One person’s passion for books makes them talk for others
Nevada Appeal Staff Writer
Keri Putnam has a mission: To help people who can’t read because of an impairment enjoy the wonder of books.
Putnam is director of the Talking Books program at the Nevada State Library and Archives. The program has a large collection of books recorded on tapes that are available to people across the state who aren’t able to read printed books.
“We are serving a very special clientele, people who love to read and have lost the ability to use regular print,” Putnam said from her office in the lower level of the state library, packed with photos and keepsakes of her three children, and the accomplishments of 15 years doing the job she care about so much.
“I love my job. I will retire from this job, unless they cut it.”
The state’s budget problems are just the latest in a number of challenges Putnam has faced down.
Born in South Africa, Putnam’s parents moved back to their home country of Scotland, then to the U.S. She bounced around from Illinois to Wisconsin to Iowa to Arkansas, before ending up in Nevada in 1976. While looking for a place to settle down,
Putnam’s mother and adopted father found themselves at the intersection of U.S. highways 50 and 95 in Silver Springs.
“The sign said ‘Carson City, capital.’ We turned there, and it was so beautiful with so many trees, and there was a house for sale, and that was the end of the story,” she said.
She graduated from Carson High School, and went to Northern Illinois University, where she found her calling in library and information studies, as well as her husband, William. With two young daughters and a son on the way, Putnam returned to Carson City.
“I came back to Nevada with the intention to work at the state library and work with special collections,” she said. “A pregnant woman with a masters degree, you don’t necessarily find jobs easily.”
She worked in the Nevada Legislature for a while until the job she came here for opened up.
Her husband William died in 1997, leaving Keri to raise their three children alone.
Putnam’s commitment to education shows through her children. Her oldest daughter Pam is a sophomore at University of Pennsylvania; her other daughter Hannah is a freshman at Boston University. Keri sold the family’s home and used the equity to help pay for these expensive schools.
Her son Rich is a sophomore at Carson High, and a member of the Honor Society.
One of Putnam’s first accomplishments was creating a book recording program within Talking Books department. Library staff and volunteers spend many hours inside two vault-like recording booths, nicknamed Thelma and Louise, narrating and editing works about Nevada, or by Nevada authors.
“I’m so proud of that recording program,” Putnam said. “We started with nothing and now we record anywhere from 12 to 15 books a year.”
They even record each issue of Nevada Magazine, including scripting all the photos to describe what they show.
Next year, they will begin to transfer all of the cassette tapes to digital flash drives, which also gives them access to about 12,000 recorded books from the Library of Congress. People can request recordings and have them sent free of charge.
“We don’t just serve the blind,” Putnam said, noting that anyone with a permanent or temporary impairment that prevents them from reading can benefit from the program.
“Some kids with reading disabilities, they will find if they can have it in audio and look at it in print, they are able to learn and adjust and excel,” Putnam said.
While the Talking Books program serves about 2,000 people, Putnam estimates there are 25,000 who could benefit from it.
“There are still so many people who could use this program who don’t know about it,” she said. “We are the best kept secret in the nation. We really want to get more Nevada people who we can serve.”
Her passion for service extends to the local Kiwanis chapter, where she is a past president. She is also regional adviser for Key Club, an offshoot of Kiwanis that has grown into the largest service program for high school students in the country.
“If you had told me 20 years ago I would work with teenagers, I would have said, no, shoot me first,” Putnam said, laughing. “And yet, I love doing it. To see these kids, they are usually the cream of the crop. But there’s always one or two who are just trying to fit in, and they might come from a drug family, that type of impairment, dysfunction. And to think that maybe I’m the one person who might help them go this way instead of that way. It’s important in our society to make sure we help everybody.”
Contact reporter Kirk Caraway at email@example.com or (775) 881-1261.