I recently came across a true treasure in Israel— the AACI Mary and Ben Cohen Library for the Visually Impaired and Homebound located in the AACI – Dr. Max and Gianna Glassman Family Center in Jerusalem.
Here one can find CDs, mp3s and audio cassettes of “talking books” in English as well as a fantastic collection of large print books. The well-stocked shelves are filled with novels, mysteries, biographies, Judaic texts and non-fiction books. Hebrew readers can take advantage of the Central Library for the Blind, Visually Impaired and Handicapped in Netanya, but the Cohen Library is the only place in Israel with materials in English for the visually impaired and learning disabled, filling an important need in our country.
I had the pleasure of meeting Naomi Katz, the founder and director of the Cohen Library for the Visually Impaired. (There is so much to say about this impressive woman, that I decided it merits a separate blog entry.) Naomi explained that the materials are important not only for those with sight challenges but also for those who are homebound or in hospitals or nursing homes. Audio books can help pass the long hours for those going through medical treatments like kidney dialysis. Students and adults with learning disabilities such as dyslexia also benefit from the library’s resources.
Naomi makes an effort to get good literature and the most popular books for her clientele. Most of the large print books and audio books are acquired through donations from the U.S. Through contributions, Naomi is able to order materials on line through Amazon and Doubleday, the largest suppliers of materials for the visually impaired and audio books.
The library is operated by Naomi and a staff of 25 volunteers who serve the members five mornings a week from 9:30 am – 12:30 pm. The work of the dedicated library staff includes receiving the public, ordering materials, keeping records, preparing packages to send out to members, cataloguing material on computer and more. Additional volunteers are welcome!
Membership in the library costs NIS 100 per year and currently serves over 200 people living throughout Israel. Books and audio materials are mailed directly to members through the free national mail service for the blind. There is both a printed and an online catalogue which members can use to select materials. (For more information about membership, phone 02-560-0912 or send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org )
A psychologist and artist by profession, Naomi entered the library world by chance. About fifteen years ago, friends of Naomi from the U.S. contacted her after their parents passed away. The family wanted to do something in Israel in memory of their parents, Mary and Ben Cohen, z”l. They turned to Naomi to help them find an appropriate venue to receive the donation of the many books on tape that their parents had accumulated. There was no English library in Israel for the visually impaired at that time so Naomi approached AACI with the idea of creating one. The library was first housed in the former AACI building before moving to its current location in the new, larger premises in Talpiot. The Cohen family donated the seed money to get the library started and has continued to donate funds to the library throughout the years. Additional funds are received from the government, Federation and private donors.
The library’s reputation extends beyond the borders of Israel. People living abroad have also contacted the library inquiring about its services. Recently, a librarian in Addis Ababa sent an email to the library saying that they had no materials for the visually impaired in his country and asked for any extra materials that could be shared with them. Naomi and staff complied with the request and sent off a box of duplicate books and tapes to Ethiopia.
Making reading matter accessible to the English speaking public is an important service provided by the AACI- Cohen Library for the Visually Impaired. There are several ways you can help to support this project. If you have or know of a source for donations of new and used material for the library, please inform the librarians. Volunteers are welcome to join the staff to help with the organization and provide service to its members. Funds are also needed to provide new materials to the library.
Contact information for the AACI – Cohen Library for the Visually Impaired and Homebound
Location: AACI – Dr. Max and Gianna Glassman Family Center in Jerusalem.
Corner of 37 Pierre Koenig and 2 Poalei Tzedek, Talpiot
Hours: Sunday through Thursday from 9:30 am to12:30 pm