Increasing Accessibility and Inclusion One Library at a Time 
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Increasing Accessibility and Inclusion One Library at a Time 

Jason Broughton and Dominick Spinelli are “living a librarian’s dream” at the Library of Congress’ National Library Service for the Blind and Print Disabled. Broughton is the director of the NLS after a long career in librarianship, education and workforce development. Spinelli serves as the head of the NLS’ Collection Development Section, where he leads a team of librarians to build a catalog of accessible reading materials and support a nationwide network of nearly 100 partnering libraries and outreach centers. Broughton and Spinelli discuss how they leverage feedback from library patrons to help ensure that individuals across the nation, including people with disabilities and veterans, can obtain accessible print and reading materials that meet their needs.  

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Rachel Klein-Kircher: 

From the Partnership for Public Service, this is Profiles in Public Service—a podcast that shares the stories of the public servants who work on our behalf every day to make our country safer, healthier and more prosperous. 

We talk to career public servants, emerging leaders, and others to better understand what it means to be a public servant… the incredible variety of careers possible in government… and how public service impacts all our lives.  

I’m your host, Rachel Klein-Kircher. 

Arfa Alam:  

And I am Arfa Alam, Rachel’s guest host for today’s episode and a senior manager on the Partnership’s Research team.  

Rachel Klein-Kircher: 

This season, we are bringing listeners on a journey filled with stories of federal service and community impact. Our current series of episodes will include both public servants and those who have directly benefitted from their leadership and innovation to demonstrate what it takes for our federal government and its wide network of regional partners to effectively serve the people.  

Arfa Alam: 

Today, we will be joined by two dedicated public servants who are “living a librarian’s dream” at Library of Congress’ National Library Service for the Blind and Print Disabled. The NLS is a free national program that provides braille and recorded materials to people who cannot see regular print or handle print materials.  

Rachel Klein-Kircher: 

Jason Broughton is the director of the NLS. Previously, he was the first African American to serve as the Vermont state librarian, and he has held numerous library roles in South Carolina and Georgia.  

Arfa Alam:  

We are also joined today by Dominick Spinelli, head of the NLS’ Collection Development Section, where he leads a team of librarians to build a catalog of accessible reading materials and support a nationwide network of nearly 100 partnering libraries and outreach centers. 

Rachel Klein-Kircher: 

Jason and Dominick discuss how they help ensure that individuals across the nation, including people with disabilities, can obtain accessible print and reading materials that meet their needs.  

Let’s turn now to this wonderful conversation. 

Transition music 

So, we would like to extend a huge welcome to Jason and Dominic. Thank you for being here. Arfa and I are particularly excited to talk to you because we’re both passionate about libraries which continue to play such an important part of our lives. You’ve already seen the Library of Congress poster that I have behind me, libraries are such a vital part of communities across the country. So, we are going to start with you, Jason, and then Dominic. We would love to know what inspired you to pursue public service and work for the federal government, and how did you end up doing the work that you’re doing today? 

Jason Broughton:mOh my goodness, what a fascinating question from my standpoint. I’ve always felt the need to give back to a community and a variety of different ways. I started as an educator in the state of Florida, and eventually over time, transitioned into librarianship. After having a conversation with a librarian who sat me down and said, “I wish somebody had connected with you sooner.” and I was trying to figure out like, where is this going? And it was, “I really think you should have been in a librarian versus a teacher.” And I remember just saying, “you know, there’s not a bunch of rich librarians that I know.” and then she shot back. “There aren’t a bunch of rich teachers either.” So immediately I thought, well, yes, touché. 

And from that I did consider, but she came back with an actual job description for the South Carolina State Library. I looked at it and thought, “Well, I’m doing this right now. What does that look like to work for a library? I kind of always liked them”. I got the job and started doing a host of things across South Carolina helping primarily public libraries, but also connecting with school libraries and also academic. That then led to a much larger item of becoming a public library director in Georgia, and then eventually that led to me being the state librarian in Vermont. Most people don’t know that there are state librarians within state government across the country. That was such a wonderful experience working under Governor Scott. The next thing I know, something caught my attention, and then conversation started happening with the Library of Congress and then they said, “we’d like to, if you’re interested, appoint you into this position. “So, I thought what an honor this would actually be to come to Library of Congress and be the director for the National Library Service of the Blind and Print Disabled. In Vermont, we have what is called a network library, so I definitely interface with them on a different level, which is a state capacity. So, it is a humbling job. It definitely puts you out front in really understanding the needs of citizens, but you also hear from them directly. Which is the best way to say that because people will tell you how you are impacting their lives immediately on a variety of levels based on the formats that we choose or what’s in our collection. 

