When the Jamaica Plain branch goes back on line in 2017 after a --long overdue and hard-won-- gut rehab in 2017, it will include so-called looping technology for the hard of hearing. It will be the first looping installation in the BPL system. According to the Hearing Loss Association of America's Boston chapter (HLAA) web site, a hearing loop is a copper wire that circles a room and is connected to the sound system and microphone. The loop electromagnetically transmits the desired sound (usually referred to as “the signal”) from the microphone over the copper wire. The electromagnetic signal is picked up and received by a small copper coil called a telecoil (or T-coil), a component found in most hearing aids and cochlear implants (see graph below). "All you have to do is tape down an electric coil in a room which then broadcasts directly into an already existing wire in the hearing aid of a library visitor," explains Susan Jacoby, a JP resident whose partner has lost significant hearing capacity. Jacoby set the process of looping the JP library into motion when she happened to attend a concert there in April and heard that plans for the new branch did not include looping. A quick phone call to the BPL, and follow-up help from JP District Councilor Matt O'Malley, led to the inclusion of the technology. "Councilor O'Malley was familiar with it, because the council's public hearing room already has it," Jacoby said. "He really pushed the BPL." O'Malley announced shortly thereafter that, when the branch reopens, it will be "fully looped."
According to Jacoby, looping can be done in small or large areas, such as around a favorite living-room chair, or near a library's checkout counter, or inside an entire building. It can be a permanent installation or a temporary one, and federal funding may be available for it. "I understand that some Whole Foods stores in Florida have looped coils where the cashiers are," she said in a recent phone call. Costs vary but she recently received an estimate for looping an area in her home, which came to about $200.
Jacob regrets the limited extent to which the technology is currently used and how few people are familiar with it, including physicians. "My partner saw an audiologist for ten years who never told her about it," she said, adding that there are likely more people with hearing loss than currently assumed. "People cover up hearing loss problems because they may have a hard time accepting it," she said. When they blame the noisy restaurant for not being able to hear, they may be displaying symptoms of hearing loss, she suggested.
The Jamaica Plain branch renovation (the plans are linked here) will add 3,000 square feet to the library building, which was reconstructed after a fire in 1909. It is located next to Curtis Hall, where it began as a 'reading room' in 1876. It will include a graceful glass addition accessible from a Center Street entrance. Under Mayor Marty Walsh's administration, the proposed $8.5 million budget was increased to $10 million, thanks to the advocacy of, among others, Councilor Matt O'Malley. Two previous renovation plans for the cramped branch were terminated in the last decade before the current one was approved, thanks to the unrelenting advocacy by Don Haber and Gretchen Grozier, co-chairs of the JP Library Friends group. The branch will close for the renovation in August of this year, and is not expected to reopen until sometime in 2017.