Digital progress sparks expectation and accord at national conference

Rapid City, South Dakota, hosted the twenty-third National Conference of Librarians Serving Blind and Physically Handicapped Individuals for six days, May 1 through May 6, 2004, in a setting of great natural beauty and historical significance. Librarians from most of the fifty states, Puerto Rico, and Great Britain came together in a meeting dominated by expectations and concerns over impending technological changes in library service. A vivid, witty, and provocative keynote address by novelist Eric Kraft created an open, imaginative space to which many of his listeners journeyed with pleasure.

Under the rubric "Our Digital World Redux," the conference focused on wide-ranging transformations in library service entailed by the digital revolution. Kraft's very writerly and almost dreamy keynote speech and the evocative setting at the foot of the Black Hills only served to underscore the future-oriented technological thrust of the event.

Doing more with less

A Saturday preconference session titled "Doing More with Less" brought together a substantial number of conferees to commiserate and problem solve in the face of sometimes devastating budget cuts and resource diminution. A workshop- style presentation by Glenn R. Miller of the Pennsylvania Library Association covered elements of effective institutional self-help from several vantage points, endorsing a well-informed, even-handed, and open-minded approach to the politics of advocacy. Miller's imaginative style of presentation embodied the spirit of librarians who are unwilling to curtail high-quality service in spite of obstacles.

The conference began formally on Sunday, May 2, with a short set of welcoming addresses by NLS director Frank Kurt Cylke, conference coordinator and Network Services Section head Steve Prine, and South Dakota Regional Library director and local conference host Daniel Boyd. Most of the afternoon was given over to NLS updates by division chiefs and section leaders and to meetings of the four regional conferences. Sunday evening, Cylke presented a special award to Dan Boyd in recognition of his help in making the conference possible.

The Roll Call of the States inaugurated Monday's sessions, followed by the keynote address, "Writing to Be Read and Writing to Be Read Aloud." The "fabulist pasticheur" Eric Kraft engaged his audience with reflections, laced together with selections from among his twenty-two novels, about the power of memory, the meaning of autobiographical fiction, and the crucial role in the creative process of an inspiring presence--in Kraft's case, Madeline, his muse and partner of several decades.

NLS initiatives to improve national outreach were updated by conference chairs Catherine Durivage (Midlands), Ruth Hemphill (South), Robert McBrien (North), and Jerry Packard (West) in a presentation moderated by Robert Fistick, head of NLS Publications and Media Section. The panel announced that a private sector public relations firm will be engaged to develop a national campaign to increase NLS patron registration by 10 percent by targeting veterans, seniors, students, and public library visitors in particular (see News, January-March 2004).

Session held at Crazy Horse site

On Monday afternoon the conference traveled by bus to the Crazy Horse monument site, where, in an extended plenary session, issues affecting the delivery of library service to Native Americans were investigated. Ruth Yellowhawk, codirector of the Indigenous Issues Forum, directed a workshop in which participants were enjoined to learn to listen constructively when attempting to bridge sociocultural divisions. Use of the NLS program on reservations has been minimal, and Yellowhawk's presentation implied that more culturally sensitive kinds of engagement would be fruitful to both providers and potential users of the service. After the session, Lakota dancer and storyteller Dallas Chief Eagle performed a traditional hoop dance with his daughters, Star and Dalecina. In his informative introduction, Chief Eagle prepared his audience to appreciate the history and spiritual content of the dance. The dancers' skillful and athletic routines were impressive.

Osborne represents RNIB

On Tuesday, Peter Osborne of the Royal National Institute for the Blind (RNIB) in the United Kingdom outlined the shape of digital efforts in Britain and Western Europe. The UK has launched a substantial CD recording and distribution program that has been well received, but conferees from the United States questioned the adequacy of intellectual property rights protection in the UK project. Osborne himself admitted that some piracy had occurred, but he approached the challenge of containment with confidence. NLS deputy director Michael Moodie described the progress of NLS's digital conversion project, drawing special attention to the recently published Current Strategic Business Plan for the Implementation of Digital Systems (online at and reiterating that the introduction by 2008 of a digital talking-book player using flash memory cartridges is on track. Lori Bell and colleagues from the Mid-Illinois Talking Book Center (MITBC) offered an update on their experimental project for distributing digital players preloaded with audio books.

