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News October–December 2018


FY19 exhibits

FY19 exhibit schedule

2018 in review

Network news

Remembering James Billington

Boy in a bright yellow cap with cartoon eyes colors on handout..
A young visitor to the NLS booth at the Library of Congress Spring Fling takes part in a color-by-numbers activity that uses a braille key.

NLS hits the road to spread the word near and far

Gabrielle Barnes
Gabrielle Barnes

Gabrielle Barnes, a writer-editor in the NLS Communications and Outreach (formerly Publications and Media) Section, creates materials to promote the braille and talking-book program and plans and directs NLS events and exhibits around the country. In the following Q&A, Barnes talks about NLS’s expanding exhibit program and what’s planned for 2019.

What’s new in the FY19 exhibit program?

Our biggest change this year is our team. We’ve created and trained a smaller, specialized taskforce of staff members who are eager to engage with our audiences. We also are reaching out to new groups that we’ve never met before to get the word out to more people who might benefit from the services we provide.

With so many events going on every year, how does NLS decide which to attend?

So many organizations, so little time! NLS is exhibiting at about 25 conferences and conventions this year, which is an increase over previous years. We choose organizations on the national level that include patrons and potential patrons, as well as the professionals who work with them every day.

Does NLS attend the same events every year?

There are some organizations that have served our patrons for many years whose conferences and conventions we attend annually, including the Blinded Veterans Association, American Council of the Blind, and National Federation of the Blind. We also alternate between certain groups that reach similar audiences. For instance, this year we are exhibiting with the American Diabetes Association; last year we attended the American Association of Diabetes Educators conference. And of course, we’re always excited about meeting new groups and finding new ways to reach potential patrons. Two events we’ll be attending for the first time this year are the Native American Healthcare Conference and the Music Teachers National Association.

How do I find out if NLS is attending a conference or convention?

Our full calendar is on our website at (and following this Q&A). Some events are open only to their organization’s members or conference participants. But when an exhibit hall is open to the public, we definitely encourage people to visit us!

So if an organization that’s not already on your list wants NLS to exhibit at their event, how do they go about requesting that?

We love to hear about opportunities to reach more potential patrons. Occasionally organizations reach out to us with their event information, but most events are added based on research we do every summer to plan for the next fiscal year, which begins in October. NLS staff members attend events of national-level organizations; we forward some state- and local-level events to our network libraries around the country.

Do you have exhibit materials or services for network libraries to use at those events?

We sure do! We keep our warehouses stocked with table signs, posters, handouts, and braille alphabet cards. We also loan our banners and backdrops when we can spare them. There’s a media kit with materials that libraries can use as well.

NLS also shares a booth with the Library of Congress (LC) at some events, right?

We are privileged to be included in the LC pavilion at events such as the American Library Association conferences and the National Book Festival. The NLS exhibit is a highlight of the space that brings the wonders of the Library to events nationwide.

Do you take part in events at the Library of Congress campus in Washington too?

Yes, we display our collection and spread awareness about our program at many LC events. In 2018, for example, we offered fun braille-related activities for children at the LC’s Main Reading Room Open Houses.

You must meet a lot of people at exhibits. Do you actually sign people up for service at events?

Not too often. Mostly what we do is share information to raise awareness about our program, especially with professionals who serve people who may be eligible. However, we jump at any chance we get to give a potential patron an application for service.

Claie stands behind NLS exhibit table.
Staff member Claire Rojstaczer worked the NLS booth at the American Occupational Therapy Association annual conference in April in Salt Lake City, Utah.

What questions do you get most often at exhibits?

“Where is my library?” and “Am I eligible for this service?” (You can find answers to both those questions at Many people who do not use the accessibility features on their smart devices are excited to see a screen reader displayed on a tablet at our exhibits. This year, for the first time, we are displaying a refreshable braille device (which instantaneously turns a digital braille file into braille for tactile reading), so we expect to get many questions about that.

What are the most popular giveaway items at the NLS booth?

Braille alphabet cards! Everyone loves to learn a little about braille. Also popular are cards with information about our BARD (Braille and Audio Reading Download) Mobile app and the currency readers that NLS distributes in partnership with the Bureau of Engraving and Printing. And children love the color-by-braille activity sheets that are a new addition to our exhibits.

What’s the best part of your job at exhibits?

I love to meet patrons and their families who say that being able to read for themselves gave them independence and added quality to their lives. The best day ever for me was at an open house in the LC where a young girl who had begun to lose her vision saw that a book her friends were reading was in our collection. Her face lit up at the realization that, with this service, she could read it too.