So, I can say I never have a bad day at work– ever– based on what I do. 

Rachel Klein-Kircher:I love this theme for every job somebody saw you. Someone said, you are the person and that’s amazing. You’ve talked about different places across the country. So, you can have a profession and do so many different things in so many different places. For you, Dominic, same question, but also, I have to tell you, when looking at your LinkedIn you have the most envious entry that I wish that I knew when I was a student. It says summer reading intern at the Chicago Public Library. I wanted to be a summer reading intern. This was not something I knew was a thing at that stage of my life. So, tell us about your journey… 

Dominick Spinelli: Sure, that’s great. I’m glad you saw that because it’s a really cool program and a lot of public libraries, especially citywide library systems like Chicago Public Library do programs like that. And that’s something that we’re actually at NLS starting to get more involved with our partnering libraries around the nation to support that too. 

I grew up in a small town in Wisconsin and I could walk to school and after school I could walk to the library. So, every day I was at the library, and this just laid the groundwork, and it still wasn’t the path I realized I was going on until the very end of my undergrad experience. I studied linguistics and got to the final semester and realized I didn’t know what direction I was going to go for a career from that. In undergrad, I’d been working at the University Library in an inter-library loan department, which is involved with sharing resources with other institutions to spread out the wealth of information and support people’s research, around this network of partnering libraries. Having seen the behind the scenes, I thought, “well, I should give this a shot”, and talked to some of the librarians involved. And just took a gamble and went to grad school for it, and it really just paid off. I think what Jason said really spoke to me as well about people just recognizing opportunities there.  

That’s truly how my career unfolded. To see the joy of initial reading with children and seeing that develop and supporting the ways that the library could support school curriculum, and it all came together that way. Anyway, I ended up at the National Library Service of Blind and Print Disabled and that is part of the Library of Congress. That’s where I’m at now; I wouldn’t change any step of it. 

Rachel Klein-Kircher: I love that you used the word joy throughout. At one point during this, this joy of reading and I already feel it, so I’d love to turn it to Arfa. 

Arfa Alam: As Rachel said, Jason and Dominic we’re so excited to be talking to you both. I mean, summer reading intern and state librarian. I’m already having so much fun. Jason, I would love to know in your current role, what is the accomplishment you are most proud of and why is that accomplishment most significant? 

Jason Broughton : Oh my goodness, I’ll definitely say unto me, there are a multitude of things that our staff has enacted. I would say the one that I was able to be in on, from the ground floor in having it launched because the idea was already formulated before I arrived, was something that we really deeply wanted to recommit ourselves to, because part of our mission is to work with veterans, here at the National Library Service. Within that we have launched what is known as the Veterans Rapid Signup Program that allows veterans to know about our service as what I deem it a quality of life benefit. Because if they are unfortunately impacted by some form of disability based upon work or just life itself, that does not mean that your life is over or has to stop. So, if you were an avid reader before, you can still be an avid reader after. It just means that the format might be different. You might listen to the book, you might have it in braille, you might have an enlarged print. 

 In addition to that, we needed to understand what it means to go through the V.A. Which has its own set of unique capabilities that it must do to try to connect with veterans, followed by what are the mental and health concerns that a person is probably going to need to go through to navigate the different stages, I would say of acceptance. Where this was the life before, now here’s the life after. We want to be that entity in between to say, you still have a life and here’s how we can make that happen for you. You played music before; you can still play music now. One of the more unique aspects about that, which people might not know, is we have the world’s largest accessible braille music collection. In a sense, that is something that is phenomenal when you look at the sheet music that we have, the scores, the players, there’s a host of things that people can actually find within our collection in a way, and instructional method books as well to keep one going. So, I would say that is the proudest thing that I am happy with because we have connected with the VA in a very unique way with a lot of counselors and they are promoting the service to people who might not have really known about us in this way. 

