Catalog Search

888-NLS-READ (888-657-7323)

Collection Building Policy

(revised 9/15/2020)

Purpose and scope

This document states the NLS policy for selection of reading materials. It is intended to guide the staff in selecting material; to provide a standard for the ongoing evaluation of the collections; to provide guidance to network libraries developing supplementary collections so that needless duplication of effort may be avoided; and to provide readers and librarians with information on the nature of the collections.

This policy identifies what materials should be included in the NLS collections to support and realize the mission of the Library of Congress, and outlines in general terms the priorities for building and maintaining the collections to implement NLS’s goals and objectives.

The scope of the collection is meant to satisfy general informational and recreational reading needs, with most selection areas collected at a basic level. This level provides an essential understanding of the subject, including important works, general surveys, and noteworthy biographies, but is not usually sufficient to support independent, in-depth research. Areas of particular interest to our patron base, such as books about blindness or physical disabilities, may be collected in greater depth.

Legal responsibility

Under Public Law 89‑522, the Library of Congress is responsible for providing library materials for blind, visually impaired, or otherwise print-disabled residents of the United States and U.S. citizens living abroad. NLS is responsible for carrying out this mandate and seeks to cooperate and coordinate with other agencies and groups so that readers may have access to the widest possible number of titles.

The NLS mission includes two goals: to develop and maintain an inventory of braille and recorded materials that will meet the reading preferences and information needs of a highly diverse clientele, and to develop coordinated library service for all persons eligible for this service.

Program policy

NLS patrons should have access to the same types of books and information available to the general public through public libraries.

The recreation and information needs of all ages, languages, and backgrounds should be reflected proportionally in the collections in relation to the overall readership served.

The collections should offer standard classic and informational titles, along with works of popular and recreational interest.

Selection of any given book is not to be interpreted as an endorsement of the views expressed therein. Books are reproduced in their entirety and remain available even if they are offensive or unacceptable to some readers. NLS supports intellectual freedom and subscribes to the American Library Association’s Library Bill of Rights and Freedom to Read Statement.

ALA Library Bill of Rights: External

ALA Freedom to Read Statement: External

NLS is the central node in a national network of regional and subregional libraries offering direct public library service to eligible patrons. It uses the production capabilities of commercial, nonprofit, and volunteer organizations to produce quantities of books ranging from a few copies to more than a thousand copies. The quantity of any title produced is dependent on the pertinence of the work to the network libraries’ collections and to expected reader demand.

Network libraries provide an additional source of materials by producing books of local and regional interest and books of recreational or informational interest not provided for in the NLS collections. Network libraries make these titles accessible nationwide by sending bibliographic data to NLS for inclusion in the NLS Union Catalog, offering copies on request through interlibrary loan, and uploading books to the Braille and Audio Reading Download (BARD) website following procedures established by the Network Division.

Textbooks are not generally part of the NLS collections but are available through volunteer individuals and groups and nonprofit organizations such as Learning Ally (formerly Recording for the Blind and Dyslexic) and the American Printing House for the Blind.

Access to NLS collections by network librarians and patrons

Network librarians and patrons have access to the NLS collections records through the International Union Catalog, available online at

Information about the most recently distributed books is published in the bimonthly publications Talking Books Topics and Braille Book Review. These are available in large print, on digital cartridge, in braille, and/or online. Short subject-matter bibliographies are occasionally produced by the Network Division and posted on the NLS website.

The role of patrons and network libraries in building the collection

NLS is committed to meeting patrons’ recreational and informational reading needs. To that end NLS has instituted the following methods to ensure patron participation in the selection process:

The Collection Development Advisory Group is designed to bring patrons’ concerns to NLS. The group meets in person at NLS for three days every two years. It is made up of four network librarians (one from each of the four conferences, appointed by the conference chair), one youth librarian, four readers‑at‑large (one from each of the four conferences, appointed by the conference chair), and one representative from each of three consumer organizations (the American Council of the Blind, the Blinded Veterans Association, and the National Federation of the Blind). After an introductory workshop to acquaint the group with current issues in book selection and production, the group members discuss among themselves the various concerns they have brought from their constituents. At the final meeting the group presents a list of recommendations to guide NLS in the development of the collections. Participants are reimbursed for their expenses.

Patrons are encouraged to bring their reading needs to the attention of NLS by contacting their regional or subregional library. Library staff will then query NLS and report back to the patrons.

In building the NLS collections, consideration is given to resources and information available from other organizations, including network libraries. NLS is committed to considering patrons’ needs, publishing trends, its own resources, and network library activities in open forums such as those provided by advisory groups.

General policies

The NLS catalog consists of braille and recorded reproductions of published printed and digital works. The goal of including information in all subject areas in both braille and recorded formats is approached within the overall context of technological and cost considerations. The NLS collection primarily contains English-language materials, but it has a growing number of reproductions in languages other than English, especially Spanish. NLS adds non-English materials using the same selection parameters as are in place for English materials.

In accordance with the Marrakesh Treaty, Marrakesh Treaty Implementation Act, and Library of Congress Technical Corrections Act of 2019, NLS may add materials to its collection which are made available by other Authorized Entities. These reproductions, in a variety of languages from around the world, are considered according to the same selection standards as other NLS reproductions.

