NLS honors Pennsylvania and Michigan libraries for excellence in patron service and programs

The Library for the Blind and Physically Handicapped Free Library of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, received the National Library Service award for the 2006 Network Library of the Year. The Washtenaw County Library for the Blind and Physically Disabled of Ann Arbor, Michigan, won NLS’s first Network Subregional Library of the Year. Both libraries were recognized at a ceremony in the Thomas Jefferson Building at the Library of Congress, Washington, D.C., on April 17.

Mary Clare Zales, deputy secretary, Commonwealth libraries, Pennsylvania Department of Education; Vickie Collins, librarian, Free Library of Philadelphia; and Hedra Packman, director of library service, Free Library.
Mary Clare Zales, deputy secretary, Commonwealth libraries, Pennsylvania Department of Education; Vickie Collins, librarian, Free Library of Philadelphia; and Hedra Packman, director of library service, Free Library.

Following the musical salute "Pennsylvania Polka," played by accordionist Merv Conn, NLS director Frank Kurt Cylke presented Philadelphia’s regional librarian Vickie Collins with a check for $1,000 and a plaque commending the library’s excellence, innovation, and special achievements in providing service to blind and physically handicapped individuals.

"The Philadelphia LBPH staff, volunteers, and friends are honored to receive the NLS Network Library Award. Our Library at the Touch of a Finger program represents what each and every library in the network is doing to provide exemplary service for patrons," said Collins.

The library was honored for its outstanding programs and services including the Adult Basic Educational Development program that provides visually impaired adults with the opportunity to complete high school; the VoPAC (Voice Operated Public Access Catalog) that allows patrons to select catalog materials by telephone; and the library’s overall accessibility for walk-in patrons at the Talking Book Center that houses a collection of specialized workstations. Additionally, the Free Library of Philadelphia LBPH has an on-site recording facility for audiobooks and volunteer-read materials. It produces approximately nine thousand audiocassette recordings made locally, with more than five hundred titles covering Pennsylvania topics.

After joining in Michigan’s musical salute "Hail to the Victors," Margaret Wolfe, librarian of the Washtenaw County Library for the Blind and Physically Disabled, accepted the Network Subregional Library of the Year Award, presented by Cylke. "This is such a great honor for our library, and it reflects the dedicated hard work of the entire LBPD staff and our community partners," Wolfe remarked.

(left to right) Washtenaw County Library web content coordinator Charles Wolfe; librarian Margaret Wolfe; and Mary E. Udoji, director.
(left to right) Washtenaw County Library web content coordinator Charles Wolfe; librarian Margaret Wolfe; and Mary E. Udoji, director.

Washtenaw County’s LBPD was recognized for its community outreach efforts and unique service record. The Many Ways of Seeing workshop, developed in cooperation with University of Michigan students, helps blind and visually impaired people create works of art. The exhibition Visions: What’s New in Technology for the Blind and Visually Impaired has been a focal point for vendors, consumers, and volunteers interested in new developments and ideas. LBPD also offers the Book Lovers Club—a bimonthly forum allowing fellow patrons to develop commonality and strengthen friendships, and the Braille Instruction and Blind Awareness program, an open workshop dedicated to those interested in learning braille and about the lives of visually impaired people.

Highlights of the luncheon included the presentation of colors by a military color guard; welcoming remarks by Deanna Marcum, Library of Congress associate librarian for library services; a tribute to the honored libraries and to NLS’s progress in embracing digital technology by Kathryn Mendenhall, acting director, Partnerships and Outreach Programs; recognition of the Network Library Awards Committee and Conference Chairs Committee by Carolyn Sung, NLS Network Division chief; and congratulatory notes by Cylke.

NLS director Cylke greets guests and award recipients in the Thomas Jefferson Building.
NLS director Cylke greets guests and award recipients in the Thomas Jefferson Building.

NLS created the Network Library of the Year Award to recognize outstanding accomplishments among the 131 libraries serving blind and physically handicapped individuals across the country and in U.S. territories. This year NLS chose to honor the excellent service provided by both a regional and a subregional library within the network. "Because regionals and subregionals are so different, we wanted to recognize each type of library for its accomplishments," said Sung. "This is a trend we will follow in the selection of future recipients."

A select committee comprising braille and talking-book librarians and patrons chose the Free Library of Philadelphia and the Washtenaw County LBPD based on three criteria: mission support, creativity and innovation in providing service, and record of patron satisfaction.

