On the Record

Nobel Prize-winning scientists don’t often share the stage with Golden Globe Award-nominated action film directors. Members of the PTA, Rotary Club, Kiwanis Club and Lawyers Association don’t usually congregate. And it’s a rare day when you’ll find bankers, poets, software and bank company executives, arts publicists and actors hanging out at the same place.

What’s bringing all these folks together over a period of five days starting next Monday, April 16 is Recording for the Blind & Dyslexic’s 12th annual Record-a-Thon. And they’re not all meeting in a boardroom or a stage, but rather soundproof reading rooms, where, individually, they’ll add their voices to thousands of others that have electronically recorded books to help those who have difficulty reading get a fair shake in life.

The Santa Barbara Unit of the organization is one of 21 chapters across the nation that contribute electronic versions of books to the national lending library in Princeton, New Jersey, which now houses more than 100,000 audio texts. It’s a non-profit, volunteer-driven organization that provides a “learning through listening” service primarily to students with visual impairment, dyslexia or other physical disability that make reading standard textbooks difficult or impossible.

“The celebrities and other special book readings we do during Record-a-Thon are a lot of fun, but it’s always important to keep an eye on the end result of what we do,” says Tim Owens, the organization’s executive director who left a longtime job in public radio to take over running the organization some 30 months ago. “It’s to give kids who are struggling with reading and who have been beaten down by peers, some of their self-esteem back, and give them a sense of independence so they can learn on their own.”

The facility has about 20 books in production at any given time during the year, and it usually takes about a month to get them finished. Owens expects the organization will complete that many in less than a week during Record-a-Thon. Plenty of time slots are still open for individuals, groups, organizations, companies and others to schedule a session. And if the timing isn’t convenient during the actual event, they’ll be happy to arrange another recording session.

It’s also a great time to check out the facilities and learn more about the organization.

“What we get here this week is lots of attention because of the celebrities. The biggest problem we have is that people don’t know about us,” says Owens. “We also do get some books that wouldn’t normally become part of our library, which is primarily textbooks, and which we always need to have read. It’s a gumbo of things going on during the week.”

Here are some highlights of reading events that have been scheduled:

Monday, 9 am: UCSB students, faculty, administrators and staff – including Nobel Prize-winning scientist Walter Kohn and UCSB Executive Vice Chancellor Gene Lucas – are kicking off the Record-a-Thon with a 24-hour session to record Elizabeth Kolbert’s book on global warming, “Field Notes From A Catastrophe.” 10 am to noon: Santa Barbara film director Andy Davis (“The Fugitive”) and producer Lowell Blank will read “Holes,” Louis Sachar’s award-winning youth classic that they made into a 2003 movie.

Tuesday, 4 pm to 7 pm: Members of the Santa Barbara Regional Chamber of Commerce’s take on Steven Crandell’s “Silver Tongue: Secrets of Mr. Santa Barbara” – the book about Steven’s father, Larry Crandell. Both Crandells will be on hand, along with local residents Miss Senior California and Miss Teen California.

Wednesday, 11 am: Local writers gather to read an as-yet undetermined work. 6 pm to 7:30 pm: actors from Speaking of Stories, including Bob Lesser and Allison Coutts-Jordan, take on – what else? – a book of short stories.

Thursday, 3 pm to 5:30 pm: The official “Santa Barbara Reads” public library book for 2006-2007, “My California,” will be read by several of the book’s authors/essayists, including Thomas Steinbeck, Chryss Yost, Deanne Stillman and Carolyn See.

Saturday, 10 am to 11 am: Local artist and writer James “Bud” Bottoms and his famous family get together to share his latest work, “Kid Ethics,” a children’s book that teaches life skills through ethics in a fun, A-Z workbook fashion. Bud, Ben and Joe Bottoms will handle the vocalizing.

For more info call 681-0531 or visit www.rfbd.org.