LivAbility Magazine
A Talking Books Library employee narrates a book in a recording studio

By Jennifer Longdon
Photos by Johanna Huckeba

Every weekday morning at 9 a.m. the Arizona Talking Book Library feels like “Groundhog Day”– the post office drops off 2,000 returned books on tape and picks up 2,000 more headed to Arizona readers, one of the dwindling analog moments in a world going digital.

Through the mailroom doors, in the front of the house, 6 librarians work with patrons to select books tailored to their tastes. Every patron is assigned one of these librarians whom Outreach Librarian Christine Tuttle refers to as personal book sommeliers.

“The more our patrons talk to us, the better we are at understanding their likes and dislikes,” says Tuttle. “We read every book from cover-to-cover and if a person objects to things like strong language, violence or sexual content, we can avoid suggesting books that contain this material.”

Since 1970, AZTBL has provided printed material in alternative formats for individuals who cannot read print, hold a book or turn pages.

A Talking Books Library employee stacks plastic audiobooks.

Until 1978 books were recorded on records; first 78 RPM, then 33s. Reel-to-reel tapes were introduced next. In the late ‘80s, they made the technological leap to cassette tapes. As of 2009, books are recorded in a digital format.

BARD (Braille and Audio Reading Download) users can download books to their mobile device. Most AZTBL patrons, however, prefer having their books mailed to their home to be played on a digital player. More than 9,000 Arizonans subscribe to the library along with another 3,000 organizations to comprise more than 12,000 consumers of AZTBL services.

The library is federally funded and falls under the Arizona Secretary of State for oversight. While 99% of the collection comes from federal sources, AZTBL records books that are written by Arizona authors or focus on Arizona in some way.

Recording a book is no small matter.

A narrator and producer work together anywhere from 9 to 15 months to record a book in one of the 3 on-site recording booths. Altogether, AZTBL staff and volunteers produce 200 books a year which are added to the growing collection of 120,000 titles.

“We read every word.” Tuttle says “All the cover notes, copyright and publisher information – everything.”

The service is free and there are no overdue fees. To qualify, one must complete an application and have it signed by a physician or other qualified professional as listed on the AZTBL website.

The Arizona Talking Books Library is located near 32nd St and Roosevelt. On Oct 6, they will partner with their neighbor organization, the Arizona Center for the Blind and Visually Impaired for an open house.

Learn more at 602-255-5578 or

Jennifer Longdon

Jennifer Longdon

Jennifer Longdon is known to drink too much coffee, ask too many questions and then write about it. She has served on numerous Boards and Commissions focused on disability advocacy including the Phoenix Mayor’s Commission on Disability Issues, the Statewide Independent Living Council and the Christopher and Dana Reeve Foundation Public Impact Panel. Jen has a T-4 spinal cord injury and uses a wheelchair full time.