"The Philadelphia and Washtenaw County libraries have demonstrated excellence as regional and subregional libraries," said Cylke. "They have raised the bar for providing community outreach and dependable service, and we celebrate their accomplishments."


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of Libraries for the Blind and
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Poet Eliana Beam waxes poetic on aging and blindness

Poet and NLS patron  Eliana Beam.
Poet and NLS patron Eliana Beam.

Eliana Beam’s poems are just like her personality: salty, witty, and smart. Despite losing her central vision to macular degeneration, a deterioration of the retina that began when she was sixty, the irreverent ninety-one-year-old poet and NLS patron continues to write verses nearly every day.

Beam’s latest book Old, Blind, and Pissed Off, published by Adinolfi Books, uses humor to convey the subtle losses caused by aging and blindness. Although Beam has also lost some of her mobility, hearing, and memory, her zest for living has not been inhibited. In the book she rails against the frustrations of everyday life including child-proof safety caps; tiny buttons; people who mumble; and even her own children, who sometimes forget that she cannot see.

"My children will use their hands to describe something, saying ‘it was this big,’ and expect me to see!" griped Beam, who lives in a Wilmington, North Carolina, senior living community.

Writing down the verses is challenging for Beam. With a magnifying glass hung around her neck and a large-print rhyming dictionary by her side, she writes two lines of poetry in two-inch-high letters with a black marker. Beam then dictates the verse over the phone to her daughter Amy in Barbados. Amy produces the poem in 72-point type and sends it back to her mother for editing.

"It was a very slow process, but working on the book together was a wonderful experience for me," said the younger Beam. "I now understand the subtle pleasures my mother has lost because of blindness and the things that frustrate her, like when I nod my head instead of saying ‘yes.’ Her book can increase the sensitivity and compassion of family members and caregivers to the difficulties that blind and elderly people face every day."

Eliana Beam is the daughter of Italian immigrants, Elia and Marinella Liatti. She was raised in Cleveland, Ohio, where her father was a successful homebuilder. Growing up, she memorized lines of narrative poetry and was asked to write poems to commemorate school holidays. During her teens, the stock market crash of 1929 pushed her family into poverty. Although she scored highest in her senior class on a national standardized test, she could not afford to attend college.

Sixty years ago, in 1947, The Beekeepers’ Magazine ran Beam’s first published poem. Another simple poem about bees on the magazine’s cover inspired Beam, then a young mother of four and the wife of a gentleman farmer who raised bees, to write her own poem. "I thought, well, I could write a poem better than that. I sat down and read a book on bees, wrote a verse about it, sent it in, and they promptly took it," said Beam. She wrote forty-eight poems during those years, and most of them were published on the cover. Her collection of poems about bees, which reflects on community, loyalty, and family bonds, will be published later this year in The Beekeeper’s Wife.

Since that first published poem, her works have appeared in dozens of national publications including McCall’s, Better Homes and Gardens, Farm Journal, Cats Magazine, Bird Watcher’s Digest, and the Cleveland Plain Dealer.

In 2005, Beam composed Mother Goose Uncensored which contains poems resembling the classic children’s rhymes, but with a twist. These fifty verses cover a myriad of adult issues including divorce, domestic abuse, and corporate corruption.

Beam finds inspiration in the hundreds of talking books she reads as an NLS patron. She gets about twenty books a week from the North Carolina Library for the Blind and Physically Handicapped in Raleigh and reads a book a day. She has been an NLS patron for thirty years in three states—Ohio, Maryland, and North Carolina.

"I would die without talking books," said Beam, who uses talking clocks, talking scales, and a talking calculator so she can manage everyday tasks on her own. "Talking books have saved my sanity. I enjoy the act of reading."

Beam looks forward to composing more poetry about her family and friends, and to publishing three books in 2007 and 2008: Mother Goose Uncensored, The Beekeepers’ Wife, and the revised Between or Among?: or, I’ll Be Hanged if I’m Hung; Terse Verses for Grammarians and Wannabes.

To learn more about Beam and her books, visit

Texas teen and NLS patron Mallory Bond loves talking books

From an early age, Mallory Bond saw things differently than other people. According to her mother, Nila Bond, "Mallory had problems falling up and down the stairs. We realized that she didn’t see the stairs the way we saw them." When one of Mallory’s elementary school teachers, suggested that Mallory might be sensitive to light, her parents took Mallory to a doctor. Mallory was diagnosed with Scotopic Sensitivity Syndrome, or Irlen Syndrome, and dyslexia.