One part B to this was something that was launched way before I did, and the reason why I have to mention it is it’s something that people might not really associate in a unique way based on the terminology, which is called an eBraille reader. That was launched by Karen Keninger, my predecessor, NLS’s first vision impaired director and I do stay in contact with Karen. This was her vision and the reason why I have to mention it is it has been phenomenally successful and wildly popular. When you hear eBraille, you’re like, “didn’t you just say that thing is on print? That’s the sheet where there’s a little tiny bubble’s on it.” Yes, that is, but you can have that in a sense on a device that is not electronic, where the pins move up and down, you kind of feel it. So therefore, a person is able to have a massive library now on an electronic device. We were able to get in touch with some contractors and have this developed, and we have been providing those across the country to people in a variety of different contexts, and that has changed their lives. So that is a wildly popular, successful item that I just had to mention. 

Arfa Alam: That is so fascinating. This eBraille reader program you, you just mentioned. I’m sure it must have taken a lot to get that program off the ground. Can you speak to some of the challenges that your team had to overcome to launch that? 

Jason Broughton :  

It wasn’t there from the beginning, but I can tell you in looking at some of the items, you are going to think of it through project management lifecycle of what that means to develop and design, working with a different vendor. Also, what it means to kind of craft these items. In addition to that, when this was finally getting ready, one of the biggest challenges was the release across the nation in stages, because it needs to be done where people are prepped and trained and prepared to do this. Well, that was on track right up until the pandemic hit, and that was one of the probably the biggest hurdles. Along with that occurring, you then have as the pandemic starts to subside, supply chain issues. Things are hard to find and there’s a host of things you now have to navigate where you have to reset your schedules. But within that, I would say the biggest items that were probably impacted was making sure that we, believe it or not, listen and understand some of the unique features that might slip by persons like ourselves. Who are sighted. You really want the people who you are trying to connect with to be engaged in a user focused experience to have it researched. You want them to turn it inside out. It is a wonderful thing when you have people evaluate a product and can tell you what is not going right about that, and then give you the feedback because we as sighted people might never understand that at all. So that’s also a unique thing in getting people to participate in our programs to evaluate these types of services and items that we wish to release back out into the world. 

Arfa Alam: Great. Well, I can only imagine the impact your Veterans Rapid Sign-Up Program and eBraille reader have had on individuals. So now I’m going to turn it over to Rachel who will ask Dominic some questions about impact. 

Rachel Klein-Kircher: Thanks Arfa. So, Dominic, my dad, some time ago, was a volunteer for the nonprofit Recording for the Blind and Dyslexic, which is now Learning Ally. So, I wanted to do what he did, so I read for them also for two years. So, at the time I just thought of it was something fun to do and it was a connection to my dad who I adored. I had the user in mind, but I wasn’t really thinking about the full impact of this work while I was doing it. So, could you share from your perspective about the impact that the NLS has had on your community partner’s ability to do their work and serve their communities? 

Dominick Spinelli: Yeah, that’s great. I love that you had that experience and that exposure, that speaks so much to what we do. I think it kind of comes down to a couple levels. When I think about the community that, specifically my team of collection development librarians works with, we have the ultimate patron community, the people who are eligible for the NLS program, the readers of the books in our collection. And we also have our colleagues at network libraries around the nation. That’s a lot of the work that my team does speaks to both ends of that, right? So, we’re building a collection that hopefully is suitable to the reading habits and the desires of our patrons, of the patrons of libraries that partner with us around the nation, but we’re also trying to do projects and take steps that make it more efficient and more usable, for our colleagues at different libraries around the nation to provide that material.  

My team has been working diligently for the last couple of years to open up further communication channels and to increase the efficiency of the production work that we do. What NLS does, we take the original published material of any title that we want to have in the collection and produce an accessible version of that book. That goes into the NLS collection available to patrons who are blind or have a physical disability or a learning disability that makes them eligible for this program. So, it’s very similar to a public library collection, heavy on recreational reading and things that might support book clubs and summer reading programs. Things that you and your friends and family are going to be checking out from the local library. We want to make sure that our patrons have just as much opportunity to access that material. When we’re thinking about how to take our budget and produce as much material out of that and grow this collection as much as possible in a quality way that’s through communicating with our network partners on what they’d like to see in the collection and how patrons are using that material. Going back several years ago, I think, the functioning of providing input on the collection was a lot more formal. Things like an annual meeting of a committee; a very federal agency approach. And I think we saw the opportunity of this virtual environment over the last few years to really tap into the insights that the librarians around the nation have by working directly day in and day out with the patrons who are our ultimate goal is pleasing them. So, we’ve created a lot more opportunities to get input from them, receive requests, talk about how things are going, just have more open communication. And that’s leading to a lot more on their opportunity for involvement in the direction of the NLS collection. 

