Transition of the Washington Talking Book & Braille Library - Frequently Asked Questions

Transition Plan PDF Document

Questions and Answers pertaining to the Washington Talking Book & Braille Library transition will be updated periodically.


1. What is happening?

Administration and operation of the Washington Talking Book & Braille Library (WTBBL) will transfer to the Washington State Library (WSL) effective July 1, 2008.

2. What is the reason for the change?

Beginning in 2003, the Seattle Public Library (SPL) approached the WSL (a division of the Office of the Secretary of State) and indicated that they desired a change. Seattle’s two primary reasons behind this proposal were:

  • The SPL and its Board of Trustees have, as their primary mission, the responsibility to serve the people of Seattle. They felt the State was more appropriate to manage a statewide service.
  • The current services and the way in which those services are provided were not financially sustainable for the SPL, given the flat funding they had received over the past few years from the State to administer the program, annual increases in staffing and benefit costs and an increasing reliance on private donations to fund ongoing services.

3. Who made the decision?

Although transition discussions and planning with The SPL have taken place over the last few years, the Office of the Secretary of State formally notified the City of Seattle and the SPL of their intent to transition administration and operation of the WTBBL to the State effective July 1, 2008.

4. What data were used to get us to a decision point?

Due to the reasons stated by SPL (see Question 2, above) SPL and WSL jointly contracted with a consulting firm, Berk & Associates, to evaluate alternative governance options A second study, again contracted to Berk & Associates, identified and analyzed key issues that would accompany such a transition. At the conclusion of these two studies, the Office of the Secretary of State agreed to assume responsibility for the program. The WSL has the legal responsibility for providing library services to blind and physically disabled individuals in the State. The Secretary’s decision to pursue the transition considered the long term benefit to the program and the patrons, program stability, financial sustainability and extensive input received from the organized consumer groups representing blind and visually impaired individuals in Washington State.

5. When will the transition take place?

The transition is currently planned to be effective July 1, 2008. This coming year (July 1, 2007 – June 30, 2008) reflects the final year of administration of the WTBBL by The SPL and the beginnings of the “handoff” to the WSL. Over the coming year, the WSL will be more involved in making key decisions about library programs, services and budget issues, with the transition completed by July 1, 2008. The WSL, SPL and the City of Seattle are committed to working together, in partnership, to facilitate a smooth and hopefully seamless transition, with minimal disruption to library services and patrons.

6. How is WTBBL funded?

WTBBL is funded primarily through a combination of State and federal funds that are currently provided to SPL by WSL through an intergovernmental agreement . In the past several years, private donations and grants have also been used to enhance public funding for WTBBL including funding the acquisition of large print books, program development, and provision of specialized services. WTBBL uses free postage by the U.S. Postal Service. The talking books, tape players, and Braille materials are provided by the National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped, which is part of the Library of Congress. The program is also supported by a large number of volunteers who put in thousands of service hours.


7. Who has ultimate responsibility for administering WTBBL?

The WSL’s authorizing statute, RCW27.04, assigns the State Librarian the responsibility:

“The state librarian shall be responsible and accountable for the following functions: (14) Providing for library and information services to persons throughout the state who are blind and/or physically handicapped”

Although state law gives the WSL the legal responsibility for the program, the state has fulfilled this responsibility for WTBBL by contracting with the SPL to provide this statewide service since 1975.

8. Were other governance options considered?

The first study by Berk & Associates looked at nine different potential governance options. They included:

  • Continuing to contract with SPL
  • WSL contracting with another public library system in the State
  • WSL direct administration/operation of the program
  • WSL contracting with the State Department of Services for the Blind
  • WSL contracting with the Washington State School for the Blind
  • WSL contracting with another state library
  • WSL contracting with a non-profit organization
  • WSL administering the program through a multi-state consortium
  • Construction of a “hybrid” arrangement whereby WSL would administer some of the services directly and contract out for other services

The consultants were directed to evaluate options but not to recommend a particular course of action.

9. How does transferring WTBBL to the State compare to how other Library for the Blind and Physically Handicapped agencies are administered?

Approximately half of the regional libraries for the blind and physically disabled are administered by their respective state libraries (similar to WSL). About 40% are administered by public libraries (similar to SPL) and the remaining are administered by a variety of organizations such as a Department of Education, Community and Economic Development, state services for the blind or a school for the blind. For example:

  • Oregon’s Talking Book and Braille Service is administered by the Oregon State Library.
  • Iowa’s Library for the Blind and Physically Handicapped service is administered by the Iowa Department for the Blind.
  • The Perkins School for the Blind, in Watertown, Massachusetts operates the Perkins Braille and Talking book Library on its campus.
  • Wyoming receives all of its talking book services from Utah’s State Library for the Blind and Disabled.
  • The Braille Institute of America in Southern California is the only National Library Service network library operated by a non-profit organization supported by donations, with branches at 5 regional centers and depositories at hundreds of public libraries and private organizations.

10. Which government agency will manage the service?

The WTBBL services will be administered by the WSL, which is a Division of the Washington Office of the Secretary of State.


