Thursday, April 14, 2011

Books that Speak Volumes: Reading by Sound and Touch

"Talking Books" At the Library of Congress

Last month, the National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped at the Library of Congress celebrated their 80th Anniversary. Thanks to Steve Prine, Monica Goldenberg, and the NLS staff for this excellent guest blog post.

Dr. James H. Billington, Librarian of
Congress spoke at the 80th
Anniversary Ceremony.
By Steve Prine, Assistant Chief, Network Division
National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped, Library of Congress

For many of us, reading is a favorite pastime. Books have the power to take us to faraway places, spark our imaginations, empower us with knowledge, and stimulate our minds. For individuals with blindness, low vision, or physical disabilities, however, reading regular print can be challenging—or impossible.
As an avid reader, it’s hard for me to imagine life without books, which is why I’m proud to work for the National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped (NLS), Library of Congress, an organization that helps ensure everyone can experience the joys of reading.
NLS provides a free library service that delivers digitally recorded audiobooks, special playback equipment, and braille books to eligible individuals at no cost to them. The books are circulated through the U.S. Postal Service by a national network of libraries serving blind and physically disabled people. Any person of any age who is unable to read regular print as a result of blindness, low vision, or physical handicap is eligible for the program.
On March 3, 2011, we celebrated the 80th anniversary of this amazing program.  Starting with just 19 libraries in 1931, NLS now has 113 network libraries nationwide and in the U.S. territories. NLS also has a long history of innovation resulting from its efforts to use the latest technology to ensure its patrons have access to the same materials enjoyed by their sighted peers. Today’s digital talking-book players and books on cartridge include tactile features and improved sound quality that allow for easy reading and an enhanced user experience.
Indeed, through eight decades, our patrons’ experience has remained central to everything we do. Our collection of books is no exception, offering something to entice even the most discriminating readers. Patrons can choose from more than 320,000 titles, including bestsellers, mysteries, thrillers, literature, biographies—even children’s books. A growing number of titles are available in Spanish. Many books and magazines are also available for download over the Internet through the Braille and Audio Reading Download (BARD) service (
This month—and throughout the coming year—as we celebrate our history, we also look forward to the future and our continued commitment to making sure that the joys of reading can be experienced by all. The next chapter for NLS truly does start with those who need this free library service.  
To learn about talking and braille books or request an application, call 1-888-NLS-READ (1-888-657-7323) or visit  

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