Rachel Klein-Kircher: You have so many different customers. There’s a lot of different layers here and stakeholders and what I appreciate though, at the end of the day, we’re picturing that book club. So, what a pure thing, this whole bureaucratic, as you said we’re still the government, but it comes all the way down to that person with that book.  

Dominick Spinelli: Exactly. And ultimately the team that I’m on, it’s me and seven other librarians who’ve had varied career paths to get to where we’re at, we’ve all worked in university libraries or public libraries or specialized libraries that, you know, ultimately, it’s still all been public service work. Jason and I are both relatively new to the federal government, but our careers have always been about public service and working with a team that has that familiarity, really helps to drive the paired passion for what we’re doing and making sure that we’re always keeping that end user in mind. 

Jason Broughton: I would love to make sure, I guess our listeners kind of also understand that it’s impactful when we’re talking about public service, particularly from a federal and state and even local level, which goes back to the end user, which is that book club. Think about that. One of the things that we want to make sure is we understand the users so much that we can work to try to meet them where they’re at. That means “what is the best format for you?” Dominic’s group definitely helps to create them with the narration, so now you have it in audio. That’s one format. In our case, it would come on a cartridge and then go through the mail. You can also have it downloaded through our item called BARD and Braille and Audio Reading Download. You also can have it in braille. You can have it enlarged print. There’s a host of ways that one can examine that, but that is also a part of understanding what it means, in my opinion, to think about public service along with the public good. Meeting, the user where they are at, what is the best way to get them incorporated into the conversation if you know that there might be limitations? Now, some might say, “well, what do you mean by that?” Well, the whole country’s not connected with connectivity yet. So that means some people need to have this go through the mail, which we utilize the postal service to do this. So that’s through a program called Free Matter for the Blind. And there are just nuances of understanding how, I don’t like to say bureaucracies, but can do better in really understanding not only the user, but the needs of the user. And we, I would say, do that quite well because one, we are a library, but we are a library within the federal government, which makes us a federal entity as well. So we’re kind of unique. 

Rachel Klein-Kircher: And to that point, Jason, I’m struck when realizing you are not just offering for sight impaired, but some of your users can’t physically hold onto the book and you also have accommodations for them as well. 

Jason Broughton: That is correct. We call them the print disabled, and within that they are included. We also have expanded our reach under our mission vision that required to change. We also have, reading disabled also include. So, dyslexia is one that can fall within that. If you’re having a difficult time in trying to understand the, let’s say, versions of print. Where this allows us to think of a whole host of different users and how we can be of the greatest impact based upon what we are trying to do, which is serve the public, but also make sure that they have access to information. That is the biggest thing that we try to do to make sure that it is beyond equitable. It’s, it’s just a good thing to do. If sighted people can have it, anyone else should as well. 

Arfa Alam: This conversation is really resonating with me right now on a very personal level. Jason, I love what you just said about meeting the user where they’re at. That really touched me because I’m a mom to three kids, two of whom are special needs kids, and I’ve always seen libraries as safe spaces for kids. 

Going back to when I was a kid and I was a first generation Pakistani American Muslim in a really small town, and I would get so excited when the librarian would show me a book about Pakistan or about Ramadan, because I would think, “oh my gosh, she gets it.” Like she knows what I’m going through right now even though the kids in my class don’t. So, I’m just in awe of the work you both are doing. And speaking of memories, I would love to ask both of you, so Jason first and then Dominic, is there a particularly memorable experience or story you would like to share that demonstrates the impact you’ve seen on a person or group because of the work that the NLS is doing to make written resources more accessible to the blind and print impaired? 

