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NLS: That All May Read

Frequently Asked Questions
  1. When did the talking-book program begin?
  2. Who is eligible for the program?
  3. Who can certify people as eligible?
  4. Are people with learning disabilities eligible?
  5. Is the program available to people who are illiterate or who are learning English as a second language?
  6. How long does it take for an individual to begin receiving service after submitting an application?
  7. Can I get talking books from my public library?
  8. Does it cost anything to use the program?
  9. How are materials received from and returned to the library?
  10. What kind of device is needed to play talking books?
  11. What is the difference between the standard digital talking-book machine and the advanced digital talking-book machine?
  12. Can books or magazines be downloaded from the Internet?
  13. What is Web-Braille?
  14. Is there a special device to help people who are hearing impaired?
  15. How are books selected?
  16. Where are the books recorded?
  17. Are books recorded by volunteers?
  18. How can I become a reader/narrator?
  19. Are magazines available through the NLS program?
  20. Do you have large-print books and other materials?
  21. Does your program offer music?
  22. At what age can a child start using talking books?
  23. Can people use the program if they are in residential care facilities or retirement homes?
  24. Are textbooks available?

  1. When did the talking-book program begin?

    The The free library service was established by an Act of Congress in 1931 to provide blind adults with books in an embossed format.  The Act was amended in 1934 to include sound recordings (talking books), and was expanded in 1952 to include children, in 1962 to provide music materials, and again in 1966 to include individuals with physical limitations that prevent the reading of regular print.

  2. Who is eligible for the program?

    Residents of the United States or American citizens living abroad who are unable to read or use regular print materials as a result of a temporary or permanent visual or physical limitation may receive service.

  3. Who can certify people as eligible?
    1. In cases of blindness, visual impairment, or physical handicap, eligibility may be certified by doctors of medicine; doctors of osteopathy; ophthalmologists; optometrists; registered nurses; therapists; and professional staff of hospitals, institutions, and public or private welfare agencies (e.g., social workers, caseworkers, counselors, rehabilitation teachers, and superintendents).  In the absence of any of these, certification may be made by professional librarians or by any person whose competence under specific circumstances is acceptable to the Library of Congress.
    2. In the case of a reading disability from organic dysfunction, eligibility must be certified by doctors of medicine or doctors of osteopathy, who may consult with colleagues in associated disciplines.
  4. Are people with learning disabilities eligible?

    The definition of learning disabilities varies and may include not only reading disabilities and dyslexia but also problems with spoken language, writing, or reasoning ability.  Because NLS is a service for blind and physically handicapped individuals, all applications must be based on a visual or physical handicap, including applications accepted under the terms "learning disabilities" (the broader term), "dyslexia," or "reading disability."  The certifying authority, as defined by Public Law 89-522—which governs the program—must determine that the reading disability prevents reading regular print in a normal manner and must be medically able to judge whether the disability has a physical or organic basis.  For more information about learning disabilities and the program, refer to the factsheet Talking Books and Reading Disabilities available on the NLS website at www.loc.gov/nls or by calling 1-888-NLS-READ.

  5. Is the program available to people who are illiterate or who are learning English as a second language?

    Individuals who do not have a visual or physical handicap are not eligible to use the service.  Public libraries are an excellent source of information about local literacy and English-language programs.

  6. How long does it take for an individual to begin receiving service after submitting an application?

    The goal of network libraries is to send playback equipment and an initial shipment of books and catalogs within five working days of receiving a properly certified application.

  7. Can I get talking books from my public library?

    Services are provided directly by a regional or subregional library of the NLS network.  You may use the "Find a Library" link on the NLS website to locate a talking-book library in your area or call 1-888-NLS-READ.  Some public libraries do have small collections of NLS-produced talking books for eligible users.  Check with the regional library in your state to determine if there is a talking-book collection at a public library near you.

  8. Does it cost anything to use the program?

    No.  This program is tax-supported by federal, state, and (where appropriate) local government agencies.  There is no direct cost to eligible readers.

  9. How are materials received from and returned to the library?

    All books, magazines, catalogs, and equipment are sent to readers through the U.S. Postal Service as "Free Matter for the Blind" and may be returned the same way.  Materials are sent by a network library with a removable address card that, when turned over and reinserted, will show the library’s name and address for return mailing.

  10. What kind of device is needed to play talking books?

    Talking books require the use of a specialized playback device.  For many years, talking books have been available on cassette, and specialized cassette players were available on loan to eligible readers.  In 2009, digital format books were introduced on easy-to-handle cartridges.  Two types of digital players are available: a standard model and an advanced model with navigation and bookmark features.  Current readers are encouraged to use both cassette and digital players to access the full range of the NLS collection.  NLS formats render the books unusable by the general public, a requirement under the U.S. copyright law to protect intellectual property while allowing NLS patrons free use of the material.

  11. What is the difference between the standard digital talking-book machine and the advanced digital talking-book machine?

