Shelf Space

Braille books are huge! They take up so much space!

Braille users reading this will know exactly what I mean, but sighted readers used to conventional printed works may have little idea of how big the braille equivalents of those books may be. They tend to be large format, and the braille version of what may be a modest paperback in print can easily run to half a dozen spiral-bound volumes.

The Gideons can conveniently slot a print bible into the drawer in a hotel bedside table, but the braille bible requires at least 40 encyclopaedia-sized volumes.

Finding shelf space for even quite a small collection of braille books can be quite a challenge.

When my father was alive, he used to custom-build shelves for my books in the family home. Sometimes, he would even extend the shelves to make space for new volumes, although I still had to throw a few out from time to time if I wanted to add new ones.

When I moved to my current home, I was thrilled to find a walk-in cupboard in my bedroom. I already had free-standing wardrobes so didn’t need it for clothes. What could I use it for?

Books, of course!

My former neighbour was a carpenter by trade. He made me some shelves to go in the cupboard and my new braille library was born.

That was great but I have now filled all the space and am having to use the floor as an impromptu bottom shelf. What should I do when even this is full?

Good question.

I gather that many people have taken the opportunity to give their homes a thorough clear-out during lockdown. Some, apparently, have even been getting rid of unwanted books. I feel I should do the same, but which ones should I dispose of? I generally only buy braille books that I really want, so the number I can part with is tiny. If I want to buy any more, though, I’m going to have to free up or create some space.

My house includes a loft conversion. When I was being a theatrical landlady, the actor playing The Big Bopper in “The Buddy Holly Story” at the Wyvern Theatre stayed there and christened it “The Penthouse,” which is a splendidly exaggerated name for the room at the top of all those stairs. I am not sure how much room there is for shelving up there but I’m sure something could be done. It would be a lot of work carrying the books up there, of course, but the real issue is that, sooner or later, even that extra space would be filled.

I keep buying poetry books without thinking where I’m going to put them. I’m not at total capacity yet but someday soon I’m going to meet my Waterloo.

So it looks like I’m back to throwing some books out. But what should I do with them? I can’t just toddle off down to a local charity shop with them. They really wouldn’t want something so bulky and so specialised.

Fortunately, there are solutions to this question. In many countries there is a scarcity of braille material and, if English is one of the languages spoken, there are people ready to pass pre-used braille books on to an appreciative readership. I understand that you have to send customs documentation when you mail braille books overseas these days but, still, it is good to know that they are not just ending up in the recycling. When you think of the time and resources that go into producing braille, you want it to go to a good home.

Of course, I approach friends and e-group members as well, to see if they’re interested in any of my unwanted titles.

In fact, an e-group dedicated to circulating braille books has recently sprung up in response to a new RNIB policy. The RNIB library has miles of shelving containing hundreds of braille books. Many of these are no longer read. It costs money to maintain this facility, so the RNIB have decided that, from now on, books advertised for loan will be printed and bound to order and the recipient will be allowed to keep them.

This makes me smile. It solves the shelving problem for the RNIB library but simply passes it on to their readers!

Horrified at the prospect that these unwanted books might eventually be thrown away by readers unable to find space to store them, braille users have formed an e-group to keep them moving around the visually impaired community.

I hope the scheme works.

Meanwhile, I still have my own book storage issues to grapple with. I remain optimistic. I’m sure that if I explain to visitors why they are having to climb over a mountain of volumes in order simply to get into my house, they will be perfectly understanding about it!