Jason Broughton: I would definitely say on my end, I receive some form of thank you weekly, every now and then daily. It can come by email; it can be a phone call. It can even be a very formal letter that comes to me specifically that lets me know what our sales as an organization has done for the lives of people. I can definitely give you a few, but I’m going to try to think of the most interesting one. Usually, I would say, because of how we’re associated, we do skew toward an older population. So sometimes we would get notes from people who let us know what it meant for their parent or grandparent, aunt, or uncle to have been able to have a valued and engaged life before they passed on, where they were still able to read up until that last point. When it comes to a younger population, it’s just amazing to have parents tell you, “You just need to know, you’ve changed the trajectory of my child’s life, and I’m sharing with you this image, this link of them at their first recital. Because of your method and music instruction books, here is what you’re able to now see based upon what my child is now able to do. Thank you so very much.” Really touching. They are beyond anything that I would’ve asked and just really humbling work. Again, as I said never a bad day. Dominic… 

Dominick Spinelli: Thanks Jason. Gosh, I had another story, but what you just said made me think of something else that we recently encountered and, speaking again on kind of the multiple levels of eventual communities that we serve. When NLS is producing an accessible version of a book in an audio format, we call it a, a digital talking book. These days, we have a couple of routes for that. We have a state-of-the-art in-house studio where we have professionals who are recording material in a narrated format so that it can go up into our collection. We also work with a bunch of studios, producers of narrated material, that take on the work to make sure we can get as much into our collection each year as possible. What that’s led to are some really cool experiences where people have been able to, sort of reminisce and relive moments from their life. I think, you know, coming back to the the two levels, the first being someone who’s been a lifelong patron of the, of NLS, grew up with NLS material when it was in record format and shipped out through US mail to them in these bulky boxes of records. All that analog material, in the relatively recent past of NLS’ history because we’ve been around for, what is it, Jason? 93…  

Jason Broughton: 93 years. 

Dominick Spinelli: 93 years. So really in the relatively recent history we’ve taken a lot of that material that was in analog format and digitized it for inclusion and collection, and we’ve heard just the, the best stories from patrons who grew up with that reading material and rediscovered it once we digitized it and added the collection. Think about it, I’ve got a couple of books in my personal collection that I like to go back to over a few years that I read for the first time in elementary school or in middle school. We’ll add on top of that you get to hear the voice that originally read it to you as a child. And it’s just such a heartwarming experience and really cool thing to hear from our patrons. Now, the flip side of that is also because we’ve had these professionally narrated, we’ve heard from family members of former narrators who worked with NLS, who have, who have since passed. They realize that there’s an opportunity to hear their loved one’s voice again, and we’ve been able to supply audio of them recording material in the past. And it’s just really cool. 

Jason Broughton: As I said, humbling work. It’s an interesting touch that we have on lives.  

Rachel Klein-Kircher: So, Dominic, earlier you mentioned this is a government institution, and here we are hearing these most heartwarming stories. Jason and Dominic, you’re slaying me with just this beauty that comes out of the work you do and how it is really impacting lives in such a personal, beautiful way. So, this is coming from the federal government and for a lot of people that might be a surprise. So, for Dominic, what do you think is important for people to know about this reach of the government to make an impact for people, for communities, and what do you think would surprise people?  

Dominick Spinelli: I’d base that on what surprised me when I learned about NLS and joined. When you asked about our career backgrounds and what led us this direction. I didn’t really mention how I first learned about NLS, which was working in a public library setting. There were more occasions than I would’ve expected where someone would come in looking for accessible material. Accessible material, brailed material, or specially produced audio material is rather expensive to produce and to provide, and most public libraries wouldn’t be able to include that in their collection. It’s tough enough to purchase the circulating material that’s in an existing public library collection on most budgets. It just felt like a failing point of, of ours where someone would come in looking for a title on braille and I had no options for them. But I didn’t realize that there weren’t no options, I just didn’t know about it. So, I was asking around and learning and there’s wonderful other nonprofits out there that provide resources, but that’s what led me to learn about NLS in the first place. I was from that point able to direct patrons to the local state library that worked with NLS. This is something that I hadn’t realized this opportunity before that, and that’s, you know, a year or two later is when I started working for NLS myself. And it just sort of unfolded that way. So, just the existence of this service is what I think we rely on family members and friends and colleagues of people with low vision or blindness or print disability to know about the service in the first place. It’s not like there’s a mailer that sent out to everybody, “Hey, did you know that the federal government provides this?” so, as much as we can do to get word out about it. We’ve spoken to people in library schools about this as well to make sure they know that they’re going into their careers knowing that this is a service available. Then I think the other part of it is, as we’ve already discussed, the extent of, you know, the people who, who are eligible for this service. Because it’s right in the title. I think people tend to focus on this being a service for people who are blind. But it’s more than that. It’s people who have visual impairment who have a physical disability where they can’t hold the material that would circulate from a standard public library, or who have a print disability, as Jason mentioned, dyslexia being one of those. So, there’s a lot of people that are eligible for this program and don’t realize it. I think one thing that struck me, Arfa as you’ve, you’ve mentioned, I guess why this resonated with you. There’s friends and family and colleagues in my life that are aware of this now who didn’t realize that this was something that existed. They can qualify for this service, and it feels like, okay, I did my part. I shared the word for with another potential patron. 