Courtney Deines-Jones of the Association of Specialized and Cooperative Library Agencies (ASCLA) and an advisory panel--Henry Chang (California), Kim Charlson (Massachusetts), Rahye Puckett (Mississippi), and Richard Smith (Missouri)--discussed the ongoing revision of ASCLA Standards and Guidelines of Service. In other specialized matters of interest, recently appointed CMLS coordinator Sylvia Dye reminded librarians of the value of program statistics in rational planning and logistics and of the crucial importance of entering information accurately in automated systems; network consultant Deborah Toomey introduced a long-term user survey that will be used for program assessment; and production control specialist Ed Pitts discussed braille conservation strategies. Pitts also introduced a work-in-progress: an anthology of excerpts from NLS sound recordings of notable historic works read by their authors, among them Maya Angelou, Alistair Cooke, and Eleanor Roosevelt. Later, innovative space-saving shelving strategies were discussed and displayed on screen by John Mugford (New Mexico), Bonnie Farrier (New York City), and Ava Smith (Texas).

Focus on automation

The National Automation Conference, scheduled for Wednesday, was devoted to issues in library service involving new, old, challenging, exhilarating, and frustrating forms of applied technology. A panel headed by Lori Bell (MITBC) reported on the InfoEyes pilot, a system for bringing all the resources of the Online Computer Library Center (OCLC), an online library information service, to blind and visually impaired users. Diana Brawley Sussman (Southern Illinois), Kim Charlson (Massachusetts), Mary Mohr (Library of Congress), and Jeff Penka (OCLC) contributed to the discussion of broadening OCLC's reach.

The Automation Advisory Group--Karen Keninger (Iowa), Gordon Reddick (Connecticut), Alex Hernandez (Colorado), and Stella Cone (North Dakota)--met to assess the implications of the digital talking book in several automated book cataloging and tracking systems.

Michael Moodie advised librarians how local library circulation systems might be affected as DTB implementation progresses. In the expected "hybrid" system of the future, the physical storage of recorded books will be radically reconfigured according to whether books are high-circulation mass-produced titles (shelved locally) or low-circulation on-demand titles (to be requisitioned electronically from a central NLS distribution center). Moodie extended an open- ended invitation for creative input from library staff, particularly with respect to minimizing the impact of the transition.

Commonality sessions and user group meetings rounded out the afternoon with presentations and discussions of adaptive technology, radio reading services, library service standards, and various DTB production systems. Representatives from American Printing House for the Blind, Dolphin Computer Access, and Telex Communications Inc. demonstrated equipment and fielded questions on the advantages and complexities of digital sound reproduction and DTB production.

Web magazine pilot

On Thursday, the last day of the conference, NLS staff discussed particular digital initiatives in some detail. Judy Dixon reported on the web magazine pilot project currently being conducted by NLS to test delivery over the Internet of digital audio magazines rendered in human speech. A small group of eligible readers is working closely with the NLS engineering group to develop a successful system. The pilot uses three NLS-produced audio magazines that are produced to conform with the ANSI/NISO standard for DTBs. Testers may download selected magazine articles or an entire issue. Indications to date are positive. Dixon also commented on the NLS user survey, which will be used to guide the design of the DTB playback machine. Among the top priorities are a smaller or lighter playback machine, the ability to find one's place after having fallen asleep, and improved sound quality.

