In 1962, a special music collection for blind persons was authorized by Congress as part of its free national library program, and in 1966, service was extended to individuals with physical disabilities. Today, the Music Section of the National Library Service for the Blind and Print Disabled (NLS), Library of Congress, has expanded this initial collection to be the largest music collection of its kind in the world, with over 25,000 titles. While patrons receive most NLS services through the network of cooperating libraries, NLS music materials are circulated directly to patrons from the NLS headquarters in Washington, D.C.
Patrons may access the collection of braille, large-print, and recorded instructional materials about music and musicians. They may also obtain free subscriptions to magazines produced in audio, braille, and large print. All materials are circulated postage free, and many digital audio and electronic braille (ebraille) materials are available for download via the BARD website or mobile app. Machines needed to use the audio cartridges are provided to eligible users without charge. Musical recordings intended solely for listening pleasure are not included in the music collection, as they are readily available commercially and from public libraries.
Eligibility and Application for Service
To be eligible for music services, an individual must:
- Reside in the United States or its territories or be a U.S. citizen living abroad.
- Be unable to read regular print because of a temporary or permanent visual or physical disability.
Anyone currently registered with an NLS cooperating library qualifies to receive music books and scores and should contact the NLS Music Section directly either via phone (1-800-424-8567 ext. 2) or via email ([email protected]).
Other eligible individuals who are not yet registered with an NLS cooperating library can receive more information by calling 1-888-NLS-READ (1-888-657-7323) toll-free and following the prompts to be connected to the braille and talking book library in their state or visit the Apply for NLS Service page.
The special-format music collection consists of more than 25,000 audio, braille, and large-print music scores, texts, and other instructional materials. Some materials are purchased from national and international commercial sources. Other items are selected and produced in audio and braille formats by NLS with the permission of composers, authors, and publishers. Some titles are developed solely for the NLS program.
The collection materials range in levels from beginning to advanced and can be searched online through the NLS catalog. Additional books about music and musicians are available from local cooperating libraries.
- Braille – Braille titles make up the largest portion of the collection. These include braille music transcriptions of the standard eighteenth-, nineteenth-, and twentieth century repertoire for most instruments, with emphasis on piano, vocal, and choral music. The braille collection also includes earlier and later classical music, popular music, textbooks, librettos, and music instruction books.
- Large Print – Large-print music, which is produced with a minimum 14-point type size and a 1-inch staff size, is available for voice, piano, and other instruments. The large-print collection also includes books about music, librettos, biographies of popular and classical musicians, general music histories, and some music reference works.
- Recordings – A variety of recordings are available. Subjects include music theory and appreciation; interviews and master classes, opera lectures, and history; and biographical sketches of pop, jazz, and classical musicians with examples of their art. Many recorded titles are devoted to instruction in playing various instruments (e.g., guitar, piano, organ, and recorder), as well as songs for those instruments.
- Braille and Audio Reading Download (BARD) – Patrons may request access to the Braille and Audio Reading Download (BARD) website, which allows patrons to download music materials over the Internet. Ebraille files (BRMs) include scores for various instruments and/or voice, standard music texts, and many method books. Audio materials (DBMs) include instructional guides and music appreciation presentations. Titles produced by NLS represent a variety of instructional material for both instrumental and vocal artists. Large print material is not available for download on BARD.
Six music magazines are available by direct-mail subscription to registered users. Subscriptions may be obtained through the local cooperating library or the NLS Music Section. Several are also available via download from BARD. The magazines are:
- Braille Music Magazine, a monthly British publication containing articles and criticism from British classical music magazines. Hard-copy embossed issues are mailed to all subscribers.
- Contemporary Sound Track: A Review of Pop, Jazz, Rock, and Country, a bimonthly NLS-compiled sampler of articles from national magazines. It is available to subscribers on cartridge and on BARD.
- Musical Mainstream, an NLS-compiled sampler from national magazines. It contains current articles on classical music and music education. The quarterly publication is available in large print, braille, ebraille, and audio. Audio is available to subscribers on cartridge and on BARD.
- Popular Music Lead Sheets, an NLS-compiled collection of melodies, lyrics, and chords to popular songs ranging from oldies to recent hits. Published quarterly in braille, it is available on BARD.
- Quarterly Music Magazine, a single issue of a complete music magazine chosen from among commercial popular and classical offerings. The audio publication is available to subscribers on cartridge and on BARD.
- Sound and Vision, a monthly publication containing articles and reviews of music recordings and information about technological equipment. It is available to subscribers on cartridge and on BARD.
The Music Section has a blog on the Library of Congress website called NLS Music Notes. The blog highlights the music collection, presents newly added titles, profiles musicians who are blind or visually impaired, and features braille music transcribers and their work, along with a variety of related music topics and activities.
Music Section on the Web
Please visit the Music Section’s page on the NLS website for news and updates, and to access music publications available on the Internet, some of which are noted below.
- Braille Scores Catalog: Instrumental (large print and braille)
- Circular #14, Braille Scores Catalog: Instrumental—Supplement (braille and large print)
- Braille Scores Catalog: Organ (braille, large print, and text document)
- Braille Scores Catalog: Piano (braille, large print, and HTML)
- Circular #3, Piano Methods in Braille (braille and large print)
- Braille Scores Catalog: Vocal, Part I—Classical (braille and large print)
- Braille Scores Catalog: Vocal, Part II—Popular (large print)
- Braille Scores Catalog: Vocal, Part III—Popular, Supplement (braille and large print)
- Circular #10, Braille Scores Catalog: Vocal Part I—Classical—Supplement (large print)
- Instructional Music Recordings Catalog (large print, on cartridge/BARD [DBM03542], and HTML)
- Instructional Recordings Catalog for Guitars (on cartridge/BARD [DBM03689])
Publications on Reading Braille Music
- Circular #11, Books on Braille Music Notation (braille and large print)
- Dictionary of Braille Music Signs (braille, large print, and available on BARD [BRM26334, 2 volumes])
- Do You Know This Tune? (print/braille music sample)
- Who’s Afraid of Braille Music? (braille, large print [LPM00660], BARD [BRM32949], and in ebraille and PDF print)
Publications on Special Topics and Materials
- Circular #4, Braille Music Transcribers (braille, large print, and HTML)
- Circular #5, Music Periodicals Available from NLS (large print)
- Circular #16, Opera Librettos and Lectures (large print and HTML)
- Circular #17, Christmas Music and Instructional Recordings (large print)
- Circular #19, College Texts about Music (large print)
- Facts: Music Services for Individuals Who Are Blind or Have a Physical Disability (braille and print)
- Music Is for Everyone (large-print brochure)
Visit the Music Materials page for publications about the NLS Music section.
To request any of the above materials or more information, please contact:
National Library Service for the Blind and Print Disabled
Library of Congress
Washington, DC 20542
1-800-424-8567, ext. 2
Note: Telephone or email are the most efficient means of contact as a result of required security procedures for postal deliveries.