Once or twice a year, oceanographer Amy Bower of the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution puts on her sea legs and leads a research expedition to track ocean currents around the globe. In addition to a glittering array of highly technical moors, buoys, sensors, trackers and the like, Bower packs a digital audio player filled with books downloaded from the National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped (NLS), the Library of Congress.
“When I go on my research cruises, I’ll take five to ten books and magazines,” says Bower, who lost her sight in 1993 because of macular degeneration. Even if she is in water too deep to anchor or nowhere near a harbor, her books are always within reach.
NLS provides audio and braille books and magazines free of charge to U.S. residents and citizens living abroad who are blind, have low vision, or cannot hold a book because of a physical disability. NLS also loans the portable playback equipment needed to read its audiobooks.
Bower prefers to download books through the NLS online service, but eligible readers can also receive books through the mail on digital cartridges or in braille.
The NLS collection includes fiction by popular contemporary authors, such as Clive Cussler, Patricia Cornwell and Toni Morrison, and timeless favorites such as Ernest Hemingway, Mark Twain and James Joyce. It also has thousands of nonfiction titles on a variety of subjects—science, foreign policy, biographies and much more. Two of Bower’s favorite writers are well-represented in the collection: novelist, essayist and poet Barbara Kingsolver (“The Poisonwood Bible”) and historian and novelist Wallace Stegner (“Angle of Repose”).
NLS audiobooks are professionally narrated, and that’s one thing Bower appreciates about the service. “Real voices add drama and depth to the story, like theater,” she says.
If Bower isn’t poring over data or spending time with her family, she’s probably inspiring visually impaired students with her passion and fervor. But anyone can tell she relishes being at sea. Compared to her Cape Cod home, where her husband and 10-year-old daughter occasionally leave things on the floor that Bower can’t see, “Sometimes it’s actually safer on ship!” she says with a laugh.
To learn more about how the NLS program can help you, a loved one or a friend, go online to www.loc.gov/nls or call 1-888-NLS-READ.