Production Control Section head John Bryant reported on preliminary conversations with commercial talking-book publishers, such as Time-Warner, about the long-range possibilities for sharing digital book files. Projections and predictions

John Cookson, head, Engineering Section, advised the conferees that DTB player and media design proposals would be solicited in the summer of 2004, with a contract award anticipated in early fall. The contractor will be required to meet the stringent requirements outlined in Network Bulletin 4-24 (April 16, 2004) and will be expected to carry the project from concept development through pilot manufacture and readiness for production in quantity. Brad Kormann, NLS Material Development Division chief, described a key study in progress on the details of the transition to a brand new technology from one that is firmly entrenched. A specific outcome of the research will be a predicted number of C-1 cassette book machines needed in the next decade-- taking into account user preferences and possible resistance to change--to meet the needs of patrons and minimize the impact of the new system. Michael Moodie noted that another short but crucial study has been commissioned to examine the projected costs of flash memory cartridges versus other possible primary distribution media for DTBs from 2005 to 2015. The findings should determine finally whether flash memory cartridges are economically feasible for adoption by NLS.

Network outreach initiatives were explored in a panel led by Margaret Harrison, who described her library's campaign of information distribution and personal visits to nursing homes in Louisiana. Missouri librarians Richard Smith and Debbie Musselman expressed some alarm at the prospect of further FCC deregulation that could threaten the effective placement of radio public service announcements. Panelists concurred that direct personal outreach remained a valuable strategy for informing the general public about network library services.

Stories and interviews from the conference were featured in evening broadcasts by local news media, including KNBN- TV, the NBC affiliate; KEVN-TV, the FOX affiliate; and KOTA- TV, the ABC affiliate.

The conference adjourned at noon on Thursday.

(photo caption: Ruth Yellowhawk of the Indigenous Issues Forum leads a conference workshop in listening skills.) (photo caption: South Dakota's Dan Boyd was honored for his contributions to the conference.)

(photo caption: Courtney Deines-Jones reports on ASCLA Standards.)

(photo caption: Traditional Lakota hoop dance was performed by Dallas Chief Eagle and daughters Star (above) and Dalecina.)

(photo caption: Linda Stetson (Georgia) (left), John and Carrie Philos (Delaware), and Francine Martin (North Carolina) review Tuesday's conference events informally.)

I am a crowd . . .

"I am a crowd. If you see me on the street, strolling, I may seem to be alone, but I'm not . . . I am never really alone. All the people who have played parts in my past are with me, wherever I am, wherever I go. So are all the people I've invented to fill the gaps in my past. Their constant presence has made me one of the people you see on a New York street who seem to hear inner voices, and among those I'm one of the ones who's listening to them. I walk to the unpredictable rhythms of a shifting internal confabulation, like the chatter at a cocktail party of the mind. Everyone at that party is vying for my attention, each in a singular way, but regardless of what he says or how she says it or how any one of them finds a way to be heard for a while above the others, each of them is asking, pleading, or demanding that I tell his story next, or, at the very least, that I find a way to tell her story, even a bit of their story, while I'm telling mine. I'm a memoirist."

From Eric Kraft's Passionate Spectator, St. Martin's Press, July 2004.


In the January-February 2004 issue of News, in a piece about national outreach planning, we inadvertently identified Robert McBrien, head of New York City's Andrew Heiskell Braille and Talking Book Library, as Robert O'Brien. In the October-December 2003 issue, in a story about the Digital Long-Term Planning Group, we incorrectly listed Irene M. Padilla, assistant state superintendent for libraries, Maryland State Department of Education, as Irene Padillo of the Toronto Library.

We sincerely regret these errors and apologize to the individuals misrepresented. The editor pledges renewed vigilance to ensure that this feature does not become a regular component of News.

National Audio Equipment Advisory Committee convenes at NLS

The National Audio Equipment Advisory Committee (NAEAC) held its annual meeting March 31 through April 2, 2004, at NLS's Washington, D.C., headquarters--the committee's twenty-first meeting. Its principal purpose was to update members on the current status of NLS equipment manufacturing and repair programs, equipment inventory, and ongoing projects. The committee's three subgroups--consumers, network librarians, and repair volunteers--met separately on the second day to develop formal recommendations for consideration by NLS staff.

