Service Prior to 1931

Records indicate that library service for blind patrons began in the late-nineteenth century. As early as 1868, the Boston Public Library established a department for the blind after receiving eight embossed volumes. In 1882, the Pennsylvania Home Teaching Society and Free Circulating Library for the Blind was founded in Philadelphia and in 1899 was incorporated with the Free Library of Philadelphia. The Chicago Library, in 1894, received a collection of embossed books from a local women's club. The New York City Free Circulating Library for the Blind was organized in 1895 by a blind man who had a private collection of embossed books. In 1903 this collection became the nucleus of the Library for the Blind of the New York Public Library. The Detroit Public Library placed 110 volumes on the shelves in 1896, and in the same year New York became the first state to create a department for the blind in a state library. Other state libraries soon followed New York's example.

Few books were generally available and with five separate embossed systems in use, the number of titles from which a blind person could choose were few indeed.

The concept of a national library for the blind was developed in 1897 by John Russell Young, the Librarian of Congress, when he established a reading room for the blind with about 500 books and music items in raised characters.

In 1913, Congress provided that one copy of each book in raised characters made for educational purposes under government subsidy by the American Printing House for the Blind (APH) in Louisville, Kentucky, was to be deposited in the Library of Congress. Other materials were acquired by gift and purchase. Services, too, were expanding: instruction was available for those desiring to learn reading by touch; displays were arranged; and plans were developed for exhibiting products made by blind persons.

In 1930, identical bills were introduced in Congress by Representative Ruth Pratt (H.R. 11365) and Senator Reed Smoot (S. 4030), to provide adequate service on a national scale through an appropriation to be expended under the direction of the Librarian of Congress.

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National Library Service Established

The Pratt-Smoot Act became law on March 3, 1931. The Librarian of Congress was authorized to arrange with other libraries "to serve as local or regional centers for the circulation of such books, under such conditions and regulations as he may prescribe." On the following day, a Joint Resolution was passed appropriating $100,000 for fiscal 1932 to carry out the provisions of the act to provide books for blind adults. The "Project, Books for the Adult Blind" was established. This program would become the National Library Service for the Blind and Print Disabled (NLS).

The book project for the blind adults began operating on July 1, 1931. Its primary concern was selecting titles to be embossed. The Annual Report of the Librarian of Congress for 1931 stated that "By the middle of September, fifteen titles were selected as an experimental group and contracts for the reproduction of them in Braille, placed with the four American presses submitting proposals, to wit: American Printing House for the Blind, Louisville, Kentucky; Universal Braille Press and American Brotherhood of Free Reading for the Blind, Los Angeles, California; and Clovernook Printing House for the Blind, Cincinnati, Ohio, the experiment including a need of testing out the relative competence of those several presses." The first order was for Woodrow Wilson's George Washington to meet a demand created by the commemoration of the bicentennial of Washington's birth.

The designation of distributing libraries was less difficult. After consultation with the American Library Association External and American Foundation for the Blind External (AFB), the Librarian selected eighteen libraries, in addition to the Library of Congress, because of their ability to provide adequate service and regional coverage of the country.

Two important developments occurred in 1933: the establishment of a uniform system of braille (Standard English Braille) for all English-speaking countries and the development of the talking book. The second development is described as "the recording on a disc of the voice of a good reader, and its reproduction at will through the instrumentality of a reproducing machine or phonograph."

Experimentation on the development of sound recordings for the blind had begun many years earlier. Aided by the Carnegie Corporation, AFB and the Braille Institute of America had been researching the development of suitable records and reproducers. Finally, in 1933, AFB produced two types of machines - one spring driven and the other a combination electric radio and phonograph. A durable record was perfected, recorded at 150 grooves to an inch, so that a book of 60,000 words could be contained on eight or nine double-faced, twelve-inch records. The turntable ran at 33-1/3 revolutions per minute, which permitted thirty minutes of reading time on each record.

By 1934, the talking book was developed and the number of reproducers in the hands of blind readers was sufficient to justify using part of the congressional appropriation for purchasing records. Among the titles chosen for the first orders of talking books were the Declaration of Independence; the Constitution of the United States; Washington's Farewell Address; Lincoln's Gettysburg Address; Shakespeare's As You Like It , The Merchant of Venice, and Hamlet ; Kipling's Brushwood Boy ; and Wodehouse's Very Good Jeeves . The Library's appropriation did not at first include funds for machines; they had to be purchased at a cost between thirty-five and sixty dollars, either by the blind person who desired to borrow the recorded books or on his behalf (as was frequently the case) by philanthropic organizations.

The basic Act was amended several times, not only increasing appropriations, but also deleting the word "adult," on July 3, 1952, thus opening the service to blind children. And in 1962, the program was authorized by Congress to collection and maintain a library of musical scores and instructional texts for the use of blind residents of the United States.

