State Secretariat for Culture and Tourism – SECULT

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Created in 1965, the Braille sector of the Minas Gerais State Public Library is a reference for accessibility in Brazil and the world. And the division is even better: after an unprecedented investment of around R$400,000, received in 2023, the space now has 120 new books in Braille, in addition to new assistive technology equipment. The resources came from the Association of Friends of the Library, the Periférico Institute, via Culture Incentive Law projects and parliamentary amendments.

New features include a Braille printer, used to produce titles accessible in the library itself; a Braille display, a device that converts text into Braille characters, allowing the user to read and interact with digital content; five OrCam glasses, which read ink texts, transforming them into audio in real time; and a 3D printer, which will allow the reproduction of some historical monuments in Minas Gerais, such as the Palácio da Liberdade, the Pampulha Church and the Library itself, so that the visually impaired can get a glimpse of the architecture of these places.

For the Director of Books, Reading, Literature and Libraries of Minas Gerais, Lucas Amorim, the Braille sector has a primary function within the Library by offering inclusion and accessibility. “Our collection is fully specialized for people with visual impairments and low vision and, in addition to books in Braille, we also have assistive technologies, such as magnifying glasses, audiobooks, films with audio description, a recording studio, and a mini printing press for production of accessible materials. A highlight is the volunteer service, in which sighted people volunteer to read to people with disabilities or record audiobooks in our studio. This range of services is very broad to include blind and visually impaired people in this universe of books and reading, and the new acquisitions will promote greater independence in access to information and communication”, he points out.

“This is the first time that it has been possible for us to select titles in Braille. Since its creation, the Braille sector has always received books through donations from companies that produce this type of material. But this time, we made a list of titles that Braille users had already expressed interest in. We also carried out market research, using award-winning, best-selling books. It was something unusual”, enthuses the Manager of the Extension and Regional Action Center at the State Public Library of Minas Gerais, Gildete Veloso.

Gildete Veloso, Manager of the Extension and Regional Action Center of the State Public Library of Minas Gerais

Among the acquisitions are works such as “The Lost Hearts”, by Celeste Ng, “The Girl from the Lake”, by Charlie Donlea, and “All the Colors of the Sky”, by writer Amita Trasi. “The titles we received have attracted a lot of attention, and users have been looking for them a lot”, adds the Coordinator of the Braille sector, Glicélio Ramos Silva, himself blind and also a user of the department.

Acquisitions made by the State Library, a Minas Gerais Government facility managed by the State Department of Culture and Tourism (Secult-MG), are now available to users in the Braille sector. The person who was happy with the new equipment was public servant Elaine de Jesus, who has been visiting the space for 12 years. “I feel welcomed here at the library. I use book lending services a lot, and the collection here is very rich,” she says.

Majoring in Social Work, Elaine goes to the library weekly. “I usually go on Wednesdays and Fridays. I also use the volunteer services a lot, who read books and documents that we take. Despite having a certain accessibility to the IT system at my college, I prefer to use the volunteer system, because there are a lot of volunteers here with a lot of cultural background. They read something to you and usually tell you a story, this story helps you understand the material. There is a hint of kindness from them, so this service is very important”, adds Elaine de Jesus.

Allan Pereira da Silva, who studies music and teaches theology classes at the church, is another frequent user of the sector. “I discovered the Braille sector when I was at the end of high school, around 2013. I came to borrow literary books that the school requested and use the services of volunteers to read the books and ink handouts. This library has helped me a lot”, says Allan Pereira, who currently goes to the equipment, which is part of Circuito Liberdade, twice a week, on average.

“This space is important so that people who are studying can have access to culture in a more inclusive way. Here, we have access to textbooks, music, law books, Brazilian and foreign literature, texts on various religions”, says Allan. “I usually pick up the Holy Bible to study theology and books that talk about accessibility, which address laws aimed at people with disabilities,” he says.

Own Braille printing

The newly purchased printer joins two others to assemble a mini Braille printing press, which gives the State Library the capacity to produce its own collection. This is particularly important for the sector, given the characteristics of Braille writing.

“The Braille book is made in relief. This means that the more you read, the more it erases. Therefore, continuous investment is needed in the acquisition of this type of bibliographic material, because the useful life of a Braille book is short, at most ten years. We have to constantly invest to maintain this collection. Our biggest dream is to expand the production of books in the sector to donate copies in Braille to public libraries in the interior of the state”, says the director of the State Public Library, Lucas Amorim.

In addition to being able to replace titles that are lost during use, the mini printing press is capable of producing new books. This is because Braille books for use in libraries by people with disabilities are free from copyright, which means that the space can print the books they want, depending only on the time it takes to produce them. “A 200-page book takes about two months to print. Not to mention the process of scanning the digital book and reviewing it”, explains Glicélio Ramos.

braille sector credit ascom secult compressed

The Braille book sector of the State Public Library of Minas Gerais brings together more than 2 thousand titles

Vast collection beyond books

Over its almost 60 years, the Braille sector has amassed a collection of approximately 2,100 titles, establishing itself as one of the main libraries with accessibility for people with visual impairments in the country. In addition to books printed in Braille, there are around 2,000 audiobooks and 100 film titles with audio description.

“The vast majority of books can be borrowed, around 95% of the collection. There are some that are references, such as dictionaries, which can only be consulted here at the Library, but these are rare cases. In the case of audiobooks and films, they are all available for loan”, explains Glicélio Ramos Silva, who has worked at the Library for 18 years and has coordinated Braille since 2015.

Borrowing in the Braille sector works along the same lines as other areas of the Library, except for the fact that the service is restricted to people with visual impairments. “The person must be blind or have low vision, and register with us, which requires an identity document and proof of address. We also ask for a contribution of R$3 towards printing your library card. This card is valid for two years, then the user renews. And, for people with low vision, we also ask for an ophthalmological certificate proving the condition, but it does not need to be recent”, says Glicélio.

The sector operates from Monday to Friday, from 8am to 5pm, and does not have a lunch break. “The loan period is the same for everyone, for the sighted and the blind. There are 14 days, and you can renew for another 14 days. To facilitate the issue of mobility, exceptionally for the visually impaired, we allow renewal via WhatsApp in the Braille sector”, adds the coordinator.

The WhatsApp channel also serves to promote ‘Reading Tips’. Every Wednesday, registered users receive, via the broadcast list, an indication of a book in the collection. According to Glicélio Ramos, the demand is high. “It ends up working so that the public becomes even closer to the Braille sector.”

The Minas Gerais State Public Library is the model library of our state and, within this great cultural center, we have several sectorized libraries. We have a children’s library, a lending library, a study library, a rare works library and the Braille library. This sector is the most important, as it offers inclusion and accessibility for people with visual impairments and low vision, ensuring that everyone has equal access to information, knowledge and culture”, assesses Lucas Amorim.

Accessibility to the interior

Recent investments will not only benefit the Minas Gerais State Public Library. Two of the OrCam glasses acquired by the equipment were donated to the Casa de Alphonsus de Guimaraens Museum, in Mariana, and to the Casa Guimarães Rosa Museum, in Cordisburgo. The latter, which turns 50 on March 30th, has just received a birthday present, which expands its accessibility and further democratizes access for the visually impaired.

“In addition to the mission of lending books, a library is a place of meeting and forming community, of affective relationships. As a model library, we hope to inspire municipalities to build a more fair, egalitarian and informed society, so that access to knowledge and culture is a universally guaranteed right for all people, without distinction”, concludes Lucas Amorim.

Photos: Ascom/Secult

The article is in Portuguese

Tags: State Secretariat Culture Tourism SECULT

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