The National Library Service for the Blind and Print Disabled (NLS), Library of Congress, is a free braille and talking book library service for people with temporary or permanent low vision, blindness, or a physical, perceptual, or reading disability that prevents them from reading or holding the printed page. Through a national network of cooperating libraries, NLS offers books and magazines the way you want them: in braille or audio formats, instantly downloadable or mailed to your door for free. NLS offers a wide variety of titles, including bestsellers, biographies, fictional works, how-to books, magazines, and music scores and instructional materials.
If you or someone you know is interested in receiving talking book or braille service, please take the following steps:
- Read the eligibility guidelines below to determine if you or the interested individual or institution is eligible for service.
- Request an application for service or search the local network library address list or call 888-657-7323 to locate the network library that would serve the eligible party. You can also contact the network library by email, telephone, fax, or in writing by mail. If the eligible individual is an American citizen living outside of the US, please visit our page on Overseas Service.
- Complete and return the application with a signature from one of the listed certifying authorities. (You can also find and complete a printable application form and mail it to your local network library with a signature from a certifying authority.)
- Wait for the network library to contact you or the eligible party with further steps or the news of enrollment. Once enrolled, the network library will provide further information on available equipment, reading material, and other services and resources.
- Start using NLS!
If you are unable to locate a library or would like additional assistance, please contact NLS or call 202-707-5100 or 800-424-8567 toll-free.
Eligibility for individual service
Any resident of the United States or American citizen living abroad who is unable to read or use regular print materials as a result of temporary or permanent visual or physical limitations may receive service through NLS. This includes those who are blind or have a visual, physical, perceptual, or reading disability that prevents them from reading or handling print materials.
Who can qualify?
NLS provides service to individuals who fall into any of the following categories:
- Blind persons whose visual acuity, as determined by competent authority, is 20/200 or less in the better eye with correcting lenses, or whose widest diameter of visual field subtends an angular distance no greater than 20 degrees.
- Persons whose visual disability, with correction and regardless of optical measurement, is certified by competent authority as preventing the reading of standard printed material
- Persons certified by competent authority as unable to read or unable to use standard printed material as a result of physical limitations.
- Persons certified by competent authority as having a perceptual or reading disability and unable to read printed works to substantially the same degree as a person without an impairment or disability.
- Persons eligible for service (falling into any of the above categories) who are now living as residents of the United States (including its territories, insular possessions, and the District of Columbia), or are American citizens eligible for service who are now living abroad, or dependents of active military personnel or diplomats.
This includes individuals who have had a qualifying disability from birth, individuals who are disabled because of medical conditions or trauma, and individuals who become disabled as they age. Individuals who have a temporary disability may qualify for service on a temporary basis. Individuals who are blind or have a print disability and who have been honorably discharged from the armed forces of the United States receive special priority.
Who is a “competent authority”?
Regarding NLS eligibility, "competent authority" is defined to include:
- Doctors of medicine
- Doctors of osteopathy
- Registered nurses
- Professional staff of hospitals, institutions, and public or private welfare agencies, such as an educator, social worker, case worker, counselor, rehabilitation teacher, certified reading specialist, school psychologist, superintendent, or librarian.
In the absence of any of these, certification may be made by professional librarians or by any person whose competence under specific circumstances is acceptable to the Library of Congress.
Ease of Use
With simple features and clear instructions, NLS makes it easy to read your way, no matter which format you choose.
NLS talking-book players feature large buttons, braille letters beside the controls, a sleep timer, and built-in audio instructions.
The BARD and BARD Mobile app allows users to quickly and easily download "Braille and Audio Reading Downloads" (BARD) directly to their iOS and Android devices. Watch our series of instructional videos for BARD Mobile External.
“It’s huge to be able to have access to the same books all your friends are reading. To be able to talk about the same books as others are reading, as a kid and as an adult, is about being part of the community, being able to engage. Imagination, adventure, reading! It’s all about that but also to make connections with others about what you’re reading, and even make friends through what you are reading. It is one of those things that brings us all together and it is hugely important.”– Brian M., NLS patron since 1985