Patron Mallory Bond enjoys reading audiobooks while outside on her trampoline.
Patron Mallory Bond enjoys reading audiobooks while outside on her trampoline.

People with Irlen Syndrome have retinas that are extremely sensitive to light, which causes them to perceive visual information in an atypical way, sometimes leading them to experience dizziness, headaches, strain, and fatigue when reading or writing. Individuals who have difficulty reading due to neurological causes, like Irlen Syndrome, are considered to be dyslexic.

For Mallory, who turned fifteen in 2006, the words wouldn’t stay put. "When I looked at the words, they seemed to move around and float. It took me longer than normal to read and after reading for a couple of minutes, I’d have bad headaches." Mallory’s doctor told her that she had a severe case of Irlen Syndrome and that people with her condition usually cannot learn to read. With help from her mother and the dedicated teachers in her small town of Buna, Texas, Mallory defied the odds and learned to read. In third grade, she started using colored lenses known as Irlen lens, which, Mallory said, "would make the words lie down on the page."

Yet school was still difficult for Mallory. The other kids would tease her because of her bad handwriting and the extra time it took her to read. After thirty or forty minutes of reading, Mallory would suffer from painful headaches, fatigue, and dizziness. Mallory despaired that she probably wouldn’t ever be able to read lengthy books like the ones in the popular Harry Potter series.

Mallory’s school also had an accelerated reading (AR) program that required students to read books and take computer tests to earn points. To get Mallory through the program, her whole family pitched in to read books aloud to her in the evening—her mother, father, and even her older brother read to Mallory at night. Even with hours and hours of reading aloud, every week they would barely scrape by, earning the minimum number of points to keep Mallory from failing her classes. When Mallory was in sixth grade, the school librarian learned about NLS’s talking-book program and enrolled Mallory. Soon Mallory was reading while riding in the car, in bed before going to sleep, on family vacations, and in class during the quiet time set aside for reading. By placing the talking-book player on a chair next to her trampoline, Mallory could even read while jumping outside. "This was a trick we used to get her through junior high," said her mother. "She could only study so long and then she would go outside and jump frantically on her trampoline and read books. She could then refocus and study longer."

At the end of seventh grade, Mallory had earned enough points to get into an honor program where she ranked as the third top reader. She received an award at a school assembly along with a gift card to Barnes & Noble. She was also a top-ten reader in eighth grade. In 2007 Mallory entered high school and continued to excel in her studies, achieving a place on the honor roll four out of the six grading periods in the school year.

Mallory is now an avid reader of those long, complex books that she thought she’d never read on her own.

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Ohio library helps rebuild Miss. school libraries

Barbara Mates, regional librarian of Cleveland, and Rahye Puckett, regional librarian
of Mississippi, joined forces to help libraries and their young patrons who are still struggling in the wake of Katrina recover the joy of reading.

Cindy Nugent (center) with Debbie Cox (left), program director of the Bay St. Louis/Waveland School District, and Jo-Dell Beckham (right), North Bay Elementary School K-12 librarian, in Katrina-damaged Mississippi.
Cindy Nugent (center) with Debbie Cox (left), program director of the Bay St. Louis/Waveland School District, and Jo-Dell Beckham (right), North Bay Elementary School K-12 librarian, in Katrina-damaged Mississippi.

The idea began in December 2005 when Mates, also chairperson of the Association of Specialized and Cooperative Library Agencies (ASCLA), suggested that her staff forego its usual holiday gift exchange and, instead, purchase print books for children in districts damaged by Katrina.

Barbara then contacted Cindy Nugent, the outreach coordinator and readers’ advisor for the Mississippi regional library and asked if Nugent could find a library in need of these books. Public libraries in the area were—and are—still in the process of rebuilding and were more in need of construction materials than books, but Nugent and her fellow staffers found school libraries that were eager to accept the donation. The Ohio library shipped the new books directly to the schools.

In 2006, when a member of the Caldecott Award selection committee was searching for a place to donate nearly 80 books that the committee had considered for the award, Mates again contacted Nugent, who in turn notified two schools that were still in desperate need of books.

