Services to Utah's blind will be enhanced by the addition of a sophisticated new Braille reproduction system to the Utah State Library.

The state-of-the-art equipment was purchased with a $44,000 appropriation from the Legislature last year, said Gerald A. Buttars, director of the library's division for the blind and physically handicapped.The system is one of a few in the country to bring current technology into play for reproducing reading materials for the blind. It will significantly speed the process so the program can respond to requests from the blind community, Buttars said.

"If we get rolling as we want to, we will be able to enhance our collections."

Jan. 30 at 12:30 p.m., the library will hold an open house to introduce the new system to those who are interested, including legislators who supported the financing.

The system includes a scanner - a simple-appearing piece of equipment with a $10,000 price tag - that reads material. It has the capacity to read books, newspaper articles, typewritten documents and computer printouts that are in various type styles and fonts and even multiple columns on a page.

The material is stored on hard disks, which require much less storage space than either Brailled books, records or taped versions. (A standard-length book in Braille requires three or more large volumes.) The disks can be re-used as needed to make additional copies.

An automatic translator converts the text into the Braille "shorthand" that is recognizable to those who are trained to read the raised symbols. In the final step, a Braille printer produces the finished pages, printed on both sides, which further reduces storage needs, Buttars said.

"This is undoubtedly one of the greatest innovations for the blind in this state in years," Buttars said.

The person who guides the process, proofreads and makes necessary adjustments is LuWana Martin. Her husband is blind and an avid "reader," which gives her a particular interest in making more materials available to the blind community, she said.

Martin was in the process of making Braille copies of a legislative bill that will affect the blind.

One of the special uses for the new system will be creating textbooks for blind students. Sight-impaired individuals also will be able to request special materials that they would like reproduced in Braille. They will pay the costs of paper only.

Utah's blind are not the only ones who will benefit from the system. The Utah library is a regional center serving 10 other states, Buttars said. The center has a huge collection of taped, recorded and Braille versions of books and other reading materials. It also stores large type books for those with some visual ability.

The center operates a special radio program for the visually impaired as well. The daily program reaches people along the Wasatch Front and the division hopes to expand the capabilities, possibly through the University of Utah's microwave system, Buttars said.

The daily programs include readings from both Salt Lake newspapers, national and local magazines, books and other items of value to the visually handicapped.