Today’s Flyover People column as seen in The Emporia Gazette:


I recently spent a number of hours in a recording studio. No, I wasn’t singing – nobody wants to hear that. I recorded my book “Flyover People” for Kansas Talking Books. It was a fun process and I was glad to be a volunteer for this great service.

Kansas Talking Books, part of the State Library of Kansas, has been headquartered in the Memorial Union at Emporia State University since 1982.

Located in the basement of the union, nine employees serve about 6,000 Kansans. The staff handles an average of 1,600-1,700 pieces of mail each day, primarily incoming and outgoing books. They also field about 70 phone calls daily, assisting patrons with book choices and offering technical support.

To learn more about the service, I sat down one afternoon with Toni Harrell, the director of Kansas Talking Books, and Steve Rinker, patron services librarian and volunteer coordinator.

Residents eligible for this service are those with a visual or physical impairment that limits their ability to use regular reading materials. A simple application is available online, at libraries, and at various service agencies. A signature from a health care provider, social worker, or librarian is needed on the application. In the case of a neurological disorder, a physician’s signature is required.

Each year the Kansas Talking Books library receives about 2,000 books from the National Library Service to add to their collection. These books include best-sellers and mysteries, science-fiction and biographies, westerns, romance novels, cookbooks and anything you might find in the public library.

“And we have about 120 Braille subscribers here in Kansas,” Harrell said.

“We receive our Braille materials out of Utah,” Rinker added. “They’re sent direct to our patrons from there.”

In 2005, Kansas Talking Books acquired a small recording booth, and with the help of volunteers, they have recorded around 200 books. These are books about Kansas or written by Kansans, as well as books that are part of the William Allen White Children’s Book Awards. Periodicals, such as Kansas Magazine and Kansas Country Living, are recorded here as well.

“We do a lot of children’s books,” Harrell said. “In Kansas, one of the priorities is reading to children. They need to become independent readers even if they aren’t using traditional books.”

Harrell said their youngest patron is 2 years-old and that they have a few readers who are over 100.

The talking books are on digital cartridges which are about the size of a deck of cards. The cartridges plug into a specially-designed player which is loaned, free of charge, to each patron.

Thousands of books are also available from an online program called BARD. With this program, audio files are downloaded onto a flash drive and are listened to on the same player.

Readers may select specific titles from the online or print catalogs, or they may simply set certain parameters and have the staff choose books for them in their areas of interest. And, a reader can request that his or her materials be free of violence or sexual content or harsh language.

The talking books are sent in self-contained packaging and no postage is required, so it’s easy for those using the service to read and to read a lot.
“We do have some patrons who exhaust the entire collection of a certain author and so often it’s an author who’s no longer living and who’s not going to be producing further, so it helps to know read-alike authors,” Rinker said.

The staff is able to suggest books with similar writing styles and content.

“We have two full-time employees dedicated just to reader services and we have three more trained as back-up,” Harrell said. “We’re really committed to the service. If you take the time to call, you should be able to talk to a knowledgeable person.”

Reading is for everyone and Kansas Talking Books helps make that happen for 6,000 Kansans. If you or someone you know would like information or an application, call 1-800-362-0699 or 620-341-6280, or visit the Kansas Talking Books website:

Volunteers are always needed for reading books and magazines, and for editing audio files. Contact Steve Rinker at the above numbers to learn about volunteer opportunities.

Copyright 2012 ~ Cheryl Unruh

The talking books player.

A talking book cartridge.

A mailing address is slipped in where the orange card is and it goes out in the mail.


Outgoing mail for the day.

The recording studio.


  1. This is wonderful, just wonderful. It always feels good to see people helping people in ways to stimulate their minds and keep them interested.

  2. Awesome— I have a dear older friend who is blind & lives in Derby, Ks. & she loves talking books– had no idea that this was done in Emporia!! I’m going to share the info with her!!!!! Thanks!!!!!!!!!!

  3. I forgot to mention, one thing that is great about you doing that is that they’ll get the hear the author’s voice. And Cheryl, as I’ve said a bunch of times, you have a great voice for this. I love listening to the broadcasts, just love your voice.

  4. Now when your next book hits the world, you will be a seasoned pro!

    Talking Books is an amazing service. When I give a complete tour of the renovated Memorial Union, I always take them in TB and share details on the service. So many have no idea.

  5. What a wonderful service for our community. I had no idea we had a place like that. Thanks Cheryl and I would love to have a CD of you reading your book. Many authors do that when they have a new book. Thanks again for such wonderful information.

  6. This is a wonderful tool and the selections are endless. I second the comment about Cheryl’s voice, just the best!

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