February 17, 2018

Kim Charlson | Movers & Shakers 2005

Barrier Buster


Kim Charlson believes everyone should live life to the fullest no matter what their handicaps. Blind since early childhood, she chose librarianship because, as a braille reader and avid user of talking books, she wanted to be “in a decision-making capacity in the library field and influence the direction of library services for people with disabilities.”

And influence it she has, in the same sense that Hoover Dam has “influenced” the Colorado River. As director of the Braille and Talking Book Library at the Perkins School for the Blind, Watertown, MA, she has altered the profession by training and campaigning.

The citation for her induction into Massachusetts’s Library Hall of Fame praises her tireless work showing Massachusetts librarians “how to make libraries more accessible through outreach, web site accessibility, adaptive technology, accessible collections, and staff training on disability sensitivity and awareness.”

Through her work at Perkins, she provides librarians with a model of exemplary service to the blind and visually impaired. “Our library is the equivalent of a public library,” she says. “Just because an individual is unable to read standard print, they should not have to pay for the right to access reading materials and information. All members of society are entitled to free library services and that’s what the Perkins library is all about.”

Every year, her library, which serves more than 18,000 patrons, circulates more than 500,000 items: recorded books, braille books, and described videos (mainstream films with a special audio track describing the visual content). Borrowers can search for and order reading materials 24/7 through the library’s online catalog. Through the web site, they can also borrow playback equipment, ask reference questions, and request staff to record or make braille copies of specific titles.

Charlson’s next challenge? She says only a small percentage of information is published in accessible formats. Much electronic and web content is in PDF form, which doesn’t work with most screen readers. “Working with major digital initiatives like Google’s, to get them to build accessibility into these projects, will keep me busy for many years to come.”



Current Position Director, Braille and Talking Book Library, Perkins School for the Blind, Watertown, MA

Degree MLS, University of North Texas, 1984

Honors Massachusetts’s Library Hall of Fame, 2004

Nutshell Her husband says she’s “all libraries, dogs, and braille.”