NLS FY19 Exhibit Schedule

December 19–22, 2018 

Midwest Clinic International Band and Orchestra Conference

Chicago, Illinois

January 29–February 2  

Council for Exceptional Children

Indianapolis, Indiana

February 20–24

Music Library Association

St. Louis, Missouri

February 28–March 1 

American Foundation for the Blind

Arlington, Virginia

March 16–20 

Music Teachers National Association

Spokane, Washington

March 17–20

Leading Age/American Association of Homes and Services for the Aging

Washington, DC

April 1–4   

National Association of Activity Professionals

Charleston, South Carolina

April 4–7  

American Occupational Therapy Association

New Orleans, Louisiana

April 15–18  

American Society on Aging

New Orleans, Louisiana

April 24–26  

American Nurses Association

Orlando, Florida

May 3–5

Abilities Expo: New York Metro Area

Edison, New Jersey

June 7–11  

American Diabetes Association

San Francisco, California

June 10–11  

Native American Healthcare Conference

Temecula, California

June 14–18  

Special Libraries Association

Cleveland, Ohio

June 20–25 

American Library Association (National)

Washington, DC

July 1–4    

National Education Association

Houston, Texas

July 5–12   

American Council of the Blind

Rochester, New York

July 7–12  

National Federation of the Blind

Las Vegas, Nevada

July 8–13      

Association on Higher Education and Disability

Boston, Massachusetts

July 22–26     

National Council on Independent Living

Washington, DC

August 3–6    

Disabled American Veterans

Orlando, Florida

August 12–16

Blinded Veterans Association

Tulsa, Oklahoma

August 23–29    

American Legion National Conference

Indianapolis, Indiana

The year in review

By the numbers: NLS in 2018

The federal government’s 2018 fiscal year ended September 30. Here’s a look at how NLS served its patrons over the previous 12 months.

  • NLS and its network libraries circulated 13,292,597 talking books and 1,077,640 audio magazines on cartridges . . .
  • . . and 157,421 braille books and 127,917 braille magazines.
  • BARD passed the 100,000 book milestone, with 105,091 books and more than 16,000 magazine issues available.
  • The NLS Music collection—the largest offering of braille and audio scores and music
    instructional material in the world—grew to 24,836 items.
  • Followers of the NLS Facebook page doubled in one year, to more than 34,000, and page “likes” went up 43 percent.
  • Calls to the NLS toll-free number are way up over previous years, thanks to the ongoing online, TV, and radio outreach campaign. NLS was on track to get about 96,000 calls to its toll-free information number (1-888-NLS-READ) by December 31. That compares to 8,142 calls in 2017.
  • The 30th National Conference of Librarians Serving Blind and Physically Handicapped Individuals took place in June in Nashville, Tenn. More than 120 representatives from 47 states and US territories attended; they got updates on NLS initiatives, took part in workshops and demonstrations led by NLS staff and network librarians, and had the opportunity to try new accessible products.

Marrakesh Treaty implementation one step closer in US

By Claire Rojstaczer

President Trump signed the Marrakesh Treaty Implementation Act (MTIA) into law in October, bringing the United States one step closer to joining dozens of nations in expanding the distribution of special-format books. The next step is for the US to present the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) with documents formally acceding to the treaty. Ninety days after that, the treaty will become binding on the US.

The treaty, which was adopted by WIPO in Marrakesh, Morocco, in 2013, requires signatory nations to enact copyright exceptions that facilitate the distribution of published works to people who are print disabled, including people who are blind and visually impaired. Many countries, including the US, already had legal exceptions in place for material produced and distributed within their own borders, but those exceptions differed from country to country. Marrakesh standardizes those exceptions and expands them to include international exchange of special-format works.

“Over 300 million people worldwide have print disabilities,” NLS director Karen Keninger told the International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions (IFLA) during an August 2018 meeting that addressed the Marrakesh Treaty. “But only the smallest percent of texts are provided in accessible formats. We must reach out to our neighbors to learn and share.”

With Marrakesh’s implementation on the horizon, NLS is developing guidelines for circulating and sharing material outside the US. “We’re very excited that this is finally becoming reality,” Keninger said. “It will allow us new avenues to fulfill the NLS mission of providing meaningful access to information for people with print disabilities.”

The MTIA also has expanded the types of works that can be reproduced in specialized formats without permission from the copyright holders. In the past, Section 121 of US copyright law limited its exceptions to “nondramatic literary works.”  The revised law allows reproduction of all literary works and musical notations.

