History of the Washington Talking Book & Braille Library

Thank you for visiting the WTBBL website and please enjoy the following abbreviated history of our amazing library.

1906  Seattle Public Library (SPL) began library service to individuals in Washington State who read braille.

1907  First embossed books for the blind were circulated by SPL.

1919  Service had grown to point where librarian Fanny Howley was assigned part-time to serve blind. Braille transcriber groups such as Junior League, Seattle Council of Jewish Women, and Seattle Chapter of American Red Cross were active. 

1931  Washington library became part of the national braille and talking books network started by the Library of Congress (Pratt Smoot Act).

1932  Drusilla Dorland (Acting) head librarian 1932-1937.

1934  Talking books were introduced on special phonograph records that played at 33 1/3 rpm (commercial records at the time played at 78 rpm).

A woman reading

1934  Inception of Library of Congress program; SPL became one of the regional Libraries (serving Washington, Montana and Alaska).

1937  Fanny Howley, head librarian from 1937-1952.

1945  Library for the Blind moved to SPL Fremont Branch basement.

1952  Howley retired and Florence Grannis took over as head librarian from 1952-1960.

1954  The Division for the Blind moved to the basement of SPL Susan Henry Memorial Library, with the lower floor especially designed for work with the blind.

1960  Grannis moved to Iowa Library for the Blind; Marcia Finseth became head librarian. (1960-1974)

1962  Records redesigned to play at 16 2/3 rpm down from 33 1/3. This halved the size of books. Later developments reduced the speed further to 8 1/3 rpm on flexible disks. The talking books on records and flexible disks endured through the rest of the century and were finally pulled from service in 2001.

1967  The Books for the Blind program was extended to any handicapped person certified as unable to read conventional printed materials. (1/1/67)

1968  Talking book service to Montana residents was transferred to the Montana State Library. (Braille service transferred a few years later)

1969  National Library Service started the cassette talking book program.

1973  The name in Seattle changed to the Washington Regional Library for the Blind and Physically Handicapped.

1973  The Library for the Blind and Physically Handicapped moved to new quarters at King County Library building at 811 Harrison Street. (3/12/73)

1973  Radio Talking Book Service started. (3/22/73)

1973  Alaska State Library in Juneau established as a sub-regional library. (7/73)

1974  Marcia Finseth retired; Sharon Hammer became regional librarian. (1974-1979)

Two women looking at a record

1975  Funding for the Washington Regional Library for the Blind and Physically Handicapped shifted to the state, and Seattle Public Library's work becomes a contractual service to the Washington State Library.

1975  Braille and taping service was added to the Washington Regional Library for the Blind and Physically Handicapped. (7/75)

1976  Washington Regional Library for the Blind and Physically Handicapped no longer circulated materials to Alaska residents. (7/76 Alaska became regional library.)

1977  The radio became the Radio Reading Service.

1979  Jan Ames became interim regional librarian on 9/5/78 and on 1/2/79 became WTBBL Director until retiring on 9/29/02.

1983  The Radio Reading Service became the Evergreen Radio Reading Service on 4/25/83.

An old machine

1983  The National Guard, Boeing, WTBBL staff and volunteers moved the Library from 811 Harrison to 821 Lenora Street on 10/1/83.

1985  The Washington Library for the Blind and Physically Handicapped circulation was automated. Using adaptive equipment, blind staff members were able to access the system.

1985  The Braille Program was revitalized.

1986  A formal Children's Program began.

1994  On 1/1/94 the Washington Library for the Blind and Physically Handicapped changed its name to the Washington Talking Book & Braille Library.

1996  A State grant was secured to renovate the Lenora Street building. WTBBL was moved into temporary facilities at 717 Virginia Street (the Love Building) on 7/20/96.

1997  On 7/12/97 WTBBL moved back to Lenora Street. The entrance and address changed to 2021 9th Avenue. WTBBL continued to have the first floor, but also acquired a new dock area on the second floor, as well as inside parking. WTBBL re-opened to the public 8/4/97.

2002  Gloria Leonard, acting director 12/2/02-12/2/03, became Director 12/3/03 until moving to SPL 4/08.

2008  Danielle Miller was hired by Washington State Library/Office of Secretary of State 4/28/08 as the Program Manager at WTBBL, prior to the transition of WTBBL to the State.

2008  On July 1, 2008, administration of the Washington Talking Book & Braille Library moved from Seattle Public Library to Washington State Library/Office of Secretary of State.

2009 The first digital talking book players are issued to WTBBL patrons.

2009 WTBBL makes its locally produced talking books available for download at wtbbl.org. It is the first library in the NLS network to offer such a service.

2009 The NLS Braille and Audio Reading Download (BARD) website formally launched after a pilot phase of over two years.

2010  On June, 18, 2010, Danielle Miller, WTBBL Program Manager, Jan Walsh, Washington State Library and Sue Ammeter, WTBBL Patron Advisory Council Chair, received the National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped's (NLS) Network Library of the Year award for 2009. This award commends a regional library for excellence, innovation, and special achievement in providing library service to blind and physically handicapped individuals in a calendar year.

Poster introducing library service for the blind

2012  Mayor Mike McGinn proclaimed June 5, 2012 as Washington Talking Book & Braille Library Day. WTBBL was honored with the Mayor’s Award and Proclamation for its work empowering individuals with disabilities. A Mayoral Proclamation was presented to Danielle Miller, Program Manager and Quincy Daniels, WTBBL patron, in print and braille.

2012  Braille books, including titles transcribed by WTBBL volunteers, become available on BARD.

2013  The BARD Mobile app for iOS devices is released. An Android version debuts in June 2015.

2014  WTBBL ships its one millionth talking book on digital cartridge: Dancing to the Concertina’s Tune by Jan Walker.

2014  The last cassette books were sent to patrons, concluding 45 years of circulation.

2014  WTBBL posts its first locally produced digital talking book to BARD, The Alpine Journey by Mary Daheim. Readers nationwide begin to have instant access to books produced in WTBBL studios.

2017  On May 19, 2017, WTBBL Director Danielle Miller and Washington State Librarian Cindy Aden accept the National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped's Network Library of the Year award for 2016 from NLS Director Karen Keninger in a Library of Congress ceremony.

2021  WTBBL’s new duplication on demand service for audiobooks began, allowing for the creation of customized digital cartridges with multiple books per cartridge based on a patron’s preferences and requests.

2022 In February WTBBL began circulating 300 Zoomax refreshable braille displays allowing braille patrons to take advantage of the electronic braille collection. The Zoomax braille display has 20 cells, connects to Wi-Fi, and is USB and SD card compatible. Patrons can now download BRF files directly from BARD. 

2022 In May WTBBL Director and Regional Librarian Danielle Miller accepted the National Library Service for the Blind and Print Disabled's Network Library of the Year award for 2022.