Rachel Klein-Kircher: On this theme of getting the word out. So, for you, Jason, in your role, how do you hope to improve or continue and build on the success of the collaborative work that you do with educational institutions and communities in the country as a way to really build that trust in government? 

Jason Broughton: This is a great question. It just segues into what I was thinking, what I really wanted to say on how we work to be a collaborative entity and a partner across different entities. So, when you said educational items, we do work with the Department of Education federally to look at a host of things and understand, of course, what the reading side of things, the reading disabilities, what that looks like for awareness of the host of items. We also work with the Department of Veteran Affairs and a variety of different ways when it comes to veterans in various stages of their, I would say, vision or print disabled, situations. But other aspects that people might not have considered is we also work with the centers, for Medicare and Medicaid services. We have a unique demographic sometimes because they are of an older, I like to say a mature and distinguished life, and one that we are looking always, I would say, to connect with the host of people. I would say we would love to connect with, the interior department, state department to talk with overseas patrons in a host of different ways because where any resident or American citizen is located, this can be sent to you. Of course, the mail would be something that had a workout internationally, but it is doable.  

But we also work with NASA because NASA has, and this is probably if, when people think about this, some very unique formats in which, for example, we can look at the universe in different images, but what does it look like, which NASA does to create some wonderful tactile books to feel the moon, to feel what a star, because that is how a vision impaired or total blind person is going to see that experience. They’re to have to feel it. So, we are also looking at what does it means to have this added component of tactile graphics layered into the experience known as NLS, which opens up a whole different way of experiencing a book. For those who like Game of Thrones, it would probably most helpful if you had the map at the beginning and then throughout to understand, well “where is Westeros at?” Well, if you’re a vision impaired person, wouldn’t it be interesting to get that map as you need it or just have it with you as you go through that, because you’d be able to feel it. The rest of us can see it or watch, watch the actual TV show. So, it’s a different experience, but it still allows one to be inclusive. So, when we’re talking about collaboration, we are open to working with a host of people if they are of the conscious of wanting to make sure that they are inclusive and providing additional supplemental, recreational, and sometimes some informational items that will bring quality of life to citizens. This is what we are all about and we would love to connect with you. 

Dominick Spinelli: I’m going to take the opportunity to put a plug in there because Jason spoke about map, for example creating an accessible version of that, which generally be what we call a tactile graphic where there’s a textured surface, where someone with low vision would be able to still read the map. And working with really engaging partners has allowed us to explore other projects and possibilities. So, like tactile graphics being one of those, we’ve been working with studios and narrators and, to some extent, with publishers on how to create an accessible version of a graphic novel. How do you incorporate that visual element of a graphic novel into a narration? So, it’s really exciting to do that kind of work. How do you convert mathematical charts into a described image so that you can include something like a GRE book in our collection. That’s something we’re working on now, how to do that in a sustainable way. So yeah, we’re really exploring how to add more levels of accessibility to a broader collection.  

Jason Broughton: It takes a lot of partners, as you can see in collaboration. I think when you asked about what it is like for trust, knowing that we are moving in those directions means that we’ve heard our users. That allows, I think, a level of trust to say I am heard, I understand, I see it in your work, or at least you’re at least letting us know what is possible, and therefore that is also transparency.  