NLS has always produced some dramatic literary works in braille and audio—like the bestseller Harry Potter and the Cursed Child—but it has had to get the copyright holder’s explicit consent. Now NLS will be able to bring these works to its patrons more quickly—a small but significant local benefit of a treaty desired to bring special-format materials more quickly to everyone in need, everywhere in the world.

Library’s new strategic plan emphasizes access

By Kristen Fernekes

This fall, the Library of Congress underwent an organization-wide realignment during which NLS moved into a new group called Library and Collections Services. This move, intended to align core library activities to ensure a more consistent user experience, was implemented in conjunction with the release of an overall strategic plan intended to serve as a roadmap for the Library in the coming years.

Reflecting the vision of Librarian of Congress Carla Hayden and feedback from staff across the Library, the plan focuses on the needs and interests of users and the goal of making collections more accessible and relevant to the American people. In sharing the new strategic plan, Hayden emphasized that the new direction “establishes our mission to engage, inspire and inform Congress and the American people with a universal and enduring source of knowledge and creativity.”

Complementing the strategic plan is a new digital strategy, intended to enhance the Library’s ability to connect with more users and make online resources more available.

NLS Director Karen Keninger said, “NLS is very pleased with the plan, which aligns closely with our longstanding goal of accessibility and engagement, in addition to serving as support for NLS’s plans for increased digital access for its patrons.”

To read more about the Library of Congress’s strategic plan and digital strategy, visit and

Network Exchange

The Montana State Library recently launched a public relations campaign for Montana libraries and information resources, including the Montana Talking Book Library. A video created for that campaign features Travis Stevenson and Ed Worrell, who together started a consulting firm in Great Falls to provide technology solutions for Montanans who are blind or have low vision. In the two-minute video, Worrell—who lost his vision as a young adult—tells how he used talking books downloaded from BARD, the NLS Braille and Audio Reading Download service, to teach himself the coding language he needed to build the firm’s website. You can watch the video at


Congratulations to the Maryland State Library for the Blind and Physically Handicapped (LBPH) in Baltimore, which celebrated its 50th birthday this fall!

When it opened in 1968, the library served nearly 1,000 people.
Cake in the shape of an NLS DTBM.Today it serves nearly 8,000. LBPH also offers accessible events and technology training and has ADA-compliant computer workstations for its patrons. “While our mission has largely stayed the same over the last 50 years, how we accomplish that goal has evolved to be more inclusive, more adaptive to the needs of our patrons,” LBPH Director Leslie Bowman said.

Guests at the library’s October 27 celebration included state Secretary of Disabilities Carol Beatty, The Blind Life blogger Sam Seavey, and international poetry slam champion Gayle Danley. And of course, there was a cake (right)—which LBPH outreach librarian Ashley Biggs decorated like an NLS digital talking-book machine!


The state of Alabama made voter information for his fall’s election available in braille—with help from Director Teresa Lacy and her staff at the Alabama Library and Resource Center for the Blind and Physically Handicapped in Talladega. Braille transcribers at the library prepared the materials, including a voter guide, photo ID guide, and absentee ballot applications. They were distributed through braille and talking-book libraries in Talladega, Huntsville and Montgomery; Industries for the Blind workshops, “and wherever else we thought they would be needed,” Lacy said.


The Wolfner Talking Book and Braille Library in Jefferson City, Missouri, hosted a webinar titled “An Overview of Wolfner Library Services” on October 23. The webinar was aimed at public librarians in Missouri, but it’s been archived for viewing by other braille and talking-book libraries that may want to learn more about services that Wolfner offers in addition to NLS-supplied reading materials. These include hosting book clubs and workshops via conference call, an early literacy program, a teen poetry contest, reading programs, print-braille games and descriptive DVDs, partnerships with other Missouri libraries; and more.

That webinar, and another specifically about hosting book clubs by conference call, are online at There you will also find the library’s Wolf Bites series of short webinars that focus on various aspects of service.

Remembering James Billington

Dr. James Billington speaks at the NLS 80th anniversary celebration in 2011.James H. Billington, who served 28 years as the nation’s 13th Librarian of Congress, died November 20 at age 89. On March 3, 2011, Billington spoke at the NLS 80th anniversary celebration in the Members of Congress Room in the Library’s historic Thomas Jefferson Building (left). He said NLS was “a wonderful expression of the best in America” and shared memories of his grandmother, an NLS patron who lived to be almost 105. “She always said to me that talking books had added at least five, maybe ten years to her life,” he said. “These books were literally her lifeline.”