Sharing Their Story is the Least We Can Do to Say “Thank You”
At any given time, thousands of people across Middle Tennessee access the Talking Library at Nashville Public Library (NPL). The service provides tools and resources for people with certified reading disabilities to access books, news, magazines, and more.
For people who can’t read for themselves, Talking Library is indispensable. It’s how many listeners get the latest news and information, and how they can enjoy the latest titles from their favorite authors.
That’s one reason why, when COVID-19 set in and NPL had to suspend public access starting in March 2020, it was heartbreaking to consider the loss of Talking Library. With library staff and volunteers barred from entering the building, it seemed that Talking Library would simply have to suspend its service, as well.
That’s when a small but devoted group of volunteers stepped in. Using their own resources and giving selflessly of their personal time, they kept the service going throughout our closure, and beyond.
As libraries and other organizations across the nation join together to celebrate National Volunteers Week, NPL would like to shine a light on some of the most dedicated and selfless volunteers we have. We want to thank the people who kept one of our most essential services going at a time when it mattered most.
This is the story of how they did it.
Finding the Solution
In mid-March, 2020, word went out to NPL staff that all library locations would be closing to public access for at least a few weeks and that staff, except for a few key positions, would be working remotely. Library volunteers wouldn’t be allowed in the buildings at all.
For Benjamin Weddle, a staff member with Talking Library, that message heralded a big problem.
“All of our equipment is here at the library, and the volunteers record live in our studio. If we can’t access the library, we can’t operate Talking Library,” Weddle said. “It was quickly reaching the point that we would have to suspend the service.”
Weddle and the other Talking Library staff scrambled to come up with a way to continue broadcasting, but nothing was coming together. When Weddle broke the news to Katie B., one of Talking Library’s volunteers who reads each day’s issue of the Tennessean (who longtime readers may remember from our volunteer feature last year), she provided the solution.
“I’m a musician, and I have my own recording studio at home. When Ben told me they’d have to suspend Talking Library, I just couldn’t accept that,” Katie said. “Remember: in addition to COVID-19, folks were still dealing with the aftermath of the tornado at that time. Tennessean and other news groups were publishing updates about how to get help and relief. I didn’t want our listeners to miss out on any updates or resources.
“So, I offered to do it at home.”
With that, the plan was set. Weddle, who is Katie’s neighbor, optimized her home studio to record for Talking Library. Joined by her husband, Chris C., and fellow volunteer, Rose Mary R., Katie and her group recorded the Tennessean every single weekday.
Rose Mary, a retired English teacher and volunteer since 1995, felt it was the least she could do to help the people of Nashville.
“I feel very strongly about people being able to access information. As you get older, that becomes harder,” Rose Mary said. “With Talking Library, you’re reaching listeners with your voice and using it to empower them with information.”
In the time between when our library suspended most services in March until the start of curbside service in June 2020, Katie, Chris, and Rose Mary contributed more than 340 volunteer hours to NPL.
Thanks to them, Talking Library didn’t miss a single issue of the Tennessean throughout 2020 .
Calling in Reinforcements
Thanks to Katie, Chris, and Rose Mary, Weddle had daily readings of the Tennessean covered, but he still had a problem. Talking Library also provides recordings of magazines as new issues become available, and none of the regular magazine readers had recording studios at home.
And so, Weddle turned to a familiar face at NPL who he felt would make a perfect fit: Morgan Matens, a former member of NPL’s resident puppet troupe, Wishing Chair Productions.
“Ben is my friend, so when he needed some transitional music for the in-between segments in Talking Library programs, I hooked him up with some musician friends of mine,” Matens said. “He came back needing people to read magazines, so I volunteered to do that at home, as well.”
Joined by Greg Hall, NPL’s Looby Branch Library Manager, who helped her to record her readings, Matens was assigned to read WIRED magazine. While she found the experience immensely rewarding, it was initially challenging. Because of her dyslexia, it took Matens a few sessions to adjust to her new role.
“Ben is a professional in the best sense of the word. He’s kind and caring, but when it comes to Talking Library, he sets a high standard in terms of clarity and quality. He really wants listeners to be able to catch every word, and I think that’s a great thing,” Matens said.
Matens wasn’t the only one stepping up to help out with reading magazines. Brad O., a Nashville-based actor and voice actor, was looking to help however he could. Weddle’s assignment for him? Reading Vanity Fair.
“It was not what I expected, but I found it enjoyable,” Brad said. “It was never a magazine I considered my ‘type’ of reading material, but I was pleasantly surprised by the articles.”
As a voice actor, Brad’s natural talents lent themselves well to reading for Talking Library. It also allowed him to indulge another of his passions: telling stories.
“I had done some audiobooks prior to volunteering. I love telling stories, and that passion combined with the technical knowhow gained from my acting training and voice-over classes made for a good match for the project.”
“It’s All Thanks to Them”
While all of the volunteers interviewed for this feature had nothing but praise for Weddle, he was quick to point out who the real heroes are.
“The simple fact is that without Katie, Chris, Rose Mary, Morgan, Greg, Brad, and the others, Talking Library would have had to suspend the majority of our programming,” Weddle said. “That would have been devastating for our listeners in so many ways. We ended up not missing a single day of service at any point while NPL suspended public access. That’s all thanks to them.”
That’s a sentiment that Amy Pierce, NPL’s Volunteer Services Supervisor, echoed in her own testament.
“We literally could not have done this without them. We were out of options when Katie volunteered her home studio for Talking Library. Her efforts, and the efforts of all the other volunteers, are the only reason we were able to keep it going. There just aren’t words to describe the gratitude we all feel for them,” Pierce said.
As far as the volunteers are concerned, doing whatever they could to keep Talking Library going wasn’t a decision to debate — it was simply what had to be done.
“Every reader I know moved Heaven and Earth to be a part of Talking Library,” Katie said. “It’s a privilege that we get to be a part of something that means so much to so many.”