Program review

The first day of the meeting--following a welcome by NLS director Frank Kurt Cylke and Materials Development Division chief Brad Kormann--was devoted to reports by NLS personnel on projects of interest to NAEAC members. In a panel session moderated by Engineering Section head John Cookson, Quality Assurance Section head Don Smith reviewed current C-1 machine production and contract repairs, E-1 machine repairs, and solar battery chargers. Equipment control officer Jim Miller discussed equipment inventory, and equipment repair officer Kevin Watson updated the committee on volunteer repair activities.

Others brought the group up to date on digital audio developments. John Bryant, Production Control Section head, outlined the latest news on digital talking book (DTB) production and the web magazine project; NLS deputy director Michael Moodie discussed DTB player and memory design, as well as the player transition study; and Cookson reviewed copyright protection system design. In addition, studio director Margie Goergen-Rood and audio book production specialist Bill West described the digital original mastering and duplication experiment. Automation officer Robert McDermott updated the activities of the Digital Long- Term Planning Group, which he chairs.

Still another update was provided by Carolyn Sung, chief of the Network Division, who discussed the Inventory Management Section's online repair parts ordering system.


Separate group meetings were held by the consumer, librarian, and repair volunteer representatives on April 1 to discuss the NLS staff reports and formulate recommendations. These were finalized and presented to NLS the next day.


The consumer group made several suggestions regarding digital audio magazines. Among other requests, it asked that selectable articles be presented as a nested list or in some other easily navigable structure that does not require the screen reader user to enable a special mode; that every listed article include both the reading time and file size in addition to the title; that magazine article navigation be to the paragraph level; and that a mechanism be developed to enable the user to save individual articles and to name them in ways easy to recall. The group also sought a user-definable skip-time increment in the player as well as the incorporation of an unpack tool in the software player design.

More generally, the consumer representatives requested that NLS develop a guideline for recording studios to determine when web addresses should be spelled or spoken as words; recruit a physically handicapped user to serve on NAEAC; and involve the committee's members early on in evaluations and tests of digital-related equipment and services.


Among other recommendations, librarians urged that NLS continue to investigate alternative methods of audiobook delivery, such as Internet, cable, satellite, and telephone. They further urged that NLS pursue various ways of promoting and publicizing the DTB program.

Other librarian suggestions dealt mostly with the transition to DTBs. For example, they proposed that NLS continue with a user survey and a follow-up study to guide the transition; continue to produce books on cassette during the conversion period; study the feasibility and cost of transcribing older cassette books for the DTB program; and supply enough DTB players to meet the demands of users converting from cassettes.

They also asked that NLS continue to develop a parts- ordering system for use by librarians and repair personnel.

Repair volunteers

Recommendations from this subgroup included incorporation of an item selection page in the upcoming web-based parts-ordering system featuring diagrams to enable identification and selection of parts; modification of the cassette book machine-repair log, including reduction of the number of copies to two; modification of the drive kit by eliminating the pressure- roller spring from the package; and a continued search for a solution to the mislabeling of repaired and unrepaired machine shipments to and from MSCW.

Committee members

Consumer representatives
Barry Levine, American Council of the Blind
Frank Merendino, Blinded Veterans Association
Aloma Bouma, National Federation of the Blind
Irwin Hott, Midlands Region
Linda Broady-Myers, Southern Region
Network library representatives
Robert Jones, Midlands Region
Richard Riddell, Northern Region
Teresa Lacy, Southern Region
Bonnie Olson, Western Region
TelcomPioneers representatives
Jerry Adamson, Midlands Region
Darrel Teske, Northern Region
Joseph Bernal, Southern Region
Stephen Austin, Western Region
Elfun representative
Robert Smith

(photo caption: NAEAC members (left to right): Richard Riddell, Linda Broady-Myers, Frank Merendino, John Cookson, Teresa Lacy, Bonnie Olson, Darrel Teske, Robert Smith, Robert Jones, Joseph Bernal, Stephen Austin, Lloyd Lewis, Aloma Bouma, Irwin Hott, and Barry Levine.)