11. What will the impact be on the patrons who currently use WTBBL?

The WSL, SPL and the City of Seattle are committed to working together, in partnership to facilitate a smooth and hopefully seamless transition, with minimal disruption to library services and patrons. The vast majority of current services are (such as access to audio and braille books, the machinery needed to listen to the audio books, reference and readers advisory services, quarterly newsletters and web-based services including the public online catalog) “core” services that operate under the standards and guidelines established by the National Library Service (NLS). NLS provides WTBBL with the majority of the circulated materials, and will continue to do so, although NLS is working on a change in format for the audio books starting in 2008.

12. Does the State intend to change the services that are currently provided?

Both WSL and SPL are committed to the successful continuation of this program and maintaining the excellent service quality that the Library’s patrons have come to expect. However, there remains a very real shortfall between the current program costs and the amount of funding made available through the State. The SPL has relied on private donations to fill the funding gap for several years now, but both agencies recognize that this is not a sustainable alternative. As a result, the WSL will continue to work with the State Legislature to request additional funds to maintain current service and staffing levels. In the meantime, the two agencies, with input from the advisory groups, will need to evaluate options for operating the library within available funding levels during this transition year and beyond. The WSL’s Transition Advisory Board has recommended that a survey of a sampling of library patrons be conducted over the coming year to help determine what services are most important to them in the event that service reductions or modifications need to be made.

13. Will services continue to be offered in the current location or will the library move? If it will move, where?

Earlier in the transition planning, there were discussions about physically moving the library to a different location closer to the Olympia area. However, staff members, volunteers, consumer groups, and patrons expressed strong concern about a physical move and the potential negative impacts on the library’s programs and services. Of particular concern was the potential loss of the volunteer base that is currently critical to the library’s operations. The Office of the Secretary of State appreciated and acknowledged those concerns, and has made a commitment that the program will stay in its current location for a minimum of five years following the transition, and that any future decisions regarding a physical move would follow extensive study and analysis involving patron and stakeholder input. As a result of this commitment, the City of Seattle and the Office of the Secretary of State are in negotiations regarding ownership of the facility that houses the WTBBL. The goal is to retain at least some portion of the facility as an asset of the WTBBL program, owned by the State, and to ensure that the library will be able to remain in the facility for as long as is needed and desired.


14. What will happen to WTBBL staff members? The Human Resources staffs of both organizations are working together on a variety of issues regarding the current WTBBL staff members. There is no automatic way to convert City employees to State employees; the two entities have separate personnel systems, each with their own rules and requirements governing hiring, seniority, etc. As a result, WTBBL staff members interested in staying on with the program will need to apply for State employment through the normal State hiring process. Many of the WTBBL staff may not want to transition with the program for various reasons, such as salary differences between the City and State employment, other job opportunities, seniority within the City employment system, or other personal reasons. WSL hopes, however, that many of the existing WTBBL staff will choose to stay part of the program as they have a passion for the program, and the experience and expertise that WSL will need.

15. What will happen to volunteers?

Both agencies recognize the vital role that volunteers fill in operating the program – the equivalent to approximately 13 staff positions. Many of the volunteers that currently support the program have been with the program for many years. Both agencies have a great deal of gratitude and respect for these individuals and their commitment to the program. The WSL hopes that the current volunteers will choose to remain active with the program. In addition, WSL intends to continue funding a full time volunteer coordinator.


16. What is WSL doing to ensure that there is a successful transition of WTBBL to the State?

  • To assist WSL in the transition, a Transition Advisory Board (TAB) was established in 2006. The TAB includes representatives from WTBBL, members of WTBBL’s Patron Advisory Council, the Washington Council of the Blind, the National Federation of the Blind, the Washington State School for the Blind, the Department of services for the Blind, the Governor’s Committee on Disabilities and Employment and local public libraries. The TAB will continue to advise WSL steps needed to ensure a successful transition, including input on how to address the funding shortfall.
  • In addition, the WSL has a Transition Plan that attempts to identify all the key issues, activities, steps and timelines for their implementation. The Transition Plan is periodically updated as more details about the transition are worked out and decisions are made.
  • WSL has also hired a Transition Coordinator to coordinate all aspects of the transition for WSL.

17. How can patrons/volunteers/staff be involved in the transition process?

Patrons are encouraged to ask any questions that they might have, or relay their concerns or priorities to any of the contacts listed below (see Question 19). Feedback from patrons through the planned survey on service priorities will be very useful as we plan the transition and address the budget shortfall.

18. How will we be kept informed about the transition?

We are committed to a smooth, transparent process. The SPL and WSL will continue to utilize the various communication channels (newsletters, direct mail, websites, email lists, print and electronic publications) to provide periodic updates to library patrons, consumer groups and stakeholders.

19. Who can I contact if I have additional questions?

Questions or comments about the planned transition can be directed to the following:

  • Questions for the Washington State Library can be directed to Cathy Turk, Transition Coordinator for the Washington State Library at
  • Questions for the Seattle Public Library can be addressed to Andra Addision at (206) 386-4103 or at

Updated: July 24, 2007