Learning in New Spaces: What’s new at LABM

PD: Gentleman with short dark hair in plaid shirt stands in front of items in the LABM’s ELBC.

The interesting years of 2021 and 2022 have brought many changes to the Tennessee Library for Accessible Books and Media, otherwise known as the LABM. First, in the spring of 2021, the LABM, along with the rest of the Tennessee State Library and Archives (TSLA), moved into a brand, new building on the Bicentennial Mall in downtown Nashville. Located at 1001 Rep John Lewis Way North, the building is open for visitors Monday – Friday from 8:00 a.m. – 4:30 p.m. Various sections of TSLA have different hours, so it’s a good idea to call before you visit if you wish to talk to staff in a particular space.

In addition, LABM and TSLA have gone through some exciting changes in leadership over the past several months.  Maria Sochor, the former Director of LABM, was promoted to Assistant State Librarian in December 2021.  We wish Maria well in her new role and are glad that she didn’t go too far!

Clayton Altom, who has been Assistant Director of the LABM since 2016, was named as the new Director following Maria’s promotion.  He holds a Master’s in Library Science from the University of Tennessee and has 15 years of experience working in archives, public libraries, and special libraries.  He is passionate about getting books to readers in whatever format they need and is excited about continuing to serve the community of Tennesseans who utilize our services.

Clayton is a Texas native but has lived in Tennessee since 2007 when he followed a girl up here (they later got married).  Clayton was an English major as an undergrad and still reads as much as his time allows.  His reading tastes are broad, covering everything from literary fiction to urban fantasy to history, and his all-time favorite book is The Brothers K (available from the Library in audio format) by David James Duncan.  He is married and has 3 sons under the age of 8.

Lady with dark curly hair in striped shirt stand in front of items in LABM’s ELBC.

Our new Assistant Director is Erin Lankford. Erin has spent the past 6 years serving as a LABM Reader Advisor and enjoying getting great books out to patrons and having such great chats with them all! She has her Master’s in Information Sciences from the University of Tennessee, where her favorite class was “Storytelling for the Business World.” Erin looks most forward to using her new role to create more programming for the LABM and helping continue the great sense of community among its patrons.

Erin is a proud lifelong resident of Tennessee who hails originally from Doyle. She actively supports the University of Alabama’s College Football program and will wish you a hearty, “Roll Tide” during the football season. Erin’s favorite book of all time is A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini (available from the Library in audio and large print formats and can be downloaded in braille). She will buy every copy she comes across. She lives with her husband and the many homeless books they have adopted over the years.

Gentleman in blue suit, light blue shirt and tie stand in TSLA’s Reference Room.

And, lastly, but certainly not least, James Ritter took over the leadership of TSLA as State Librarian & Archivist. Mr. Ritter is the former State Librarian of Maine and just began his tenure at TSLA on July 25, 2022.

In addition, the new TSLA building now houses several new spaces. One of them is the Early Braille Literacy Center (EBLC). The EBLC is the only room in the building designed especially for the younger crowd. Filled with tactile experiences like a texture board, a LEGO wall, and cozy reading nooks, this space is designed for children with no vision, low vision, and all other children. Adults are welcome, too, however!

Book cases, LEGO board, and reading nook in LABM’S EBLC.

The EBLC features large print and print/braille books, but also braille crafts and games, such as learning how to write your name in braille, plus origami to help exercise fine motor skills. Included in the room are resources for parents and teachers of children with visual disabilities which may be borrowed from the Library including titles about teaching basic life skills and reading foundational skills.

Dot, a papier mache model of the mascot of Tennessee School for the Blind, accessible computer workstations, bookcases, and reading tables in LABM’S Reading RoomThe LABM’S Reading Room includes accessible computer workstations, with internet access and screen-reading software. There are also braille board games and a revolving assortment of large print titles, braille writers, and information and referral brochures. Demonstration models of the talking book players and currency readers are also housed in the Reading Room. A very new item that has been added to the Library’s “roster” of equipment available for loan is a braille e-reader. This device is available to individuals who have a working knowledge if braille. It allows patrons to download braille titles from the Library’s Braille and Audio Reading (BARD) website and read them on this small portable device.

Recording area in LABM’s Audio Heritage Lab.Another great new space is the Library’s Audio Heritage Lab. Equipped with state-of-the-art recording equipment, the Library’s audio specialist will be working on recording books with a Tennessee connection for our patrons and patrons all over the United States. Built with a state-of-the-art recording booth and mixing room, we are delighted to highlight great books about Tennessee and by Tennessee authors, making them accessible so that “All May Read.”

With all these changes, the basic services of the Library remain the same. We still loan audio, braille, and large print reading materials to any Tennessean who has a physical disability that prevents them from reading standard print. Qualifying disabilities includes blindness and low vision, manual dexterity problems which make it difficult to hold a book and/or turn pages, and reading disabilities. Library materials are still shipped back and forth from the Library through the U.S. Postal Service’s “free matter” mailing privilege. However, it is now also possible to download both the braille and audio materials over the internet. Downloaded materials may be played on the readers the Library loans to patrons, and audio books may be downloaded through the Library’s BARD app and read on mobile devices, such as smartphones, tablets, or Kindles.

Please do come and visit the Library and it’s new spaces. If you have any questions about who can use the Library and/or how to access the services and programs, you may call us at (800) 342-3308 or (615) 741-3915.