Books for Blind and Physically Handicapped Individuals, 2007

NLS Factsheets

Books for Blind and Physically Handicapped Individuals


From a beginning of 19 libraries, the network has expanded to 57 regional and 74 subregional libraries throughout the U.S.

A free national library program of braille and recorded materials for blind and physically handicapped persons is administered by the National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped (NLS), Library of Congress. Under a special provision of the U.S. copyright law and with the permission of authors and publishers of works not covered by the provision, NLS selects and produces full-length books and magazines in braille and recorded formats. Reading materials are distributed to a cooperating network of regional and subregional (local) libraries where they are circulated to eligible borrowers. Reading materials and playback machines are sent to borrowers and returned to libraries by postage-free mail. Braille books, magazines, and music materials are also made available on the Internet through Web-Braille. Established by an act of Congress in 1931 to serve blind adults, the program was expanded in 1952 to include children, in 1962 to provide music materials, and again in 1966 to include individuals with other physical impairments that prevent the reading of standard print.


About 80 percent of the NLS annual appropriation is expended on books, equipment, and related materials and 20 percent for support services.

The NLS program is funded annually by Congress. The fiscal year 2007 continuing appropriation is $53,904,510. Regional and subregional libraries receive funding from state, local, and federal sources. Through an additional appropriation to the U.S. Postal Service, books and materials are mailed as "Free Matter for the Blind or Handicapped." The combined annual expenditure for the program is approximately $166 million.


Any resident of the United States or American citizen living abroad who is unable to read or use standard printed materials as a result of temporary or permanent visual or physical limitations may receive service. A survey sponsored by NLS found that two million persons with some type of visual impairment may be eligible and another million with physical conditions such as paralysis, missing arms or hands, lack of muscle coordination, or prolonged weakness could benefit from the use of reading materials in recorded form.

Book Collection

More than 26 million copies of recorded and braille books and magazines were circulated to a readership of 811,015 in 2006.

Books are selected on the basis of their appeal to people with a wide range of interests. Bestsellers, biographies, fiction, and how-to books are in great demand. A limited number of titles are produced in Spanish. Registered borrowers learn of new books added to the collection through two bimonthly publications, Braille Book Review and Talking Book Topics. Through an International Union Catalog available on the Internet, every network library has access to the entire NLS book collection and to the resources of cooperating agencies.


The International Union Catalog provides access to more than 446,000 titles (19 million copies). The average reader borrows 30 recorded books and magazines a year. Braille readers average 20 books and magazines a year.

More than seventy magazines on audiocassette and in braille are offered. Readers may request free subscriptions to U.S. News and World Report, National Geographic, Consumer Reports, Good Housekeeping, Sports Illustrated for Kids, and many other popular magazines. Current issues are mailed to readers at the same time the print issues appear or shortly thereafter. Magazines are selected for the program in response to demonstrated reader interest.

Music Scores and Books

The national music collection, the largest of its kind in the world, contains more than twenty thousand titles.

Persons interested in music materials may receive them directly from the Music Section of NLS. The collection consists of scores in braille and large print; textbooks and books about music in braille and large print; music appreciation cassettes, including interviews and opera lectures; and self-instructional cassettes for voice, piano, organ, electronic keyboard, guitar, recorder, accordion, banjo, harmonica, and other instruments. Braille scores and books are also available on the Internet.

Equipment and Accessories

4-track audiocassettes recorded to play at 15/16 ips provide up to six hours of reading time. The average book consists of two cassettes.

Playback equipment is loaned free to readers for as long as they borrow recorded materials provided by NLS and its cooperating libraries. Cassette machines are designed for books and magazines recorded at 15/16 ips and the standard speed of 1-7/8 ips on 2 and 4 tracks. Readers with very limited mobility may request a remote-control unit. Hearing-impaired readers may be eligible for an auxiliary amplifier for use with headphones. A cassette machine designed primarily for persons with limited manual dexterity is also available.

Volunteer Services

TelecomPioneers, G.E. volunteers, and state personnel repaired 115,052 cassette machines in 2006.

NLS serves as the certifying authority for braille transcribing (literary, music, and mathematics braille) and braille proofreading in the United States. Individuals may contact NLS staff for referrals to training courses leading to certification. Training in audiobook production is also available on request to local recording groups. A directory of agencies and volunteer groups that produce books for libraries and individuals is published periodically.

Information Services

NLS and network libraries respond to questions on various aspects of blindness and physical disabilities. This service is available without charge to individuals, organizations, and libraries. Publications of interest to people with disabilities and to service providers are free on request.

Consumer Relations

The consumer relations officer maintains regular contact with consumer groups and individual users of the program to identify and resolve service problems and to assure that users’ needs are being met. Participating in surveys, evaluating new equipment, and serving on advisory committees are some of the ways in which consumers contribute to program development.

Research and Development

Audio production costs average $6.50 per book.

The NLS research program is directed toward improving the quality of reading materials and
playback equipment, controlling program costs, and reducing the time required to deliver services to users. Current research activities are focused primarily on digital audio materials and include (1) the design of playback devices, (2) the design of a distribution medium, and (3) the design of a new distribution system.

For Further Information

Ask your local public librarian for more information about the program and how to apply for service. Information is also available on computer diskette or recorded cassette upon request or on the Internet

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Posted on 2007-07-16