On October 30, 2006, Nugent and Puckett drove to Hancock County, Mississippi, with books in tow. Joining Debbie Cox, director of the Bay St. Louis/Waveland school district, they delivered the books to the delighted librarians and students of North Bay Elementary and Waveland Elementary Schools.

"We passed gutted buildings that had been North Bay, turned a corner and saw the rows of trailers that now make up the school," said Puckett. "Waveland Elementary School is also situated in a sea of trailers."

"We felt so fortunate to observe the excitement of delighted children selecting and browsing through books that had the ‘eau de new book’ fragrance," she added.

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Network exchange

Los Angeles wins ASCLA award

The Los Angeles Braille Institute Library Services won the 2007 Association of Specialized and Cooperative Library Agencies’ (ASCLA) Keystone Library Automation Services (KLAS)/ National Organization on Disabilities (NOD) Award. This award recognizes innovative and well-organized projects that have successfully developed or expanded services for people with handicaps. The institute was selected for its Telephone Reader Program, which allows people to hear news from daily print publications over the phone. Begun in 2000 with a Library Services and Technology Act grant, the Telephone Reader Program has become a vital service for the Los Angeles blind community.

ASCLA presented the Institute with a $1,000 prize and certificate donated by Keystone Services, Inc. “The Braille Institute of Library Services provides an innovative service that offers newspapers, magazines, and other print materials through touch-tone telephone service to almost nine thousand people each year,” said Ruth O’Donnell, ASCLA award committee chair. "The program has consistently improved services and increased the number of volunteer readers, taking advantage of Hollywood’s population of actors."

Sterling Council showcases Florida Library’s quality-improvement team

The Recording Quality Improvement team of the Florida Braille and Talking Book Library has received the 2007 Sterling Council’s Region 3 Team Showcase Award. The Governor’s Sterling Award is the state’s most prestigious award for performance excellence. The library recording team won for its application of Six Sigma tools and techniques. Six Sigma is a system of practices originally developed by the Motorola company to improve processes by eliminating defects. Through its Six Sigma practices, the recording team was able to achieve

Carnegie’s Murdock receives Campbell Award

Sue O. Murdock, the former manager of the Library for the Blind and Physically Handicapped, Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh, received the 2007 Francis Joseph Campbell Award, which was established in memory of Francis Joseph Campbell (1832–1914). Campbell was the music director at both the Wisconsin School for the Blind and the Perkins Institution for the Blind in Massachusetts and was instrumental in founding the Royal National College for the Blind in England. Honorees receive a citation and a medal and are chosen for their outstanding contributions to the advancement of library science for blind and physically handicapped people.

"Sue Murdock pioneered automated library services for persons with print disabilities," said Gillian Lewis and Ruth Nussbaum, award committee co-chairs. "She dedicated herself to the formation of the first integrated library system—the nonprofit consortium of libraries (CUL)— created by librarians for librarians and implemented the first voice-activated, telephone-based public-access catalog for libraries for the blind and physically handicapped patrons."

Indiana receives grant for talking-book project

The Indiana State Library’s Talking Book and Braille Library (TBL) received a generous contribution from the Ruth Lilly Philanthropic Foundation. The foundation, established in 2002 by the heiress to a pharmaceutical fortune, supported the library’s talking-book project with a $950,000 grant, which TBL will use to record books and magazine articles relevant to the state that are otherwise unavailable in an audio format.

"Through the Ruth Lilly Philanthropic Foundation’s generous support, the state library will be able to better serve Indiana citizens with visual and physical disabilities," said Roberta Brooker, interim director of the Indiana State Library.

The Indiana TBL will use some of the funds to purchase soundproof recording booths and recording equipment. These items will enable volunteer narrators to record books and magazine articles with maximum clarity and quality. The foundation’s grant also provides the project with eleven years of operational support.

The Indiana State Library is located in downtown Indianapolis. It provides library services to state government, offers specialized library services for the people of the state, supports the Indiana library profession, and strengthens services of all libraries.

Florida honors postal worker with talking-book letter carrier of the year award

Florida letter carrier of the year Tom Cannon stands beside his redecorated truck.
Florida letter carrier of the year Tom Cannon stands beside his redecorated truck.

In August, Lee County Talking Books Library and county commissioners presented local postal worker Tom Cannon with a proclamation and a mail-truck sized announcement of his selection as talking books postal service letter carrier of the year.

Cannon delivers audiobooks, players, and braille materials to the library’s 1,200 patrons, and assists them by reading the titles, setting up the players, and preparing audiobooks to be returned to the library.

