Library beginnings – In her own words

Miss Louise Harrison McCraw (1893-1975), an author of numerous books about the Civil War, became concerned after meeting with a group of visually impaired individuals in Richmond, Virginia, that there was a great need for Christian literature for the blind to access.  There was at the time almost nothing of spiritual content available in Braille

Miss McCraw was a friend of Dr. James H. McConkey (1858-1937), himself a prolific author.  Dr. McConkey graduated from Princeton College in 1880 as class president, studied law and was admitted to the bar.  He played an influential role in the work of YMCA and in founding the Africa Inland Mission.

As Miss McCraw wrote: “it occurred to me that the best service I could render the visually impaired would be to have the McConkey books, from the Silver Publishing Society in Pittsburg, transcribed into Braille for them.  Given the enormity of the need for spiritual Braille material, the idea of a library began to take shape.  She then contacted Dr. McConkey, suggesting he have some of his books and pamphlets transcribed into Braille.  The idea intrigued him and soon made plans to travel to Richmond to discuss the matter.  Meeting with Miss McCraw he said, You know, if the Lord should see fit to initiate a work of this kind for the visually impaired, He might have a very definite part in it for you and it might have its base right here in Richmond.”  

Soon after, volunteer offerings given toward the ministry were used to purchase Braille books.  Miss McCraw wrote: “so later in the year 1925, the Braille Circulating Library was established with headquarters in a closet in my room!”  Seeing the instant success among visually impaired, she met with others in the Richmond community and, expanding titles cramping the quarters, the Library was moved to dedicated space in the local YMCA building in 1927.  Faithful and generous individual financial supporters provided funding and allowed the Library to add numerous titles of an ever expanding variety.  A cost-cutting measure came with the purchase of a Thermo-form machine in 1970; so began the in-house production of Braille books.

As Miss McCraw considered expanding her vision, she wrote: “Since travel in America had been productive in adding new readers and financial supporting friends, I began thinking.  The more I dreamed, the more my secret hope took shape that I, even I, might go to England and Scotland!  How should I expect God to send me to all that money ($500)?  Such a trip could be infinitely worthwhile if I could get permission to visit schools for the visually Impaired in England and Scotland.  The year before, I had been pinched to pay for having books and sufficient records made, let alone an overseas trip for the purpose of gaining new readers!”

The first gift was $25 from a dear friend and others soon followed.  But the goal of $500 was a long way off!  She was encouraged by her friend Evelyn Orwig, born in England, to continue her quest; however, after weeks passing with less than $100 designated for the trip, she grew frustrated.  I went to church Wednesday night as usual, then after prayers and message, I was taken aside in a room nearby by one of the church leaders as something was being discussed in the service.  Soon I was lead back into the service and called by Pastor Seume to the front of the church.  I hardly heard what he said except ‘five hundred dollars’ and a check in his hand.  How could a small church group afford to spend so much on a trip of doubtful outcome? How could I prove that reading our books could be used to transform hearts and lives?” Prove it, she did! As she moved among the visually impaired in the schools and other venues it was heartwarming to see their enthusiasm in learning to read Christian Braille Books!

Eventually, Miss McCraw, co-founder of this ministry, was instrumental in founding a similar work in England and one in Australia.  The “Torch Trust“ program developed in England soon became a full scale effort in meeting spiritual needs of the visually impaired and continues today.  Subsequently, through her efforts, she accomplished the same on the continent of Africa.  Over the years, the Braille Circulating Library has expanded to numerous countries of the World. 

Braille Library today

Over 91 years later, we who minister with the Braille Library today still have the same passion to help those who need to be fed the Word of God.  We welcome you to give us an opportunity to serve your needs.  

Giving is an integral part of the ministry.  All of our services are gifts to those who receive them.  Please take the time to visit our web site to see a listing of topical interests.  Included in these are a wide variety of tapes, large print books and Braille books for young people and seniors alike.  Our listings come in Braille and/or cassette tape.  We do have a limited library of vinyl records for those who have the equipment to listen to them.

How can we operate without a certainty of income?  This is totally a faith-based ministry, dependent primarily upon churches and individuals like you, who understand the need and respond regularly or sporadically with financial gifts, depending on their situation.  God is in control, so all activity is based on what comes in and we are thankful for it, regardless.

So how can we serve you?  You may contact us by regular mail, via email, or by phone. We take your contact information and note whatever selection you would like, specifying whether you wish it in Braille or cassette tape, and it will be sent by mail, free of charge, to your home.  When you have finished, merely reverse the address card, repackage, and place in the mail.  All products sent to visually impaired persons and returned to the Library, are postage free.  If you have no selected preference, we will make a selection and send it to you.  That is why we call it a circulating library!  You always have something to read or listen to!  Give us a try!

We welcome your calls anytime weekdays 9:00 AM to 3:30 PMEmails are anytime!

Thank you for participating with us!

– Bill Jeffries, Interim Director