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1-888-NLS-READ (1-888-657-7323)

Frequently Asked Questions

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

  1. What is NLS? NLS is a free braille and talking book library service for people with temporary or permanent low vision, blindness, or a physical disability that prevents reading or holding the printed page. Through a national network of cooperating libraries, NLS offers books the way you want them: in braille or audio formats, mailed to your door for free, or instantly downloadable. NLS works to ensure that all may read by providing eligible patrons access to NLS materials regardless of age, economic circumstances, or technical expertise.
  2. When did the program begin? 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), expanded in 1952 to include children and in 1962 to provide music materials, and again in 1966, to include individuals with physical limitations that prevent reading regular print.
  3. May I use NLS? Any resident of the United States or American citizen living abroad who is unable to read or use regular print materials as a result of temporary or permanent visual or physical limitations may receive service through NLS. This includes those who are blind, have a visual disability, or have a physical disability that prevents reading. Learn more about eligibility.
  4. Who can certify people as eligible? A competent authority, as defined by Public Law 89-522 which governs the program, must certify applicants as eligible for the free braille and talking book service. In cases of blindness, visual impairment, or physical limitations, competent authority include 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, case workers, 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. In the case of reading disability from organic dysfunction, competent authority is defined as doctors of medicine and doctors of osteopathy who may consult with colleagues in associated disciplines.
  5. Are people with reading disabilities eligible? The certifying authority 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 reading disabilities and the program, refer to the factsheet Talking Books and Reading Disabilities or call 1-888-NLS-READ (1-888-657-7323).
  6. 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 disability are not eligible to use the service. Public libraries are an excellent source of information about local literacy and English-language programs.
  7. 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.
  8. May I get talking books from my public library? Services are provided directly by a regional or subregional library of the NLS network. 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. Find a Library to locate a talking-book library in your area or call 1-888-NLS-READ.
  9. Does it cost anything to use the program? No. The program is tax-supported by federal, state, and (where appropriate) local government or private agencies. There is no direct cost to eligible readers.
  10. How are materials received from and returned to the library? There are two ways to receive materials from the library: through the U.S. Postal Service and/or downloading from the Braille and Audio Reading Download (BARD) website. Books, magazines, catalogs, and equipment that are sent to readers through the U.S. Postal Service as “Free Matter for the Blind” 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. Books and magazines, in both braille and audio formats, can also be downloaded from BARD and read using a personal refreshable braille display, an NLS digital talking book player, a third-party digital player, or the BARD Mobile application for iOS or Android devices.
  11. What kind of device is needed to play talking books? Talking books require the use of a specialized playback device or a mobile reading app. Two types of digital players are available for free from NLS: a standard model and an advanced model. Some commercially available third-party players are NLS-compatible. iOS and Android smart devices may also be used to play the talking books. 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.
  12. 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.
  13. Can books or magazines be downloaded from the Internet? Yes. Registered patrons may download electronic files of braille books, magazines, and music materials, as well as digital talking books and magazines from the Internet through the NLS Braille and Audio Reading Download (BARD) online site. Once these materials are downloaded and transferred to a digital cartridge or USB drive, they may be played on the digital talking-book machine or one of several third-party players. Patrons must have access to a computer with high-speed Internet connection to use BARD. With the BARD Mobile app, audio materials may be played on iOS and Android devices.
  14. May I get books or magazines on my personal smartphone or tablet? Yes. The free BARD Mobile app is available for your iPhone, iPad, iPod touch and your Android smartphone or tablet (including Kindle Fire) so you don’t need special equipment to read. Registered patrons may download electronic files of braille books, magazines, and music materials, as well as digital talking books and magazines from BARD Mobile at the App Store for iOS and digital talking books and magazines at the Play Store and Amazon Appstore for Android. You may be charged for data depending on your carrier’s plan.
  15. Is there a special device to help people who are hearing impaired? Yes. NLS has developed a high-volume version of the digital talking-book machine for use by patrons who are hearing impaired. The high-volume player, which is paired with a headset, is available as a standard or advanced machine that has been programmed to have an amplified volume up to 120 dB. It can be issued only by NLS and bears a warning label. The high-volume feature works only with the set of stereo headphones that NLS provides. It may be requested through the Application and Certification for High-Volume Player and Headphones [PDF: 1.97 KB / 4 p.], which must be signed by a physician or audiologist.
  16. How are books selected? NLS selects the same types of books that are available through public libraries. Titles are considered for production in braille or audio 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.
  17. 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 people who are blind, visually impaired, or have a physical disability. 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.
  18. Are books recorded by volunteers? Most of the talking books produced for the national collection are recorded by contractors in commercial studios. However, a wide variety of volunteer-produced books and magazines are also available.
  19. How can I become a reader/narrator? Production studios awarded NLS contracts recruit and hire professional narrators. Many network libraries and other agencies use volunteer readers to record materials. Please search the network library page for a local library near you or the Sources of Custom-Produced Books for more information.
  20. 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. There are also several locally produced magazines.
  21. Do you have large-print books and other materials? NLS does not produce large-print books, however, large-print books are available from many public libraries and bookstores, and some NLS network libraries have large-print collections. Please refer to Materials in Large Print for selected sources of large-print materials for purchase or loan. NLS catalogs, bibliographies, and bimonthly magazines provided to patrons for book selection are available in large print.
  22. Does your program offer music? NLS does not offer music for listening, but offers musical scores and books in ebraille, braille, and large print (sometimes known as bold note), and recorded instructional materials for learning to play various musical instruments. Music appreciation materials are also available.
  23. How can I access the music collection? Anyone currently registered with an NLS cooperating library that serves individuals who are blind or have a physical disability qualifies to receive music services and should contact the NLS Music Section directly. Other eligible individuals may sign up for service by completing the Application for Library Service: Individuals (available at www.loc.gov/nls/) and returning it to their cooperating library or to the NLS Music Section. Once an application is approved, patrons will be contacted by their library and may contact the Music Section to begin receiving service.
  24. At what age can a child start using talking books? Books in the collection begin at the preschool level. Parents may consult the reference publication Parents’ Guide to the Development of Preschool Children with Disabilities: Resources and Services for additional information.
  25. 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 signing up to receive direct individual service. Direct individual service is always available, and ensures that readers receive materials that they specifically want to read.
  26. Are textbooks available? Special academic needs should be discussed with local educational authorities. Please email the NLS Reference Section for information about such sources and about other resources available for individuals with reading disabilities. The following selected resources, provided with their contact information, may be useful:Learning Ally
    20 Roszel Road
    Princeton, NJ 08540
    (609) 452-0606
    800-221-4792
    (609) 987-8116 (fax)
    [email protected]
    www.learningally.org External

    Benetech Bookshare
    480 South California Avenue
    Palo Alto, CA 94306
    (650) 352-0198
    (650) 475-1066 (fax)
    [email protected]
    www.bookshare.org External

  27. Are other resources available? NLS offers a wealth of resources and publications related to accessible reading.

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