Missouri offers talking bibliographies online

Wolfner Library’s bibliographies, or "recommended reading lists," are now available in audio format on the library’s web site.

Wolfner’s coordinator of volunteers Deborah Stoup and special services librarian Elizabeth Lang work with the recording studio of the American Printing House for the Blind to produce professionally recorded, human-voice audio files of the most popular recommended reading lists for this project, called Now Hear This!

Now Hear This! is available to the public, allowing anyone access to the library’s recommended reading lists. Wolfner currently has more than three hundred lists available on line, compiled by the staff from NLS’s collection of braille and talking books.

To access Now Hear This!, visit

Massachusetts breaks a reading record

On December 13, 2006, at noon Eastern Standard Time, staff and patrons of the Perkins Braille and Talking Book Library and Perkins School for the Blind staff and students gathered at Dwight Hall to help break the previously held record for the “Most People Reading Aloud Simultaneously in Multiple Locations.”

A total of 547,826 readers in fifty states and twenty-eight countries read aloud the opening passage of E.B. White’s Charlotte’s Web, more than triple for the previous number of participants the record of 155,528 students reading aloud William Wordsworth’s poem “Daffodils” on March 19, 2004.

Perkins patrons read the opening passage from the classic book in large print, in braille, from their computers, and on cassette tape, out loud and through sign language.

Lead readers Kim Charlson, library director, and Kerryne Ohlson, Perkins student, both reading in braille, began the passage with "Salutations!" —the first word in the passage where Wilbur the pig meets Charlotte the spider.

"Salu-what?" all other readers joined in, thus making their way into the 2007 Guinness Book of World Records.

Representatives from corporate sponsor Walden Media also attended the event, and handed out Wilbur the Pig Beanie Babies to all participants.

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International briefs

Ireland’s National Council for the Blind opens new facility

The National Council for the Blind (NCBI) in Dublin, Ireland, opened its new state-of-the-art library and media center in Finglas on September 29, 2006, with a celebration that coincided with the organization’s seventy-fifth anniversary.

"The move to these superb new premises is a major step that we would not have been able to take without government and private sponsorship," said NCBI chief executive Des Kenny, thanking those who funded the facility.

The library and media center is Ireland’s largest provider of braille and audio material, serving more than 1,500 subscribers with approximately 250,000 books, newspapers, and magazines in braille and audio formats. It also houses the development of audio narrations used to explain visual content of film and television programs, and five recording studios.

Latin America launches first digital library for Spanish-speaking readers

Three thousand patrons in forty countries now have online access to more than twenty thousand books in Spanish, thanks to Tiflolibros, the first digital library for Spanish-speaking blind readers.

The Buenos Aires-based library—named after Tiflos, an island in Greek mythology where blind people were banished, and also libros, the Spanish word for books—was created in 1999 by a group of blind friends who wanted to exchange digital books.

The founders are executive director Pablo Lecuona, who is a candidate for a Bachelor in Arts degree in Social Communications at Universidad de Buenos Aires; Mara Lis Vilar, a special education teacher with a focus on blind and visually impaired students; André Duré, the group’s programmer and technical coordinator; and Marta Traina, a communications student. María Ángeles González Mateo represents Tiflolibros in Spain.

After registering at, patrons can search for books by genre, title, or author. The books are e-mailed to patrons as coded files that are then converted to speech using a software program developed by Duré.

Registration is free, but there is a recommended donation of $50 every six months to support the library’s operation., a U.S.-based operation that is similar to Tiflolibros, offers more than 31,100 titles to readers. Most of its titles are in English, but the organization has begun to add Spanish titles as well.

Australia opens adaptive technology center

Vision Australia’s blind and visually impaired patrons now access computer equipment and training at the organization’s new Adaptive Technology Centre in Darwin.

The new center, which opened its doors on June 18, has been extremely well received by the community and Northern Territory government, whose Department of Employment, Education, and Training provided financial support.

UK offers online bookshelf

The Royal National Institute of Blind People’s (RNIB’s) new BookStream Book Club enables anyone with a computer and Internet connection to browse its audiobook collection and read his or her selection on line.

For £50 a year, subscribers get a bookshelf on the web site ( to which they can add up to five streamed audiobooks. Titles can be deleted from the bookshelf and replaced by another selection. A request can also be logged to get a copy on CD to listen to on a DAISY player, which is usually sent within two working days.

