Grad Student Supports Visually Impaired Patrons at a Talking Book Library

Whitney Harrison is a 27 year-old FSU School of Information student based in Tampa Bay, FL, pursuing a master’s degree in information studies. She was recently recognized for her outstanding achievements, receiving the 2020 Jacqueline D. Montgomery Scholarship in Information Studies.

Whitney Harrison Headshot “A library is a powerful resource for a community,” said Harrison.

The inspiration behind Harrison’s desire to pursue a career in libraries began when she was young. As a child, Harrison discovered a fondness for reading that quickly turned into a deep love. She would devour books and spent numerous hours at her local public library as a result. This library was Harrison’s safe haven, a place where she could relax into the unique world of each book and forget about her own. The impact of this experience is what led Whitney to get a job at a library when she graduated from college. As she watched the librarians tend to their tasks and kindly assist all who asked, Harrison was convinced. “I wanted to be like them,” she said. “And so, I decided to go back to school.”

Harrison regards her journey at FSU as influential in shaping her into the professional that she is today. The academic pursuits that Harrison embarked on at FSU have equipped her with additional skills that enable her to perform better at her job. From cataloging to administration to international librarianship, Harrison learned that the information field is incredibly diverse. “The School of Information helped me think more outside the box and broaden my knowledge of the profession,” said Harrison.

When she isn’t studying for her degree, Harrison is diligently striving to excel in her field. She currently works at a Talking Book Library which services patrons who are blind, visually impaired, or otherwise disabled and unable to use a traditional public library.

Harrison’s days are filled with the typical tasks needed to maintain a library, such as weeding, cataloging, inspecting, facilitating programs, and upkeeping bibliographies; however, Harrison has other unique responsibilities.

The Talking Book Library sends out nearly 500 audiobooks every day, so an hour of Harrison’s mornings is dedicated to pulling books from shelves and prepping them for shipment to library patrons. The bulk of Harrison’s job involves responding to phone calls from patrons requesting audiobooks or braille material. Harrison also works closely with new patrons who apply for the services of the Talking Book Library. She processes their applications, adds them to their system, and determines their reading preferences.

Harrison plans on becoming a Talking Book Librarian once she earns her master’s degree. She hopes to help her community on a much larger scale and one day be involved in policy creation for the Talking Book program.

Harrison’s academic and professional pursuits are all carried out with the intent to better serve the blind and visually impaired. “These are people who believe they can no longer read books or do much of anything anymore. When they find a library, they discover a wealth of resources that they never knew existed,” said Harrison. “This community is full of joyful, grateful, and kind people who all want to help one another, and it inspires me to want to help as well.”