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Interview with a NLS Engineer & Music Patron

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As part of a continuing series introducing blog readers to facets of the National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped (NLS), I recently spoke with NLS Senior Staff Engineer and music enthusiast, Lloyd Rasmussen.

Lloyd Rasmussen, profile portrait
Photo of Lloyd Rasmussen, profile portrait, sitting at workstation. He uses a refreshable braille display, and to his left you can see one of NLS’s older cassette players.
Refreshable braille display
Photo of computer keyboard and refreshable braille display.

By interviewing Lloyd, I hoped to answer two questions: 1) What does an engineer do in a library? 2) How do you use the NLS Music Collection?

Amanda (AS): How long have you worked at NLS?

Lloyd (LR): I will have worked here 40 years in October.

AS: Could you give us a little bit of history about what you do at NLS, and what have you done in the past?

LR: I’ve always worked here in the engineering section. I have an electronics engineering degree, and I have been involved in the development, evaluation, testing, of refreshable braille devices and the audio products that we’ve used over the years. From phonograph records and talking book machines, through cassette players and into the development of our digital talking book player as well as our BARD mobile apps for iOS and Android. I helped to write the specification for digital talking books that we now use, and I continue to be involved in committees that are working on international standards like EPUB 3.

AS: On occasion you travel for NLS. Could you name some of the places you travel to and the organizations that you’re there to meet with? What are some of the things that you talk about?

LR: I haven’t done much travelling lately. I was on the NISO (National Information Standards Organization) committee which developed our Digital Talking Book Standard Z3986-2002. We had meetings at various agencies for the blind and other organizations around the country. In connection with that work, I did travel to Denmark, to RNIB (Royal National Institute for the Blind) in the United Kingdom, and to ONCE (National Organization of the Blind) in Spain, as well as to Bookshare, and to Google… I’m a member of the National Federation of the Blind (NFB) and I usually get to most of its conventions; I’m on its research and development committee.

AS: When did you first become a Music Section patron? Could you give us a little history about how you became a musician or singer?

LR: I went to school at the Iowa Braille and Sight Saving School in Vinton, Iowa from Kindergarten-12th grade. While I was there I took piano lessons… singing lessons… part of the chorus… and part of the Band–I played Clarinet.

I didn’t do anything with this in college, but I did become involved in church choirs after I started working various places. I’ve been a member of the same church choir now for 31 years.

I was part of a group (the Cane Raisers) that recorded 26 songs of the National Federation of the Blind in 1997. You can find all these songs on the website.

I think for a long time, as I worked here, I didn’t really keep much track of what was in the music collection. Once in a while I checked something out, but I had low expectations of what I might find here. It’s only since the catalog has gone online, and I’ve had a little more experience using it, that I’m really using the collection a little more, mostly for choir music and sometimes if it has been scanned and put up on BARD. [Church choir] did the “Gloria” by Rutter… “The Battle Hymn of the Republic”… and the Music Section had exactly what I needed. I think [Battle Hymn] was probably written in the 1940s, and a lot of the good stuff is quite old. I’ve used RNIB things from the 1920s a time or two, as well as things that are newer.

Starting about eleven years ago somebody asked me if I would be interested in joining our church’s praise band Alternate Melody… starting in 2004 I began to play the congas and also a djembe.

AS: Do you have a favorite composer?

LR: I listen to more rock music than anything else. That’s probably where I’ve learned a lot of the drum patterns that I end up doing, but I do like a lot of the things Bach did. I think that if he lived in the 21st century he might have become a computer programmer. We might not have heard all that music because I think he just had a mathematical mind. We might have been deprived of some of the things that he composed as a result.

AS: Do you have a favorite item from the music collection? You can answer no, that’s okay.

LR: No… I just like the fact that we have so much material in braille, and even though the formats vary some, there’s a lot of useful music and words in the braille music collection. People should get online, look at the catalog or call up the music section, and find out whether there might be something there that they could use. You might be surprised. I especially appreciate the fact that things are being scanned and hope that work is able to keep on going as the technology changes… that’s important work and it’s not really being done anywhere else that I know of.

AS: Would you mind telling us your hobby and what you like to do?

LR: I’m an amateur radio operator and my callsign is W3IUU. I got my first license when I was in third grade. You were required at that time to learn Morse code… I think that it’s easier to learn music, or easier to learn Morse code, if you’re musical. You’re not listening to a telegraph sounder going “click-caca-click-click-click,” you’re listening to notes going on and off. Lloyd whistles: “dah-di-dah-dit dah-dah-di-dah (CQ).”

One of the ways that you can send code is with an electronic keyer… it’s a lot like playing congas. Both of them involve fairly well-defined, planned, rhythm.

One of the connections between my radio hobby and music was when, at a pretty early age, I had somebody transcribe a part of the Radio Amateurs Handbook that listed the musical scale and what frequency all the notes were. I found it interesting to contemplate whether 1000 Hertz is a little bit sharp from a fifth octave “b,” and so forth. That kind of knowledge has come in very handy in listening to audio and being able to tell people what frequency something is. I wouldn’t claim to have perfect pitch, although some people think I do, because I think it can go out of calibration if you don’t use it enough, but… it’s been useful for me in the audio research we’ve done in developing talking books and digital audio compression.

AS: Thank you!


  1. Cool article, Lloyd!

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