Beth from Chicago, Illinois

The spots showed up during our honeymoon. "An eye disease," ophthalmologists back home told us. "Retinopathy." It was October, 1984.

A year later, I was blind.

Understatement of the year: it was a tough year. I've always been an independent sort, and entertaining myself that year was particularly difficult.  I never liked TV much when I could see well; having to struggle to watch it seemed absurd.  I used to spend hours at our upright piano playing Broadway tunes and pop songs. But now, unable to see the sheet music, I was limited to plinking out simple pieces I could figure out with a finger or two. The music sounded childish.  Playing was unrewarding. Depressing. A step backwards.


My husband Mike helped the cause with a Christmas gift: a second-hand fiddle.  It was a struggle, holding it at the proper angle, pressing strings down at precise points, keeping the bow right over the f-holes.  But after a few lessons I was able to scratch out a tune.  What a relief it was, learning to do something new, something hard, when I was starting to fail at simple things like stepping over curbs. Or making the morning coffee. Or reading.

Moving my eyes to read words on a page shifted the blobs and spots marring my vision, often obscuring the very text I was trying to read. I was determined to continue reading newspapers, spreading the paper out on the floor and hovering over it like a robot: I'd hold my head still while moving my trunk back and forth, scanning the pages.

I checked out large-print books from the library, but soon found that the larger print was worse-wider words required more eye movement, which meant more blob movement.  Commercial talking books weren't popular in 1984, and I'd yet to learn about the Library of Congress Talking Book Program.  And so, the only books I bothered with were those I had to read for work.

My vision worsened. I lost my job. I quit reading. Desperate surgeries were attempted. A hospital social worker brought in a big plastic box, the size --and weight -- of a Chicago phone book. "A special tape recorder," she explained.  "From the Library of Congress."

That tape recorder saved my life.

The Library of Congress provided me with free books on tape in the hospital. Listening to books was my escape from the medical tests, the pain, the hospital, all the bad news. Had it not been for my books, I might have given up completely. Wait. Forget about "might have." I would have.

Twenty years later, I am a freelance writer, a teacher and a published author. I get around Chicago with the help of a lovable Seeing Eye dog. Still happily married, Mike and I are the proud parents of a 19-year-old son.

But I still need an escape every once in a while. And I still use that oversized tape recorder from the Library of Congress to listen to books.

I am privileged and proud to live in a country where the Library of Congress has for 70 years been providing recorded books to the blind free of charge.

All I have to do to get books on tape is call an 800 number and order them.    

The National Library Service tapes are mailed to me in special containers. When I finish listening I simply flip an address  card on the container over and slip the whole thing into any normal mailbox to return it free of charge.

Because I can listen to books while I do laundry, wash dishes, clean the house and all that, I read more books now than I did when I could see.

So with me, The library, and especially the Library of Congress Talking Book Program, not only changed my life. It saved it.