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New service at Norwich’s Mile Cross library helps blind people find right book

Frank Buykx helping Nick Hobbs trial the Pen Friend device at Mile Cross library.
Photo: Bill Smith

Frank Buykx helping Nick Hobbs trial the Pen Friend device at Mile Cross library. Photo: Bill Smith


A new high-tech device which allows blind and partially sighted people to quickly and easily browse audio books on library shelves is being trialled by Norfolk County Council.

Details of about 300 audio books at Norwich’s Mile Cross Library have been recorded by volunteers so they can be scanned by a hand-held gadget called a Pen Friend which then reads back the title, author and story synopsis to people with poor sight.

Blind people were given the opportunity to sample the new service at a taster session in Mile Cross yesterday, and now their feedback will be evaluated by the council before a decision is made on whether to roll out the project across Norfolk.

The initiative is a joint venture between the council and the Norfolk and Norwich Association for the Blind, whose leisure co-ordinator, Mark Smith, said: “People with poor sight have the same problems as everyone else when it comes to choosing a book: What’s it about and will they like it? The Pen Friend enables them to quickly get an idea in the same way that sighted people can read the dust jacket of a printed book

“If they don’t think it’s for them, they can speedily move on to the next title.”

The Pen Friend device is kept at the library so it can be used by anyone who needs it to read aloud the information they need to make a choice on which audio books to borrow. It is simply run along the spine of the book to voice details of its contents.

Yesterday’s taster session was well received by Frank Buykx, 71, of Upton, near Acle, who said: “I can’t read print in any form, so this looks like it will be a Godsend to me. I listen to audio books for about three or four hours each day and I often end up choosing a book because of the picture on the cover rather than something that I know is going to appeal to me.”

Peter Wickens, 80, who lives at the Great Hospital in Norwich, added: “I think it’s a good idea. I don’t use the library service as much as I would like, and this sort of device will encourage me to use it more.”

Have you got a story about a Norwich/Norfolk charity? Call David Bale on 01603 772427 or email

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