Arfa Alam: You know what I love about this conversation right now is you keep bringing your work back to the quality of life for the people you’re serving. Because again, as someone who has been impacted by special needs since I was born, I actually have a twin sister who is deaf and has learning disabilities. And then as I mentioned, there are multiple people in my immediate family with various needs. It’s not enough just to talk about accessibility and inclusion, right? You want to activate that accessibility and inclusion in meaningful way that gets at the quality of life. So, I think for this next question I have, I want to say, other than having, phenomenal colleagues like you, Dominic why might you recommend to someone to pursue a career in the federal government? And if you could especially speak to those individuals who are early on in their career or maybe are in a different sector and are looking to possibly go into public service. 

Dominick Spinelli: It seems so easy because in our career as in our field as librarians, I’m working for the Library of Congress which is amazing. It feels like I’m living the dream, right? But I think it doesn’t matter what library you’re working for. If you are in a library, you’re providing a public service of some kind and that’s what’s kept me engaged and passionate about my career this whole time is being able to connect people with information that improves their lives, or just answer a question or give them something fun to do. It doesn’t have to be so deep as like, I really changed someone’s life today. I connected someone with this book they wanted to read, and they walked away happy, and I’m happy as a result. The selfish but intrinsic pleasure that I get out of helping people is just part of the day-to-day nature of what we do. But I think further, a lot of people that consider a career in librarianship are people who probably like me, didn’t know quite what they wanted to do as they were going through college. They were interested in a lot of things, and they changed their majors a couple of times and they’re just interested in a lot of topics. This career is great for that because you get exposed to so many different topics every single day. And what I’ve learned from the people that I work with and what I’ve learned from our patrons over time is you know, enough to make me think I know trivia, even though I don’t do that well at trivia. But it feels like I’ve learned so much throughout this career that I’ve had that, I can’t imagine doing something different.  

Arfa Alam: Jason, would you like to add to that? 

Jason Broughton: So, in looking at the question of what someone would do if they are thinking about pursuing work in the public sector, public service. And then what advice I would give, I would definitely say: number one, have patience and number two, be engaged with the public. I didn’t say it was going to be easy or sometimes nice, you’re dealing with the public, but the last would be be an active listener. The example I would give is something that we were participating in called the Marrakesh Treaty. We were the 50th signer to this. This was really, I’m kind of just giving you a nutshell here, as a way to deal with the global book famine that is across the world and making sure that, again, materials, information, resources are not just given but in the language of where it’s from. That meant we had to think about creating and have conversations to deal with a treaty. Which meant okay, you would’ve thought that we were all talking before, but we weren’t. Now we are sharing, collaborating across the world. In doing this, what is very unique is that we have been able to be an importer and exporter of different foreign language materials, so a user can now read it in that language. Dominic can talk about that, but in stating that, you might say, well, you still gave a very unique item. Different entities had to come together to do this. Because this is a treaty. You have to have the legal department, so if you’re a lawyer. The finance department, to help us to navigate things. State Department, Library of Congress at the higher and lower end, you had to have people on the ground. Then you also have to have the librarians. But a lot of collaboration had to occur in different sectors of society, particularly one that people will find most interesting: copyright, the US Copyright Office. Which is removed from people sometimes because they have to be, said “you don’t understand how we felt when we realized what we had done. This was one of the most engaging things we’ve ever done in our life.” That was really stunning to hear people realize, “wow, I actually am helping people on the ground get materials that they should have already had. “So, the Marrakesh Treaty, to have books in other languages, would be something I would say, just as an example, how you can be in different sectors, across entities when you are thinking about public service as a young professional, how you can make an impact for a greater global or national good. 

Dominick Spinelli: This exchange of material with other organizations similar to NLS around the globe, who have also signed on to this worldwide treaty, has allowed us to really expand our language offerings in our NLS collection. So, we’ve got more than 24 different languages in the collection. We’ve got English, of course. We have Spanish and French and German and Polish and Korean and Mandarin and Urdu and, anyway, it goes on. We have so many different languages that are represented and all of this was made possible because of the Marrakesh Treaty. I think we have the benefit of working at the Library of Congress, before this I just didn’t really think about what constitutes an agency, right. Library of Congress, you would think it’s a bunch of librarians and it definitely is a bunch of librarians. But yeah, there are so many other careers here too. There’s lawyers and there’s accountants and there’s engineers. I mean, we have engineers working onsite at NLS that, and that’s the reason that we are able to provide some of the cutting-edge technology to be able to provide the services that we do.  

