June 21, 2017 NLS Rolls Out New Digital Initiatives

Initiatives to Improve Accessibility for Braille and Talking-Book Programs

Press Contact: Jennifer Gavin (202) 707-1940
Public Contact: David Pelizzari (202) 707-0521

The National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped (NLS) at the Library of Congress is enhancing its ability to serve its patrons through several major technological initiatives being advanced this summer. NLS is launching a new and improved website and a new multimedia education campaign—both designed to raise awareness of NLS’s remarkable free services.

“NLS–and the entire Library of Congress—are constantly working to improve the services we provide to our blind and physically handicapped patrons. We’re excited to be exploring new technologies that can help deliver NLS content to those who need it in easier and more efficient ways,” said NLS director Karen Keninger. “We’re also excited about our new website, which will help us tell our story to both patrons and the public. We want everyone to know about the free services NLS provides to those who need it.”

The new website, being previewed now, will replace the current NLS website at loc.gov/nls/ in early July. It is designed to accommodate blind and reduced-vision users, while providing every visitor with an easy-to-navigate educational experience about the program. The new site meets many web content accessibility guidelines (WCAG) AA and AAA standards. It is navigable by all major screen-readers and incorporates special features, such as embedded text-size and contrast controls. In a new, visually appealing way, the site continues to deliver important information about NLS services, eligibility and enrollment. The site will also make it easier to locate the network of cooperating state-based libraries that work with NLS to distribute its services across the country.

NLS is also exploring four important technological pilots this summer to test new ways of widening access to its vast collection of reading and music materials in braille and talking-book formats.

Duplication-on-Demand. To reduce wait times for talking books, NLS is testing a duplication-on-demand system that allows network libraries to create digital cartridges containing the files for talking books at their own locations, based on the requests of their patrons. This approach puts the entire NLS collection at the fingertips of all NLS patrons without requiring libraries to anticipate demand or stock prepared cartridges from NLS headquarters.

Synthetic Speech. Synthetic speech technologies have advanced to the point that content that was often unavailable as part of a talking book—such as bibliographies and endnotes—can now be made available in an efficient and affordable way. The technology also promises to make more “breaking news” or time-sensitive materials producible in a timely way. Synthetic speech will not replace in-person voice recording for the main body of NLS works, but it is being explored as a good way to supplement the work done by NLS’s dedicated recording artists.

Wireless Download. NLS is exploring wireless transmission of talking-book files directly to patrons’ reading devices, creating a loading process that would be similar to the ease of obtaining an album from iTunes or Amazon. While only in early test stages, wireless downloading of NLS material promises significant advancement in ease of use for NLS patrons and the management of the entire NLS system.

Braille eReader. Braille eReaders (refreshable braille devices that can turn a digital braille file instantaneously into braille for tactile reading) have improved in ease of use and price point. NLS is working with the Perkins Library in Watertown, Massachusetts to study the viability of using these braille eReaders more widely.

All of these initiatives allow NLS to serve its growing community with more advanced, more accessible and more wide-ranging services. To expand awareness of the services it provides, NLS has also launched its first paid multimedia educational campaign.  The campaign, which began this month with digital advertising, including Facebook and keyword posts, will expand next year to include TV and radio advertising.

NLS administers the braille and talking-book program, a free library service available to U.S. residents and American citizens living abroad whose low vision, blindness or disability makes reading regular printed material difficult. Through its national network of libraries, NLS mails books and magazines in talking-book and braille formats and playback equipment directly to enrollees at no cost. Music instructional materials are available in large-print, ebraille, braille and recorded formats. Selected materials are also available online for download and are accessible through smart devices. For more information, visit loc.gov/ThatAllMayRead or call 1-888-NLS-READ (1-888-657-7323).

The Library of Congress is the world’s largest library, offering access to the creative record of the United States—and extensive materials from around the world—both on-site and online. It is the main research arm of the U.S. Congress and the home of the U.S. Copyright Office. Explore collections, reference services and other programs and plan a visit at loc.gov; access the official site for U.S. federal legislative information at congress.gov; and register creative works of authorship at copyright.gov.


PR 17-091
ISSN 0731-3527