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Volunteer Nation Blog

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“You make a living by what you get. You make a life by what you give.” ~Winston Churchill


Staff Spotlight: Abigail Shaw

Abigail Shaw

What do you do at Learning Ally?

My name is Abigail, and I’m part of the production staff (specifically literature) at LA. My job responsibilities include a mix of things: I oversee the QA process of our already existing titles--looking for ways to make the books we already have recorded even better, or if they need to be re-recorded--, interfacing with volunteers in the process of narrating and listening to literature titles, and creating conventions and processes surrounding graphic novel image descriptions for blind/visually impaired students.

How long have you worked at Learning Ally?

It's been just over three years that I’ve worked with the organization, splitting my time between production of our audiobooks, as well as coordinating our virtual mentoring program for visually impaired/blind college students in our College Success Program. Actually, if you include the fall semester I worked part-time as a mentor, October will be four years with the organization.

Why did you choose to work at Learning Ally?

Initially, I was just interested in giving back as a mentor for the College Success Program. Opportunities eventually opened up for me to coordinate the mentoring program, as well as to lend my skills with audio production. My bachelors is in music and audio recording, and because of a lot of experience with our College Success Program students, I am now pursuing my masters in social work.

What's something most people at Learning Ally don't know about you?

In March of 2012, I hiked part of the Appalachian Trail with a group of friends and my former guide dog, Alexa. If given the time and money, I would consider doing a through hike.

Any Hobbies?

In my free time, I occasionally pick out popular songs or practice classical music on my upright piano, affectionately dubbed Barb, and I’m a long-distance runner. Currently, I am training for a half marathon in September. 

What do you like most about working at Learning Ally?

Our mission, the volunteers, and my colleagues. Getting to see how all of our work impacts students is incredibly rewarding.

What is your favorite audiobook/book, if you have any?

It's always hard to pick just one! For reading, via braille or synthetic speech, “The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake,” by Aimee Bender, “Jane Eyre,” by Charlotte Bronte, and a commercially produced audiobook I really enjoy is the “Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close,” by Jonathan Safran Foer.

What is your favorite movie or TV series?

Gilmore Girls. The dialogue and cultural references are priceless.

Kit: my preferred method of transportation in NYC


From the Training Center - It's July!

Happy summer volunteers!

July begins a new fiscal year at Learning Ally, so it's the time when we look back at our accomplishments of the past year and forward to our goals for the next. This has been a year of great successes for Learning Ally! Our students are reading pages at record numbers, we’ve exceeded book production for the first year since going to a virtual production system, the Building Books for Student Success campaign exceeded goals, and we launched new training programs for Storytellers, Quality Assurance review, Fast-track for audio industry professionals, and the work-in-progress Literature Listener course. 

 

In the coming year we plan to continue to expand online volunteering with more book projects and a focus on special topics. Our Literature Listening program, once completed, will provide another avenue for new volunteers to get involved. In addition, changes to international copyright treaties have opened up the opportunity for us to deliver books in new markets like Canada.

 

Our volunteer webinar series has been a success and we are planning even more online meetings starting with an event later this month that focuses on what is done to a book project before and after you see it in production! Soon we will be using online meeting tools to have "office hours" when training staff will be available for assistance and questions from trainees.

 

We thank you all for your continued dedication to our mission and our borrowers. We look forward to working with you in the months and years ahead. 

 

Congratulations To Our Training Graduates

 

Tom H., Tiffany J., Stephanie L., Sarah B., Rick Y., Rachel R., Patrick K., Paige E., Margaret H., Lance L., Kimberly W., Katrina J., Jake P., Dorothy T., David V., Cat D., Calvin N., Bruce B., Alev B., Adam M., Jake P., Katrina J., William G., Jenny H., Paul H., Philip S.
 


Volunteer Spotlight - Bernard Strauss TV Interview

Learning Ally volunteer Bernie Strauss appeared on NBC 5 Chicago on an interview about his experience as a volunteer with Learning Ally. It was broadcasted on June 26 and 27.

 

The segment highlights the volunteer as a retired geneticist, who narrates science textbooks for Learning Ally. Bernard has volunteered for more than 9.5 years with us and transitioned from studio to virtual.

 

The segment also mentions Daniela, an LA solution user who is a senior majoring in Microbiology who has used the books recorded by Bernard and other LA volunteers.

 

To watch Learning Ally volunteer Bernie Strauss and Daniela, turn on NBCTV5 last evening click on this link or cut and paste it into your browser

 

TV Segment & Interview - Click here

Update for this week: Our readers increased to 209,928 this week – with 46,256 at frequency.  Pages read increased by 65% over last year for school readers! 

 

I hope you enjoy the video!


Literature Books Completed in May, 2019

The Literature team completed 74 Books in May!  Thank you for the hours of narrating, listening, teamwork and talent that makes this possible!


Staff Spotlight: Kevin Ziegler

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 Introduction

My name is Kevin Ziegler. I am the Digital Audio Coordinator with Learning Ally. In other words, I’ m the “audio guy”. I am in charge of QA (Quality Control). Basically, I handle all the audio as it is completed. In other terms, I strive to clean up and enhance all the audio. Lastly, through this blog, I was hoping to let everyone into my world and explain a bit about what happens in “post.”

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What is “Post- Production”? 

My primary focus is to level all the files across the entire book- which allows them to play smoothly without noticeable volume fluctuations. I also need to remove all the extra noise that can sometimes be introduced from different recording environments. After all of that, I “EQ” each title to best enhance the audio that is there--balancing the sonic frequencies to make it sound “good” to the ear.

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What do I utilize?

I use a program called Izotope RX7, which is an industry-standard audio editing and mastering tool. This program allows me to batch process (work with many titles all at once to save time) and customizes different options for dealing with common recurring audio issues.

