May 11, 2021 Library of Congress Presents Awards to Two Libraries for their Outstanding Service to Readers with Disabilities

Press Contact: Maria Peña
Public Contact: Kristen Fernekes,
Website: National Library Service for the Blind and Print Disabled

The National Library Service for the Blind and Print Disabled (NLS) at the Library of Congress today honored two of its cooperating libraries for their outstanding service to readers with visual, physical or print disabilities.

The Iowa Library for the Blind and Print Disabled in Des Moines, Iowa, received the 2020–2021 Regional Library of the Year Award, while the Bayside Area and Special Services Library in Virginia Beach, Virginia, received the Sub-regional Library/Advisory and Outreach Center of the Year Award.

The two libraries were to be honored during a virtual ceremony of the biennial meeting of NLS’s Midlands and Western regional conferences. 

Each recipient receives a $1,000 award and a commemorative plaque. Both libraries will be honored at a luncheon in the historic Thomas Jefferson Building of the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C., when pandemic restrictions ease.

“These libraries met the challenges of the past year with tenacity and creativity,” Librarian of Congress Carla Hayden said. “When the world around them came to a stop, they kept moving forward, finding new ways to expand access and engage their readers and their communities.”

The Iowa Library for the Blind and Print Disabled, a unit of the Iowa Department for the Blind, has more than 5,700 registered patrons and circulated 411,899 items last year. It never missed a day of service even as the pandemic forced most of its 14 staff members to work from home. Their work was supplemented by volunteers who contributed nearly 5,000 hours of service.

The library connected with its patrons virtually, through podcasts, blogs, and a YouTube channel. Its Instructional Materials Center provided accessible educational materials to more than 100 students, helping them and their teachers transition to online learning. Recognizing that older patrons might feel isolated at home, library staff worked with volunteer narrators to set up a weekly program to read Westerns and mysteries over the phone and lead discussions with patrons. They also created virtual programs for young readers and their families. The library is one of a small group of libraries that joined a pilot test of NLS’s new refreshable braille display.  

“Iowa is a small state, and we have a small library compared to so many others,” the executive director of the Iowa Department for the Blind, Emily Wharton, said in a letter nominating the library for the award. “However, our library is mighty, and its impact is huge. Its heart is even bigger.”

The Bayside Area and Special Services Library (BASS) in Virginia Beach has nearly 700 registered patrons and circulated 29,855 items last year. As part of its outreach efforts to the Virginia Beach community last year, library staff members gave presentations to public library branches, the local Parkinson’s disease association, and Library and Information Science graduate students at Old Dominion University, among other groups. Staff members also serve on government boards that promote diversity and inclusion and advocate for people with disabilities. The library also collaborated with local government to create accessible documents for training and development programs.

“When the announcement came in mid-March to close libraries and limit the number of staff in our buildings, the staff at BASS demonstrated their passion to serve by quickly and successfully adjusting to meet the needs of our customers without compromising our programs or services,” Library Manager Susan Paddock said.

Paddock cited a donation to the library that one patron made last summer as a show of gratitude. “The money I gave is but a trifle compared to the benefits you gave to this old man,” he told them.

NLS Director Karen Keninger praised NLS’s entire network of 94 cooperating libraries across the country. “The programs and services the Iowa and Virginia Beach libraries offer are outstanding examples of the innovation and commitment seen throughout our network — not just during the past year of unique challenges, but every year since our founding in 1931,” Keninger said.

Created 90 years ago, NLS launched the Network Library Awards in 2005. A committee of librarians and consumer-organization representatives selects finalists from nominated libraries based on mission support, creativity, innovation in providing service and demonstrated reader satisfaction. A panel of network librarians then recommends one finalist in each category to the NLS director.

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 print disability makes reading regular printed material difficult. Through its national network of libraries, NLS provides books and magazines in audio and braille formats and playback equipment directly to patrons at no cost. Materials are also available online for download and are accessible on smart devices through the BARD Mobile app. Music instructional materials are available in large-print, ebraille, braille, and recorded formats. For more information, visit 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; access the official site for U.S. federal legislative information at; and register creative works of authorship at


PR PR 21-021
ISSN 0731-3527