    The standard digital talking-book machine has eight controls and provides basic functionality for the playback of talking books, including volume and tone control, rewind and fast forward, and variable speed.  The advanced digital talking-book machine has additional controls for setting bookmarks and navigating through the structured levels (chapters, sections, etc.) of a book.  Both machines can be operated on a built-in rechargeable battery and have an internal audio user guide, as well as a key describer mode.

  12. Can books or magazines be downloaded from the Internet?

    Yes.  Registered patrons may download digital talking books and magazines from the Internet through the NLS Braille and Audio Reading Download (BARD).  Once these materials are downloaded and transferred to a digital flash cartridge they may be played on the digital talking-book machine or on one of several third-party players.  Patrons must have access to a computer with high-speed Internet connection to use BARD.  More information about BARD is at https://nlsbard.loc.gov/.

  13. What is Web-Braille?

    Web-Braille is a service that provides electronic files of braille books, magazines, and music materials to individuals registered with cooperating libraries.  After registering with the library eligible braille readers may download the electronic files or use them online with braille output devices.  More information is available in the NLS factsheet Web-Braille, available at http://www.loc.gov/nls/reference/factsheets/webbraille.html.

  14. Is there a special device to help people who are hearing impaired?

    Yes.  An amplifier/headphone combination that produces sound up to 130 decibels is available for adults with severe hearing loss.  A special application form is necessary and must be signed by a physician or licensed audiologist.  The application has details about the need for a doctor’s certification and what precautions are necessary to prevent injury.  This device is not intended for individuals with mild or moderate hearing loss; the use of standard headphones may sometimes help these individuals.

  15. How are books selected?

    NLS selects the same types of books that are available though public libraries.  Titles are considered for production in braille or recorded format when favorably reviewed in reputable nationally distributed publications or included in authoritative bibliographies.  NLS strives to provide classics and informational readings, along with popular recreational works that appeal to children, young adults, and older readers.  Science fiction, mysteries, romances, and westerns are represented, as well as bestsellers, standard religious works, and some foreign-language materials.  Books of local or regional interest are generally produced by network libraries.

  16. Where are the books recorded?

    NLS talking books are recorded by professional narrators in the studios of contractors who bid each year on book production.  These contractors are usually nonprofit organizations that also provide other products and services for blind and physically handicapped individuals.  NLS maintains a recording studio in its Washington, D.C., office in order to keep abreast of current recording technology.  This studio records approximately one hundred titles per year.

  17. Are books recorded by volunteers?

    About 95 percent of talking books produced under contract for NLS are recorded in commercial studios.

  18. How can I become a reader/narrator?

    Many network libraries and agencies use volunteer readers to record materials for local use.  A directory of such agencies, Sources of Custom-Produced Books: Braille, Audio Recordings, and Large Print, is available on the NLS website.  Production studios awarded NLS contracts recruit and hire professional narrators.

  19. Are magazines available through the NLS program?

    Yes.  Magazines are available in braille and audio formats.  Criteria for the selection of periodicals are the same as for books.  Selection librarians also consider whether the periodicals reflect a balance of current thinking in the various fields represented, have high interest and demand, are representative in their points of view, and provide recreational as well as informational reading.

  20. Do you have large-print books and other materials?

    NLS does not produce large-print books.  Large-print books are available from many public libraries and bookstores, and some NLS network libraries have large-print collections.  A listing of major publishers and other sources is available from the address at the bottom of this page.  All NLS catalogs, bibliographies, and bimonthly magazines sent to patrons to help them select books are available in large print as one of several format options.

  21. Does your program offer music?

    NLS does not offer music for listening, but offers musical scores and books in braille and large print (sometimes known as bold note), and recorded instructional materials for learning to play various musical instruments.

  22. At what age can a child start using talking books?

    Books in the collection begin at the preschool level.  Parents may consult the reference circular Parents’ Guide to the Development of Preschool Children with Disabilities: Resources and Servicesfor additional information.

  23. Can people use the program if they are in residential care facilities or retirement homes?

    Yes.  Eligible patrons may receive direct individual service in care of the facility.  If the establishment has a deposit collection, they may use these materials without going through the process of signing up to receive individual service.  Direct service is always available, and this option ensures that readers receive materials that they specifically want to read.

  24. Are textbooks available?

    Learning Ally provides recorded educational books and related library services to people with print disabilities.  Prospective borrowers must register with Learning Ally.  Textbooks in large print may be purchased from the American Printing House for the Blind (APH) and the Library Reproduction Service.  Textbooks in braille also may be purchased from APH.  Textbooks are available online from Bookshare.  For more information on these organizations contact:

    American Printing House for the Blind
    1839 Frankfort Avenue
    Louisville, KY 40206
    800-223-1839
    e-mail: info@aph.org
    www.aph.org Link out
    Bookshare
    480 California Avenue, Suite 201
    Palo Alto, CA 94306-1609
    www.bookshare.org Link out
    Library Reproduction Service
    14214 South Figueroa Street
    Los Angeles, CA 90061
    800-255-5002
    e-mail: LargePrintSB@aol.com
    https://largeprintschoolbooks.com Link out
    Learning Ally
    20 Roszel Road
    Princeton, NJ 08540
    800-221-4792
    www.learningally.org Link out

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Posted on 2013-06-28