Producers and studio heads meet

Producers and studio directors who record and duplicate audiobooks met at NLS in Washington, D.C., on Wednesday, April 28. The contractors came from as far away as Denver, Colorado, and as near as Bethesda, Maryland. The one-day meeting focused on digital talking books (DTBs) and addressed DTB navigation, web magazines, and intellectual property rights. The event was hosted by the NLS Production Control Section.

Convening at 8:00 a.m., the participants heard opening remarks by NLS deputy director Michael Moodie. John Bryant, head of Production Control, gave an overview of the meeting's scope and purposes. He noted that this was a unique opportunity for the group: in the same room, at the same time were administrators, technicians, quality assurance specialists, artistic professionals, and end users all dedicated to the same goal.

Web magazine project

Lloyd Rasmussen, senior NLS engineer, reported on the web magazine pilot project. Rasmussen demonstrated the software, currently under development, that may be used to bring recorded magazines to users on demand via the Internet. The project is currently being tested by thirty-five patrons-- all volunteers who are experienced computer users. The pilot features three recorded magazines--U.S. News and World Report, Smart Computing, and People--that can be selectively downloaded and played back as desired. NLS consumer relations officer Judy Dixon, who has been a key participant in the implementation effort, said that the initial response has been good. Moodie stated that he had also received many favorable calls and e-mails. He added that, while NLS was off to a good start, substantial work lies ahead to refine the delivery process before web magazines could be made widely available.

Moodie then explained recent changes in the National Information Standards Organization specification for DTBs (ANSI/NISO Z39.86), noting that some of the updates may be required in 2005 contracts. Among the new features will be updated navigation requirements. Dixon then reviewed the 2003 User Survey, pointing out that the information gathered will be used in decisions affecting users' needs during conversion to digital technology. An analysis of the survey can be found on the NLS web site at

Intellectual property rights

NLS Quality Assurance Section assistant head Tom McLaughlin spoke about intellectual property rights issues. He explained the need for a policy and outlined the specifications for protection of intellectual property already developed by the Digital Accessible Information System (DAISY) Consortium. Collaboration between DAISY and NLS to define specifications for a digital rights management system is expected to proceed over the next year. The attendees then had an opportunity to ask questions and air concerns in an open forum.

For the afternoon sessions, participants split into two groups. The studio directors' discussions centered around technical DTB production issues. Most pressing were concerns about navigation, special instructions for unique situations, and changes to the authorization records sent to producers that include the information pertaining to a DTB in production. Points of discussion included who decides what navigation points to use, how producers will be notified of changes in authorization records, and what means will be used to disseminate the necessary information on changes in DTB requirements.

In their meeting, the producers discussed the possible impact of planned changes in contractual requirements resulting from the revised NISO standard, among other issues.

Later in the afternoon the groups reconvened to discuss issues of mutual interest. Organizations represented had the opportunity to air specific concerns, even in regard to particular projects. The meeting ended with some issues resolved and others tabled for follow-up.

Meeting participants

American Foundation for the Blind
Luis Gutierrez, Antonio Harrison, Sean McKinley, Deo Mattow
American Printing House for the Blind
Jack Decker, Steve Mullins, Carol Stewart, Doug Trent
American Multimedia, Inc.
Charlie Abbott, Mike Burrows
Brevard Association for the Advancement of the Blind
Stuart Mapes
Cutting Corporation
Anji Cornette
Kris Domich
Hadley School for the Blind
Mike Tutaj
Insight for the Blind
Matthew Corey
Magnetix Corporation
Marilyn Turney
Potomac Talking Books
Jamie Cutting, Mary Cutting, Bob Norton
Talking Book Publishers
Ashton Lafferty, Jane Maxwell, Gregg Savage, Rudy Savage

(photo caption: Producers at the meeting were (standing, left to right) Mike Burrows, Doug Trent, Jack Decker, and Jamie Cutting; (seated) Marilyn Turney, Rudy Savage, and Mary Cutting.)