In addition to fourteen thousand audio titles, the collection includes braille books, music, and maps which can also be purchased on line.

NLS Union Catalog maximizes search for resources

Since the inception of the International Union Catalog more than two decades ago, blind and physically handicapped patrons have made good use of this vast, searchable resource to locate braille and recorded books, downloadable Web-Braille files, and music materials. The 284,881 titles listed come from the NLS collection and from other agencies serving blind and physically handicapped readers throughout the English-speaking world. Readers may search the full catalog of books in all special formats, including books that are in process, or limit their search to a specific format. The union catalog is a cooperatively built listing that unifies the holdings of several Canadian libraries, forty-four net- work libraries, Recording for the Blind and Dyslexic, the Jewish Braille Institute, and the Xavier Society for the Blind.

The International Union Catalog currently contains more than 284,881 titles (19 million copies). The average reader borrows 30 recorded books and magazines a year. Braille readers average 20 books and magazines a year.

"There’s a big gap between the vast number of titles published annually by mainstream commercial publishers and the much smaller number of books made available in special formats to blind and physically handicapped readers,” said Robert Axtell, head of the NLS Bibliographic Control Section. “The union catalog makes unique materials known. For readers, the catalog lists materials they didn’t have or might not have known about. It maximizes what is available and shines light on what otherwise might be obscure."

NLS produces about 2,400 braille and recorded books a year and currently provides cataloging online for 60,000 braille books, 75,000 sound recordings, 600 large-print music books, and 343 tactile maps. With its other participants, the union catalog increases the total available material to 91,000 braille books, 175,000 sound recordings, 1,900 large-print books, and 363 maps.

To be listed in the union catalog, materials must be complete and come from a stable collection. "Organizations sometimes will produce a run of books that are meant to be given away," Axtell explained. "We don’t want to list dead titles that aren’t available to our users."

Significant collections

The catalog contains several unique collections. The Jewish Braille Institute provides a compilation of religious materials, emphasizing books on Judaism and Jewish identity. The Xavier Society for the Blind, the oldest English-language Catholic library, offers additional spiritual texts.

Stretching from Hawaii to Maine, forty-four NLS network libraries provide materials of local and regional interest. "You can find regional authors, information about native sons and daughters, and books of local history," Axtell noted.

Map collection

NLS has a noteworthy collection of 343 tactile maps, many published by the Howe Memorial Press of the Perkins School for the Blind, with 20 more maps offered by the Princeton Braillists. These maps present terrain features, mountain patterns, national boundaries, coastlines, and population centers, with captions in braille.

Users can find a variety of maps and atlases on line, including Europe in the era of Charlemagne, the Roman Empire in the first century, the Mongolian Empire, the British colonies in North America, historic maps of Australia and New Zealand, and recent maps of Antarctica, Europe, Russia, Africa, and North and South America.

Music collection

NLS has the largest special-format music library in the world, with more than 100,000 items distributed among braille, large-print, and recorded materials. The shelves hold braille and large-print scores, librettos, books about music, and braille and audio instructional materials.

Braille makes up the largest part of the collection with 20,000 titles. Braille scores include transcriptions of the standard eighteenth- and nineteenth-century repertoire for most instruments, emphasizing piano, vocal, and choral music, and containing classical, jazz, and popular music from Bach to Bacharach. The braille library also includes textbooks, librettos, and instructional method books.

The Special Foreign Library Collection encompasses more than 7,000 braille books and sound recordings in French, German, Serbo-Croatian, Russian, Mandarin, Latvian, and Ukrainian, among many other languages.

Thousands of instructional recordings for voice and various instruments including banjo, piano, guitar, recorder, and violin cover elementary to advanced levels and offer education in music theory, composition, appreciation, and history. The collection of recordings also includes master classes, interviews, opera lectures, and biographies of composers, conductors, musicians, and performers.

The large-print collection includes librettos, biographies, music histories, music reference works, and other books about music as well as large-note music for piano, voice, and other instruments in a broad range of historical and contemporary styles.

Music library

NLS possesses the largest braille music collection in the world, with more than 22,000 titles. The music shelves hold 18,700 braille scores, music books, and textbooks in braille and large print, and 2,298 recordings of music appreciation and instructional material. The collection’s braille and large-print music scores include classical, jazz, and popular music ranging from Bach to Beethoven and Count Basie to Burt Bacharach. The collection also includes music instruction recordings for instruments ranging from banjo to violin.

