‘I couldn’t exist without library books’

For Millicent Hosp, a 101-year-old resident of Brookdale Plaza Oak Park, printed books are a thing of the past.

Hosp remembers the stories she used to read on paper—mysteries featuring a favorite female detective, or tales about unusual families—back when she was living in her home in south Oak Park and receiving Home Delivery Service from the Oak Park Public Library.

“I read some very good books,” Hosp said. “But now my eyes are shot. At 101, the eyes have gone.”

But although she can no longer see well enough to read them, Hosp isn’t ready to give up books. And thanks to help from the Oak Park Public Library’s Rashmi Swain, she doesn’t have to. With equipment from the Illinois Talking Book Outreach Center that Swain taught her how to use, Hosp can now listen to digital books in her apartment.

Swain started visiting Hosp in January 2015, after Hosp’s daughter called the library to ask for help with resources for her mother.

“The Oak Park Public Library is committed to access, and we want to be part of a continuum of care for our customers,” Adult & Teen Services Manager Elsworth Rockefeller said. “If we have a customer who has low or no vision, we teach them about our enlargers, our adaptive technologies, our large-print books, and our relationships with other agencies that can help provide resources. If our customers need resources that we don’t have, we are really excited to serve as a liaison. It’s about connecting people to what they need, however we can.”

The Illinois Talking Book Outreach Center, part of a state and national network of libraries, provides free services for anyone unable to read regular printed material because of visual or physical limitations. A digital talking book machine and book cartridges can be mailed for free directly to and from library patrons, and digital audio and braille materials are also available for download. The organization currently serves about 12,500 active readers, according to its website.

To help Hosp learn how to use the services from the Illinois Talking Book Outreach Center, Rockefeller naturally turned to Swain, a librarian who regularly visits local senior centers and helps adults with tech learning both in the library and in the community.

“It’s very important for me to engage with our community members, learn what their aspirations are, and then strive to meet those objectives,” Swain said. “Through my experiences with various customers, I have learned that we need to provide library services to our community members and community partners beyond the four walls of the library.”

Before teaching Hosp how to use the digital talking book machine, Swain first taught herself. “Then I asked Ms. Hosp, what kinds of books would you like to borrow?” Swain said.

The Illinois Talking Book Outreach Center sent five book cartridges to Swain, who took them over to Brookdale Oak Park. After a few visits with Swain, Hosp learned how it all worked, and she now receives the digital books directly in her mail at Brookdale.

On the desk in Hosp’s apartment last week sat the digital talking book machine and a stack of digital book cartridges in their blue plastic cases, including This Blue by Maureen N. McLane and The Aeneid by Virgil.

“I like a variety,” Hosp said. “A little bit of excitement.”