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Is every title treated the same way?

Easiest answer is no. Most "classic audio" titles (textbooks and vocational-type books) are handled in the same fashion. As for the Voicetext, I listen to a sample from each book when it’s completed, and make a decision then about how to treat it, pulling from my different “recipes” as needed.

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What are the most common issues we encounter?

Mouse clicks, background noise, plosives (popping sounds on certain letters, esp. P’s and B’s), sibilance (harsh S sounds), electrical noise, & poor recording environments.

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 Setting a Proper Level:

I generally recommend that the light gray area of the Easybooks window be filled up with the level being set.

 

That being said, there isn't a precise min and max level. My suggestion is to always avoid any red in the recording level. Digital audio has a tendency to distort at those high levels. The other side if a level is so low it appears as only a blip in the window, it is more than likely much too low. I sincerely hope all this information makes sense. Also, if something looks or sounds wrong to you, point it out to the project lead.

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Important takeaway: While the tools I use are indeed very powerful and beneficial, I’m sorry to say, it cannot fix everything. This is especially true when we factor in time limitations and volume of titles we produce--all with our efficient-but-small production staff. That is why it is important to have the best possible audio signal at its source. I hope these answers help deepen your understanding of our process. If you have any questions, please email me at: kziegler@learningally.org and I will get back to you. Thanks again, for all your commitment and dedication towards Learning Ally.

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Summer Reading Together Explosion

 

Summer Reading Together logo: stylized sun wearing dark sunglasses in blue circle with words Summer Reading Together, Learning Ally


 

Learning Ally’s Summer Reading Together program is already helping thousands of students avoid summer slide!  Just since June 1st:

 

  • More than 3,000 students reading

  • More than 500,000 pages read

  • More than 500,000 minutes read



 

Students are having a great time exploring fun lit and even LEARNING over the summer.  Click here to watch the video recommendation posted by one of our enthusiastic participants:

https://www.instagram.com/p/By7-zyYhSdQ/


 

Young boy with crewcut and dark-framed glasses smiles as he holds up his tablet with the book Private Pilot Maneuvers displayed



 

Look for more exciting news from our students as the summer goes on!  To learn more about the program (and share the information with teachers and families who may want to join in the fun), click on this link:

https://learningally.org/Summer-Reading-Together


 

Colorful graphic of celebratory confetti and streamers rising up from festive party hat-like cones


 

Metrics Update for this week:

 

  • Our readers increased to 209,389

 

  • We’ve had over 141 million pages read--an increase of 65% over last year for school readers!

 

  • We had 46,058 reading at frequency*



 

Happy Summer, and Happy Reading, everyone!





 

*at frequency = students are reading books multiple times during the school year, with a general target of thirty times (more for lower grades, less for upper grades).  Our data shows that most of these students read for at least 20 minutes each time.

 


Literature Books Completed in April, 2019

The Literature Community completed 56 Books in April! Thank you all for helping us record these books.


Summer Fun for Students with Learning Ally

 

Summer Reading Together logo: stylized sun wearing dark sunglasses in blue circle with words Summer Reading Together, Learning Ally


 

It’s summer time, and that means...Learning Ally’s Summer Reading Together!

 

Each year, students all over the country compete for monthly and grand prizes while completing summer reading assignments and fighting summer slide.  It’s a great program and motivates students to continue building their reading and comprehension skills. The students can read anything available on Learning Ally, including material assigned as summer reading and books that are just for fun.  To help them get started, the Family part of our website includes a link to Learning Ally Featured Books, grouped by themes such as Summer Reading Together: Space Exploration and Learning Ally Featured Books from Best-Selling Series, and includes books ranging from items based on movies to classic literature.  To explore our current list, click here:

https://learningally.org/Portals/6/Docs/SummerReading/SummerReadingLists.pdf



 

Screenshot of Learning Ally parent Amy Goetsch's post, featuring a photo of son Alex mowing the lawn and a shot of his Word of the Day: Arduous.

 

In addition, we have a Vocabulary Challenge for them on social media, where they can upload video recommendations of summer reading books, or post three to six vocabulary words that they learned during their summer reading experience.  Participants will be entered into a raffle, and one lucky winner will be the proud owner of a new Chromebook at the end of the summer!



 

Colorful graphic of celebratory confetti and streamers rising up from festive party hat-like cones


 

Metrics Update for this week:

 

  • Our readers increased to 208,500

 

  • We’ve had over 137 million pages read--an increase of 66% over last year for school readers!

 

  • We had 45,743 reading at frequency*



 

Keep up the great work, everyone!  We're looking forward to a terrific summer!





 

*at frequency = students are reading books multiple times during the school year, with a general target of thirty times (more for lower grades, less for upper grades).  Our data shows that most of these students read for at least 20 minutes each time.


New Version of EasyBooks!

We are very pleased to announce a new EasyBooks release! 
Screenshot of EasyBooks
This new version 4.020 offers several new features that we think you will like:

  • More keyboard shortcuts;
  • A feature that helps eliminate click sounds on stop/start of recording;
  • Mac Mojave compatibility; and
  • Added support for bold, italics, underline and active hyperlinks in the notes field.
    You can do these by clicking Ctrl-B, Ctrl-I, Ctrl-U to turn it on and then click it again to turn it off (or select the text you want to change and use the same key combination to apply it).
    Hyperlinks should be automatic for any address that starts with http, https or www.
     

Links to the installation instructions are here and also linked from the EasyBooks homescreen (you may need to scroll down a bit):
EasyBooks for PC 4.020
EasyBooks for Mac 4.020

 

Not sure which version you have? Check the top bar and it will show which version you have. Please contact Vol-Support@LearningAlly.org if you need any help with the update or installation.

 

For more detail, please see our EasyBooks version doc