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Library kiosk at Vineland veterans home helps residents enjoy reading without holding a book

VINELAND — During World War II, Earl Barber put his strong and steady hands to good use as gunner.

Now 89, the former Atlantic City resident holds up hands that are bent and stiffened by arthritis, an ailment that has hindered his ability to hold a book and read to pass the time at the New Jersey Veterans Memorial Home.

“It’s hard,” Barber said.

Barber and other veterans with such problems can enjoy reading again thanks to a special kiosk installed at the home through the New Jersey State Library Talking Book and Braille Center. The federal grant-funded kiosk system allows veterans — who get access to the system once certified by the center — to download more than 80,000 digital books and magazines on free listening devices. The books are available through the state library system and the Library of Congress.

The kiosk is part of a library program for veterans called You Served Us. Now Let Us Serve You.

“This initiative will help us expand the services of the Talking Book and Braille Center to new, underserved populations in New Jersey,” Director Adam Szczepaniak said. “It will help make a difference for those veterans who, for whatever reason, have difficulty reading printed materials.”

That includes veterans who have some kind of visual impairment or who have difficulty holding a book or turning a page.

The kiosk was officially unveiled to the home’s residents as part of an afternoon program Tuesday during National Salute to Hospitalized Veterans Week.

Joe Romano, the home’s chief executive officer, said the kiosk is not just for home residents. He said he wants veterans groups in the area to know that the kiosk and its services are available to their qualifying members.

“This is something very exciting,” he said.

Home resident Norm Baker, 84, formerly of Camden, said he has used a different version of the system that requires participants to mail requests for books. That system is nice, he said, but very time consuming.

Baker, a former U.S. Marine Corps corporal, said the kiosk system is much better, not only because he can get a book more quickly but also because it gives him more books from which to choose.

“I can get exactly what I want,” he said.

So can resident George Peale, an 88-year-old former U.S. Army diesel engineer from Akron, Ohio.

Peale said he reads just about every day, and particularly enjoys mysteries. He said he will be able to access more of the books he likes. “I think it’s great,” Peale said.

State officials said the kiosk system is available only at select libraries in New Jersey. The Vineland home is the second veterans home in New Jersey to have one. 

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