Commercial audiobooks made available to NLS by arrangement with publishers are included in the program when they meet the same standards that guide the selection of print books.

Unpublished manuscripts will not be considered for inclusion in the NLS collection. Self-published works occasionally may be considered, subject to the same selection criteria and standard of high interest to NLS patrons.

Published books are considered for selection only when print or digital copies are available for examination, when the titles are well reviewed in widely distributed national publications (two positive reviews in the mainstream press are a standard requirement; exceptions are made when special relevance to NLS patrons is apparent), when they appear in authoritative bibliographies, or when they are recognized by librarians as basic works appropriate to a public library’s collection. These qualifiers do not guarantee selection for the NLS collection, however.

Priority is given to works of perceived long‑lasting value, with a smaller number of selections from widely discussed but perhaps more ephemeral works.

Generally excluded from the collection, except where specifically noted, are textbooks or other curriculum‑related materials, unless such materials are appropriate to a public library collection; information that is likely to become dated before the production process can be completed; and titles that serve only to further a political or social cause, except where important documents by prominent individuals are included and are not otherwise available.

NLS does not generally include government publications in its collection, but provides assistance and consultation to agencies as they seek to provide their circulars, documents, and explanatory pamphlets in alternative media.

Books in the collection that are in poor condition or whose contents have been determined by NLS to be dated are withdrawn. Network libraries are notified of the decision to withdraw specific titles. The libraries have the option of retaining such material if they so desire. Circulating copies of withdrawn titles are available to readers on request through interlibrary loan through network libraries. Withdrawn titles of lasting interest may be considered for rerecording.

Encyclopedias and dictionaries, which are not suited for loaning, and annuals, which have information that may become dated quickly, are not generally selected for inclusion in the national collections. For most reference questions, patrons are referred to their regional library or nearest public library.

No attempt is made to acquire more than a single imprint of a specific title. Variant imprints may appear in the collection when special significance or value may be identified.

Music scores and technical music books are circulated by the NLS Music Section. Books on music and musicians that are of general interest are part of the NLS general collection, and are available through network libraries.

Self‑help instructional materials that are found in public libraries and that can be converted to a special format may be added to the collection when identified as appropriate for meeting patron needs.

Gifts and materials obtained through cooperative international exchange agreements that meet NLS quality-assurance standards may be accepted in accordance with this policy. Exceptions may be made in regard to materials of foreign origin when the need to acquire materials expeditiously is paramount.

Large‑print books are not included in the NLS collection except in the special music collection. Patrons who need large‑print scores and music instruction materials are directed to the NLS Music Section. Fiction and nonfiction books in large print are available in most public libraries and are included in the collections of many network libraries.

Duplication of titles in more than one special format is based on, and reflects NLS response to, known reader needs or anticipated popularity.

NLS provides a limited number of periodicals in braille or recorded formats. Generally, periodicals published by specific interest groups that contain information of interest solely to members of those groups are not included in the collection. The Magazine of the Month program provides patrons with sample magazines that are not available by subscription.

Standard works relating to the world’s major religions, including scriptures, are provided in proportion to demand. A reference guide, Bibles and Other Sacred Writings in Special Media, available online and through the NLS Reference Section, provides information about organizations that make copies of sacred texts available at little or no cost to persons who wish to have a personal copy.

NLS provides a special collection in languages other than English. The collection is based upon the relative number of individuals using a language in the overall readership, and upon the availability of works in that language.

Both original works and translations are included in the collection. No attempt is made to acquire any specific title in all available languages. Individual titles may appear in multiple languages as appropriate to the collection. Materials and reproductions, in a variety of languages, are acquired by purchase, by special arrangement with sister agencies abroad, or as a participating Authorized Entity in the Marrakesh Treaty. Children’s titles, including bilingual editions, and titles that may be used by adults for self-education are included.

The young adult collection is presented as part of the adult collection. Young adult material is generally geared to students in high school but is often read and enjoyed by younger readers as well as adults. Selection of materials is governed by the same criteria used to develop the collections in general.

The children’s collection is developed to meet the needs of children from preschool (age four) through grade eight. Selection criteria are similar to those used to develop the adult collection.

Criteria for selection

Selection of books for the collections involves consideration of what has already been selected in the subject area, the media previously used, the audiences to which the titles will appeal, the titles’ potential popularity, the format of the print book, and the media to which the titles best lend themselves.

The collection offers representative coverage in all major subject areas, with selective coverage in subareas and attention to the following:

  1. Broad trends in public interests, developing theories and practices in the various subject areas, and availability of appropriate titles;
  2. Materials in areas of particular interest to readers, classic and standard materials, contemporary works, specialized works that support lifelong learning, and works of informational reading.

The selection goal is to meet the recreational and informational reading needs of a large readership with vastly different tastes, interests, purposes, and reading levels. The collection contains literary classics as well as popular and experimental works.

Criteria used for the selection of periodicals include the above, plus consideration of whether the periodicals reflect current thinking in the various fields represented, are of high interest and in demand, are representative in their points of view, and meet recreational and informational needs.

Collection dynamics

Patrons’ needs, publishing trends, and changing resources require that the policies that describe and direct the collection be constantly monitored. This policy may serve as a basis for discussion at ad hoc group meetings. Recommendations from patrons’ groups or network libraries may be considered as the basis for amending or changing this document.

Skip to main content