Special Foreign Library collection

In addition to a variety of NLS-produced foreign-language books (predominantly Spanish), the Special Foreign Library Collection encompasses more than 7,000 braille books and sound recordings in French, German, Serbo-Croatian, Russian, Mandarin, Latvian, and Ukrainian, among many other languages. It includes books of language instruction, French literature, German poetry, Russian fairy tales, and Ukrainian history. Many foreign-language books are read by American citizens living outside the United States. Also, blind and physically handicapped residents of other countries may borrow books from the union catalog through their own country’s libraries. The foreign collection is helpful for naturalized American citizens as well. “It meets the demands of people who came to the United States from other countries and who have lost their sight,” Axtell mentioned. Thirty Romanian titles were added in December 2006.

Web-Braille collection

The union catalog not only serves as a finding tool, but also provides active links for downloadable braille books. Books and magazines in the NLS Web-Braille collection may be downloaded for reading offline or embossing, or reading on line with a refreshable braille output device. Web-Braille contains the full texts of more than 8,000 NLS-produced books for more than 4,500 subscribers. The service provides books, magazines, and titles available from network libraries in contracted braille format. Braille music scores are also available.

Tips for browsing the catalog

If users are looking for a specific topic, subject searching can occasionally be challenging, especially for unusual and narrow topics. "Subject headings are often not intuitive," Axtell advised. "Sometimes it’s hard to get from your concept to the actual subject nomenclature." This is where regional librarians can be helpful in navigating the catalog. They provide reader advisory services and may be able to suggest key words that will narrow and focus a search.

The International Union Catalog contains a host of valuable materials for blind and physically handicapped readers across the globe. New books and sound recordings add to its growth every day, enhancing the reading experiences of dedicated patrons.

NLS produces the last C-1 cassette book player

NLS produced its last cassette book machine on February 17, 2007. At a ceremony on March 1, 2007, in Blue Earth, Minnesota, Telex Communications, Inc., presented NLS quality assurance specialist Robert Mainhart with the milestone player. Telex has manufactured 1,248,113 NLS cassette book machines over the past thirty-four years. The final machine is expected to be in service for at least a decade.

NLS Quality Assurance staff members (left to right) Robert Norton, Margaret Goergen-Rood, and Bob Mainhart and NLS director Cylke (center) pose with C-1-1248113 —the last C-1 player produced.
NLS Quality Assurance staff members (left to right) Robert Norton, Margaret Goergen-Rood, and Bob Mainhart and NLS director Cylke (center) pose with C-1-1248113 —the last C-1 player produced.

"Analog audiocassette book and cassette book machine technology has been the backbone of the NLS system since the 1960s, but it’s nearing the end of its useful life," says Frank Kurt Cylke, NLS director. “Many of our patrons have heightened expectations for service improvements. Those expectations, along with the impending obsolescence of key elements of analog technology, warrant the conversion to a digital system. Digital talking-book machine technology will replace audiocassette technology just as audiocassette technology replaced its predecessor, rigid disc technology."

Because of the standards set by the NLS Quality Assurance Section, the final machine has reached the highest level of quality and reliability. Nearly 1.5 million cassette book machines (CBMs) have been distributed to 25,259,571 NLS patrons since 1969. These patrons have used the players to read the 19 million individual talking books that are available from the NLS collection. The CBMs were designed to play audiocassettes recorded at 15/16 inches per second on 4-track tapes allowing six hours of playback time per cassette. While NLS has made enhancements to the cassette player over the years, recent advances in digital technologies promise to improve the patron’s experience.

The new digital players went into full production in September 2007. They are lighter and smaller than the cassette book machines, contain no moving parts, and feature tactile-shaped and color-coded buttons that are labeled in both print and braille. In about 95 percent of cases, the flash memory cartridges will hold an entire book.

Though their production has ceased, NLS will continue to provide CBMs from the existing inventory and cassette audiobooks to our patrons during the transition to digital talking books and players. "The use of CBMs will decline rapidly with the introduction of the digital player; however, we expect some patrons to continue using CBMs beyond 2012," said NLS Materials Development Division chief Michael Katzmann.

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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:

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: Paula Higgins and Ingrid Davitt

Writers: Lina Dutky, Cassandra Middleton, Joel Phillips, and Cynthia Young.

Issues in 2006

January to March