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About Local Network Libraries

The Network of the National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped (NLS), Library of Congress

Eligible blind, visually impaired, and other print-disabled individuals throughout the United States and its territories receive library service through a network of cooperating libraries. This cooperative network of libraries is supported at federal, state, and local levels where appropriate. This network, one of the oldest library networks in America, was established in 1931.

One of the primary reasons for instituting a national program was to decrease the difficulty and high cost for individual libraries to acquire books in special formats. From its inception, NLS took responsibility for acquiring materials for the regional libraries. Currently, this service includes the acquisition, production, and distribution of braille and audio books and magazines, playback equipment, catalogs and other publications, and publicity and marketing materials. NLS contracts for two multistate centers to warehouse and distribute playback equipment and supplies, specialized collections of materials, and backup copies of the NLS collection. Music materials are distributed by the NLS Music Section at the Washington, D.C., location. This location acts as the headquarters for the network and, in that role, coordinates weeding and reassignment of excess materials, provides consulting services, develops new products and services such as BARD (Braille Audio Reading Download) and BARD Mobile, sponsors a national conference in even-numbered years, and distributes materials to U.S. citizens living abroad registered with the NLS overseas program.

The regional library (RL) is the basic organizational unit in the network. Generally, state governments are responsible for ensuring that library service is provided to eligible residents of its jurisdiction. State libraries either directly administer regional library service by providing staff, space, and a budget, or they contract with another library to do so. These services include registering new patrons, initiating service, maintaining request lists from patrons, circulating books and magazines to patrons, providing reader advisor services, and ensuring that interested patrons receive and return materials.

Some regional libraries support a network of subregional libraries (SRLs) or advisory outreach centers (AOCs). Some provide all direct service through SRLs; others have subregional service in only some counties with other counties served by the RL. Most SRLs are part of public library systems and provide localized service. Funding can come from any combination of state and local monies and from Library Services and Technology Act funds. AOCs are former SRLs for whom the RL now provides the circulation of materials.

Most regional libraries have agreements to act as the machine lending agencies (MLAs) for distributing digital talking book machines and coordinating machine repair in their service areas. As of 2018, only three MLAs exist separate from any RL. Some MLAs also authorize machine sublending agencies to provide machine services locally. Locations of sublending agencies range from public libraries to private disability organizations.

For further information, please contact NLS at 1-800-424-8567.

Map of Network of NLS Partners (2019) (PDF)