’t make sense to you, just take my word for it – it’s lovely.
I clicked the link to download a book, and it was done. I wasn’t entirely sure where on my computer the book had gone, but that was something to worry about later. I added several more books to my wishlist, another very nice feature, and closed the browser.
When MrH came home, he found the book in my Downloads folder, unzipped it, and put it on a flash drive for me. I plugged the drive into my LBPH digital book player and turned it on. It worked!
Since then I’ve downloaded a total of six books, and read three and a half of them. Talk about a book binge!I have thirty on my wish list, which is more books than I read in 2015, so I should be set for a while.
I can find the books I downloadded, though I’m not always great at unzipping them. Sometimes they don’t seem to unzip on the first try, and once I somehow didn’t create a folder and spilled the book files all over my computer’s desktop. But I’ll learn.
The Joys of BARD
I am absolutely loving BARD!
It has been absolutely amazing to walk up to the virtual bookshelf, select a book I’m in the mood to read, and sit down to read it. Almost like being in the print library again! And no due dates!
BARD doesn’t have every book I want to read – but what library does? They certainly have enough to keep me busy for a long, long time.
MrH and I bought a low-profile flash drive, which doesn’t stick so far out of the player that I’m afraid of snapping it off,and I’ve been carrying my books around the house, reading up a storme.
I read in the bedroom. I read over lunch – a guilty pleasure I’ve been sorely missing. I’ve even read in the kitchen. I don’t think reading in the bath is advisable, but one can’t have everything.
As much as I’ve been enjoying BARD, there are a few things I don’t absolutely love about audiobooks.
For one thing, there’s the navigation. I can’t go word-by-word if I don’t understand a phrase the reader says, or spell out words or names I want to look up later. I can’t easily flip back to a paragraph a few pages ago to compare notes. I can bookmark passages, but I don’t always know in advance what I’ll want to refer back to.
I don’t always like the reader or agree with their pronunciation or emphasis. There’s one reader who always comes across vaguely pissed off to me, though I’m pretty sure she isn’t, and sometimes it’s slightly jarring against the content of a particular book.
Don’t get me wrong. The people who read the books do an amazing job, and I have deep admiration for the work they do. It’s strictly my own control freak tendencies coming into play here.
There are just times I’d rather interact with text via keyboard and screen reader and insert my own interpretation. That, alas, would be far less portable.
It also wouldn’t address the issue of speed.
I never had my reading speed tested as an adult, but based on my online research, I used to read well over 1000 words per minute visually.
Now my reading speed is throttled to the rate at which I can listen. According to the internet, the average rate of speech in the US is 150 words per minute. Quite a difference!
A short book I could once buzz through in an afternoon now represents a considerable time investment. I’ve gotten better at doing other things while I listen, but not if it’s loud or at all distracting.
Yes, I can turn up the speed on my book player. No, I can’t turn up the speed on my brain’s listening and processing centers. I know people who can do it, but I’m not one of them.
Still, despite a few flaws, I am coming to enjoy reading audiobooks, and BARD is a great way to access and enjoy them. It’s a brilliant program for those of us who can’t make use of the print library, and I’m really glad I signed up!
How about you? Are you an audiobook fan, or do you prefer the joys of print? Or are you an equal-opportunity reader? Read any good books lately, in whatever format?