Rachel Klein-Kircher: Jason, Dominic, just thank you so much, bottom of my heart, and I know Arfa is also sitting here smiling and feeling the same. This has been so enjoyable. Thank you for your generosity, your time, your service, your passion, your humor, and your honesty, all of it. It’s been very enjoyable.  

Jason Broughton: Thank you so much for having us, we, we also appreciate this deeply and we hope that it does change the lives of people in considering staying and coming into public service. 

Dominick Spinelli: Thank you both.  

Rachel Klein-Kircher: So, Arfa, this for me was such an amazing special opportunity to talk with Jason and Dominic. A lot of it just speaks to my heart personally. You know, growing up with libraries is such an important part of my life. And then throughout my life, and I mentioned my dad and it really got to me when Jason talked about the thank you notes that he gets from people who all the way up until end of life are able to be served by books and reading and the music materials. It was just so beautiful, and this is coming from a government institution. 

Arfa Alam: Yeah, I couldn’t agree more with you, Rachel. This conversation just pierced right into my soul, and as I said before, so many things that Jason and Dominic were talking about the work they’re doing at NLS to serve people with different abilities. Right. It really spoke to me, again, as I mentioned before, because I’m a mom to special needs kids. I just think, how lucky are we that these are the type of public servants in our federal government, right? You can just tell how sincerely passionate they are about accessibility and inclusion and really seeing and hearing the people they’re meant to serve, but they’re also just really brilliant. They’re smart and they’re good at their job, right? 

Rachel Klein-Kircher: Yeah. Jason, I appreciated how honest he was because he started off by saying like, this is a humbling job, humbling experience, and you really have to understand the needs of the citizens and hear directly from them. Then at the end he said, you know, we’re engaging with the public, which is not always easy and it’s not always nice and that the key is to listen. So that’s like, what a big heart, to be able to understand that people want to be heard and seen. I love the point that he also talked about when we think about the concept of government and trust. When he mentioned that transparency and trust mean that we’ve heard our users because they can see it in our work, and we’ve told them what’s possible. So, if there’s something that we’re not able to do, we’re also letting them know, we heard you, but here’s what we can do and the limitations, if there are any. 

Arfa Alam: Yeah, absolutely. And I think another thing that really sticks out for me is when Dominic was talking about memorable stories that he’s heard from individuals impacted by their work. He made the point that it’s not always just about life-changing experiences, right? Sometimes someone just had a good day. I think that that speaks to service in the federal government more broadly, right? You’re not always going to be saving lives. But you do have very real opportunities to do substantive work that can sometimes have small and modest impacts on people’s lives. And sometimes much bigger. But I think the point is, is that you’re doing that real substantive work that affects lives. 

Rachel Klein-Kircher: How did he say it? He said, “I’m living the dream,” which is so cool. I also liked that Dominic, who had asked questions from other librarians because he wasn’t sure that this was the path. And that’s absolutely right on for anyone who’s thinking of any career. Ask the people who are doing the thing that you think you might want to do, be curious, get more information. It was so wonderful for both of these gentlemen that somebody else saw them also and said, I see you as this. You have these gifts and here’s where you can use them. And they trusted that, and they were just open to exploring. 

Arfa Alam: Right now, I’m thinking of when I started my career in the federal government, right out of grad school. There was a moment where I was like, what am I doing? And then I got into the federal government, and I was like, wait, this is really cool. These are the smartest people I’ve ever met, and everyone is really passionate about the mission and serving the people. So, I think, all in all, how lucky did we get today with these amazing guests, right? 

Rachel Klein-Kircher: Absolutely. So, Arfa, I’m so glad that you were able to join me today for this podcast and for this great conversation. Thank you.  

Arfa Alam: Thank you so much for having me, Rachel. I appreciate everything you and our team do behind the scenes. 

Transition Music 

Abigail Alpern Fisch: So that’s our show, thanks so much for listening! If you haven’t already, please follow or subscribe to “Profiles in Public Service” wherever you get your podcasts. 

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 I’m, Abigail Alpern Fisch, our writer and producer for today’s episode 

Our script supervisor is Barry Goldberg. 

And our executive producer is Jordan LaPier.  

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