(photo caption: Studio personnel attending were (standing, left to right) Ashton Lafferty, Jane Maxwell, Steve Mullins, Stuart Mapes, Matt Corey, Mike Tutaj, Luis Gutierrez, Carol Stewart, Antonio Harrison, and Gregg Savage; (seated) Bob Norton, Charlie Abbott, Sean McKinley, and Deo Mattow.)

Charlson enters Hall of Fame

Kim Charlson, director of Perkins Braille and Talking Book Library, was inducted into the Massachusetts Library Association (MLA) Hall of Fame in a ceremony at the association's annual conference at the Sea Crest Conference Center in Falmouth, Massachusetts, on April 30, 2004. Charlson and two others joined a prestigious group of fourteen outstanding contributors to Massachusetts libraries.

Every two years since 1996, the Massachusetts Library Association Hall of Fame inducts new members who have made a substantial, sustained contribution to advancing the cause of Massachusetts libraries and librarianship over a career of at least ten years. This year three librarians were inducted. Joining Charlson were Louise Brown, recently retired from the Wayland Public Library, and Marjorie Judd of Middleborough Public Library.

"The Massachusetts Library Association wants to recognize the exceptional contributions of today's inductees," said MLA president, Barbara Flaherty, director of the Billerica Public Library. "Recognition by the state's professional association says much about the respect and gratitude that those working in libraries feel toward the recipients." During the nomination process, MLA members recalled Charlson's tireless efforts in working with Massachusetts libraries and librarians by providing consultation and technical assistance on how to make libraries more accessible--not just through physical accessibility with ramps and handicapped parking spaces, but with programmatic access including outreach, website accessibility, adaptive technology, accessible collections, and staff training on disability sensitivity and awareness.

Charlson serves on a number of NLS network library committees and is a national member of the Braille Authority of North America, the standard-setting body for braille in the United States and Canada. She is chair of the Massachusetts Braille Literacy Advisory Council, treasurer of the International Council on English Braille, and was appointed by the governor to serve on the Governor's Advisory Council on Disability Policy.

The three inductees were selected from a field of thirteen nominated in late 2003 by their peers. Evaluation of nominations and recommendations for induction were made by the MLA Public Relations Committee and approved by the MLA Executive Board in March 2004.

The Massachusetts Library Association includes eight hundred members. MLA advocates for libraries, librarians, and library staff; defends intellectual freedom; and provides a forum for leadership, networking, communication, and professional development to keep libraries vital. For more information about the association, visit More about Charlson and the Perkins Braille and Talking Book Library can be found at

(photo caption: Kim Charlson, Massachusetts Library Association Hall of Fame inductee.)

Schneider Family Awards presented

On February 20, 2004, the American Library Association (ALA) announced the winners of the Schneider Family Book Award, a new award donated by Dr. Katherine Schneider that honors an author or illustrator for a book that embodies an artistic expression of the disability experience for child and adolescent audiences (see News, July-September 2003).

An award recipient is selected in each of three categories: grade school (up to 10 years old), middle school (ages 11 to 13), and teens (ages 13 to 18). Each recipient of the 2004 Schneider Family Book Award will receive $5,000 and a framed plaque, which will be presented on June 29 during the ALA Annual Conference in Orlando, Florida. Glenna Lang, author and illustrator of Looking Out for Sarah (Charlesbridge Publishing), won for the grade school category. This book about the bond between a blind musician and her Labrador retriever guide dog is available from NLS in contracted braille as a print/braille book for grades K through 3 (BR 14009).

