Music Services

NLS Factsheets

Music Services for Blind and Physically Handicapped Individuals



In 1962 a special music collection for blind persons was authorized by Congress as part of its free national library program of braille and recorded books and magazines. The Library of Congress, National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped (NLS), administers the music program through its Music Section. Music services are provided directly to NLS patrons from its headquarters in Washington, D.C., unlike the literary braille and recorded materials and playback machines that are distributed by a national network of cooperating libraries. These services include a circulating collection of braille, large-print, and recorded instructional materials and a subscription program of magazines produced in braille, on cassette, and in large print. Musical recordings intended solely for listening are not part of the music collection, as these materials are readily available from stores and local public libraries.

Eligibility and Application for service

To be eligible for music services, an individual must:

  1. Reside in the United States or its territories or be a U.S. citizen living abroad.
  2. Be unable to read standard print due to temporary or permanent visual or physical disability.

Anyone currently registered with a library in the NLS network of cooperating regional and subregional libraries qualifies to receive music services and should contact the NLS Music Section directly. Others wishing to sign up for service must complete and return the "Application for Library Service: Individuals" to their cooperating library or to the NLS Music Section.

Once an application is approved, patrons can obtain the necessary playback machines from their cooperating network library.

The Collection

The special music collection consists of more than 30,000 braille and large-print music scores, texts, and instructional recordings about music and musicians. Some items are purchased from national and international commercial sources. Other materials are selected and produced in braille and audio formats by NLS, with permission of composers, authors, and publishers. Some titles are developed solely for the NLS program. The collection materials range from beginning to advanced levels. Holdings are searchable online at Individuals registered for NLS music services may borrow items for renewable three-month loan periods. Additional books about music and musicians are found in the general NLS collection circulated by the network of cooperating libraries. Materials not in our collection can sometimes be borrowed via international interlibrary loan.


Braille titles make up the largest portion of the collection. These include braille music transcriptions of the standard eighteenth- and nineteenth-century repertoire for most instruments, with emphasis on piano, vocal, and choral music. The braille collection also includes earlier and later classical music, popular music, textbooks, librettos, and music instruction books.


A growing number of braille music scores is available in an electronic format via the Internet. To access these music files, eligible program users must first receive a username and password from either their cooperating network library or the NLS Music Section. Once these are designated, the music files can be browsed online or downloaded for later reading or embossing. A list of available titles is on the web at (this page is available only to registered users of Web-Braille. For information, go to There is a link to each music file from its record in the online catalog at

Large Print

Large-print music with a minimum of 14-point type size and a staff size of one inch is available for piano, voice, and other instruments. The large-print collection also includes books about music, librettos, biographies of popular and classical musicians, general music histories, and some music reference works.


The NLS music collection contains a variety of instructional recordings on cassettes. These include music theory, appreciation, interviews and master classes, opera lectures, history, and biographical sketches of pop, jazz, and classical musicians with examples of their art. A number of recorded titles are devoted to instruction in playing various instruments (e.g., guitar, piano, organ, recorder).


Six music magazines are available by direct-mail subscription to registered users of the program. Subscriptions may be obtained through the local cooperating network library or the NLS Music Section. The magazines are:

Music Section on the Web

Please check the Music Section's page on the NLS web site, for news of the Section, the Metropolitan Opera broadcast schedule, and music circulars and catalogs available on the Web. Some of the latter are noted below.

Catalogs and Circulars Available from the Music Section

Instructional Cassettes

Large Print



Other Publications

Music Reading

Special Topics and Materials

For further information, contact:

Music Section
National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped
The Library of Congress
Washington, D.C. 20542

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Posted on 2010-08-25