Since his accident Stefan Debus has not been able to see. Nevertheless, books are an important part of his life – thanks to the Deutsche Zentralbücherei für Blinde/DZB (the German Central Library for the Blind) in Leipzig.
Words have a special quality for me. They help me to imagine the way things are. Written texts make hidden worlds accessible to all of us. Books are therefore an important part of my life. As I am blind, I cannot make use of the resources most libraries have to offer. That is why the German Central Library for the Blind is all the more important for me.
Stefan Debus reading a book in braille at the Central Library for the Blind. | Photo (detail): © Julius Lukas
I cannot really remember the first time I used the Central Library for the Blind. One thing I am sure about, however, is that I have been borrowing books regularly since 2009. That was when I moved to Leipzig, where the Central Library for the Blind is also based. The local proximity, however, plays no role when you take out a book. Since the books are sent by mail, they can be ordered from anywhere in Germany. Recently, it even became possible to download them onto your computer or smart phone. That makes life even easier.
I still order most books on CD. However, these are not the usual, standard audio books you can buy in the shops. The Central Library for the Blind produces its own range. That is why it has its own recording studio for this very purpose. Audio books for the blind have a special audio format. This has been developed by libraries for the blind and is used worldwide. There are also special audio players for them. The difference being that this format enables more audio pages to be put on a CD. In addition, you can easily navigate between chapters and jump to individual text sections.
A narrator in the Central Library’s recording studio. Every year it produces about 200 audio books. | Photo (detail): © Julius Lukas
However, I do not use these possibilities so often, since I usually listen to the books without taking many breaks. I have a particular penchant for world literature: Elfriede Jelinek, Thomas Mann, Umberto Eco. Their works fascinate me. For example, I read The Name of the Rose by Eco. An insanely exciting murder mystery that is so packed with knowledge and historical observations. Listening to the book was a very intense experience for me. I even had the images of the movie with Sean Connery in my mind’s eye. I had seen it before I lost my sight.
A relief print of a Yeti in the Central Library’s current calendar. The bookbinding shop does not produce just books, but also relief prints like this. | Photo (detail): © Julius Lukas
The Central Library for the Blind also has books in braille that are produced by the Central Library. These are always quite thick volumes – from the point of view of size. Braille takes up much more space than conventional “black print” – as blind people call the printed writing in books. A paperback with 300 pages, when translated into braille, could well fill five A4-size volumes. This voluminous format is, in fact, more comfortable for the blind and sight-impaired. The lines are longer and you do not have to search for the start of the next line so often.
Stefan Debus listening to a CD. The audio player makes for easy navigation. | Photo (detail): © Julius Lukas
I find reading braille script, by the way, somewhat strenuous. As I lost my sight somewhat later in life, I am not particularly fast, and I actually get more physically tired when reading braille. That's why I always “read” books in the audio book version. The Central Library also puts out a magazine in braille, which is called SternZeit. It publishes selected articles from the magazine Stern and the weekly newspaper Die Zeit. I always make sure I have a copy delivered to me. And in that way I stay up to date on all the current issues.
Books and also magazines are an integral part of my life. Through them I can access information and knowledge, they entertain me and encourage me to think. Often, however, they also give me support, comfort and orientation. Sure, many people, of course, feel the same way about books and these experiences would also be possible without the Central Library for the Blind. The Central Library, however, makes it easier for me to immerse myself in the world of the narrative.
Stefan Debus, born in 1969, works as an independent piano tuner in Leipzig. From 1991 to 1994 he studied at the Conservatoire de Musique in Luxembourg. In 1998, he lost his sight in an accident. In 2002, he completed his training as a piano tuner in Chemnitz with top marks. Debus is also the author of the book Stockdunkel - ein Handbuch für Blinde zum Thema Mobilität (a handbook for blind people on mobility).
The Deutsche Zentralbücherei für Blinde/DZB (German Central Library for the Blind) is the oldest library of its kind in Germany. It was founded in the year 1894 as an association for the provision of letterpress (braille) print for blind people in Leipzig. Today the library enables the approximately 155,000 blind people and approximately 500,000 visually impaired people in Germany to borrow media. The stock includes 40,000 audio books, 20,000 books in braille, as well as numerous reliefs. These are all produced in the recording studio, the printing shop and the bookbinding shop of the Central Library.
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