Wendy Mass, author of A Mango-Shaped Space (Little, Brown & Company Children's Publishing), won for the middle school category. The novel tells the story of a 13-year-old girl who comes to terms with a rare neurological condition that causes her to perceive words and sounds as colors. This book is in process and will be available on cassette from NLS in the near future (RC 56666).

Andrew Clements, author of Things Not Seen (Philomel Books), won for teens. In this novel, two teenagers overcome their sense of isolation through empathy with one another's difference. The book is available on cassette (RC 54713).

Members of the 2004 Schneider Family Book Award Committee are Ellen J. Perlow, Texas Woman's University Libraries, Denton, Texas (chair); Mary E. Cissell, Texas Woman's University, Denton, Texas; Judith M. King, Waunakee, Wisconsin; Rory Litwin, Sacramento, California; Judy T. Nelson, Pierce County Library System, Tacoma, Washington; Victor Lynn Schill, Harris County Public Library, Houston, Texas; and Patricia M. Steelman, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.

For further information about the Schneider Award, contact Cheryl Malden, ALA Program Office, telephone (312) 280-3247; e-mail [email protected]

Cat's visit delights Alabama kids

The Talladega Subregional Library for the Blind celebrated the Seussentennial Read across America on March 3, 2004, with a visit from a very special guest. Dr. Seuss's the Cat in the Hat stopped by to visit and share his stories with young patrons of the library. The children received goody bags filled with Cat in the Hat prizes and ate birthday cake with the Cat. Ted Geisel, a.k.a. Dr. Seuss, is the most beloved children's book author of all time. His use of rhyme makes his books an effective tool for teaching young children the basic skills they need to be successful and develop a life-long love of reading. Celebrating Dr. Seuss and reading sends a clear message to our children that reading is both fun and important. Teresa Lacy, subregional librarian, hosted the event on the 100th anniversary of Dr. Seuss's birthday.

(photo caption: The Cat in the Hat and Teresa Lacy entertain Talladega children on Dr. Seuss's birthday.)

The Program

The National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped of the Library of Congress publishes books and magazines in braille and in recorded form on discs and cassettes for readers who cannot hold, handle, or see well enough to read conventional print because of a temporary or permanent visual or physical handicap.

Through a national network of state and local libraries, the materials are loaned free to eligible readers in the United States and to U.S. citizens living abroad. Materials are sent to readers and returned by postage-free mail.

Books and Magazines

Readers may borrow all types of popular-interest books including bestsellers, classics, mysteries, westerns, poetry, history, biographies, religious literature, children's books, and foreign-language materials. Readers may also subscribe to more than seventy popular magazines in braille and recorded formats.

Special Equipment

Special equipment needed to play the discs and cassettes, which are recorded at slower than conventional speeds, is loaned indefinitely to readers. An amplifier with headphone is available for blind and physically handicapped readers who are also certified as hearing impaired. Other devices are provided to aid readers with mobility impairments in using playback machines.


You are eligible for the Library of Congress program if:

  1. You are legally blind--your vision in the better eye is 20/200 or less with correcting glasses, or your widest diameter of visual field is no greater than 20 degrees;
  2. You cannot see well enough or focus long enough to read standard print, although you wear glasses to correct your vision;
  3. You are unable to handle print books or turn pages because of a physical handicap; or
  4. You are certified by a medical doctor as having a reading disability, due to an organic dysfunction, which is of sufficient severity to prevent reading in a normal manner.

How to Apply

You may request an application by writing NLS or calling toll-free 1-800-424-9100, and your name will be referred to your cooperating library.

News is published quarterly by:

National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped
Library of Congress
Washington, DC 20542

All correspondence should be addressed to the attention of Publications and Media Section.

Editor: Ed O'Reilly

Writers: Tanya Radford, Marilie Rockefeller