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Service Extended to Physically Handicapped Readers

Blindness is only one of the disabilities that make a person unable to read printed media. Some individuals who have lost the use of one or both hands are unable to hold a book or magazine or turn pages. Others whose visual disability does not meet a strict definition of blindness still cannot see well enough to read standard print. Many persons who had requested talking books were ineligible because the program was specifically limited by law to blind persons. By the end of fiscal year 1966, Congress passed Public Law 89-522 authorizing the Library to provide talking-book services to all persons who could not read standard print because of visual or physical disability.

The revised law brought an immediate need for an expansion of program activities. To accomplish this, the book collections in NLS and those in the more than forty established regional libraries were strengthened by building a reserve collection of books and increasing the number of copies of recorded and braille titles produced. All procedures were reexamined and, where necessary, revised to permit rapid growth in service with a minimum expenditure of time and manpower. An amendment to the Library Services and Construction Act in 1966 (Public Law 89-522) aided in the establishment of additional regional libraries.

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Development of Talking Books (Disc)

Until the beginning of fiscal year 1937, there was but one source for talking-book records: AFB, which had been instrumental in their development. When the talking book proved successful, however, other philanthropic institutions engaged in providing reading matter for blind people entered the field. Among these was APH External, the major producer of braille books for the program. APH made extensive changes in its plant and equipped itself to manufacture talking books, from the recording through the plating and pressing processes. In the first year of operation, fiscal year 1937, APH furnished thirty-two of the recorded titles distributed by the Library of Congress.

There was virtually no format change in the original 33-1/3 rpm, twelve-inch, talking-book records circulated at the inception of the program until 1958, when the Library of Congress negotiated contracts to test the feasibility of using recordings at slower speeds. In mid-1958 two books were recorded at 16-2/3 rpm; these prototype records could be played on existing machines.

In spring 1962 the Library of Congress began ordering talking books for juveniles recorded on ten-inch records at 16-2/3 rpm, and all talking-books ordered after January 1963 were recorded on 16-2/3 rpm records. This smaller, slower-speed disc provided forty-five minutes of recorded time on each side of the record, thus reducing the number of records required for each book. The savings effected by the change of speed were used to increase the number of copies of each talking book that could be produced and to add five popular magazines to the talking-book program.

In 1969, magazines began to be recorded at 8-1/3 rpm, and the recording of all disc talking books at 8-1/3 rpm began in January 1973. Use of these slow recording speeds made it possible to include almost twice as much material as on a disc of corresponding size recorded at 16-2/3 rpm. Savings thus effected allowed for an increase in the number of copies issued for each title selected. Since fewer records were required for each book, readers and librarians could handle, store, and ship the ten-inch, 8-1/3 rpm records much more easily and economically than the larger, bulkier records.

The Library of Congress program began to use flexible discs in 1968, when a recorded version of the Talking Book Topics section that announced talking-book acquisitions was bound in the print edition as an experiment. The format proved overwhelmingly popular and, subsequently, national-circulation magazines were recorded on flexible discs.

The first national-circulation magazine to be produced in quantity on flexible disc was U.S. News & World Report . This was done on a subscription basis in 1971 by the magazine publisher. The first national-circulation magazine to be produced on flexible disc by the Library of Congress was the popular weekly Sports Illustrated. The first issues of flexible discs reached readers in the spring of 1972. The 8-1/3 rpm flexible disc was used experimentally for a full-length book for the first time in fiscal year 1972, for recording Wheels by Arthur Hailey.

Because flexible-disc recordings could be produced quickly in large quantity and at relatively low cost, this format proved highly successful in satisfying readers' demands for popular titles on a timely basis. The economic viability of the flexible-disc format was a significant step toward eventual demise of the heavier, space-absorbing rigid disc format.

An analysis of the NLS program conducted in 1994 revealed potential for cost savings by shifting the program to a single audio product, cassette. After an analysis of the impact of shifting magazine production from flexible disc to cassette, NLS began to phase out production of national-circulation magazines on flexible disc. The shift to cassette format was completed in fiscal year 2001, when all NLS audio books, magazines, and program materials were produced on cassette only.

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Talking-Book Machines

In 1935 a venture was initiated to meet the need of blind adults who could not afford to purchase talking-book machines and to provide employment to those receiving financial assistance from the government as a result of the Great Depression. President Roosevelt allotted $211,500 to the Works Progress Administration (WPA) for the construction of 5,000 talking-book machines "for the purpose of enabling the blind to use the books now provided by the Library of Congress" (letter to the Secretary of the Treasury, September 19, 1935). Both an electric and a spring-driven (hand-cranked) machine were produced. The machines remained the property of the Library of Congress. The President's instructions stated that the machines were "to be loaned by the Librarian of Congress to such libraries as he may judge appropriate to serve as local or regional centers for the use of such book machines under such conditions and regulations as he may prescribe, for the purpose of enabling the blind to use the books for the blind now provided by the Library of Congress." In every state and in several of the territories, agencies were designated for the distribution of the machines.

During the years 1935-1942 improvements were made in the motor, pickup arm, and amplifier. The manufacture and repair of machines under the WPA project stopped after June 30, 1942, and no machines at all were manufactured for the rest of World War II. New talking-book machines from stock continued to be distributed to the libraries, however, and these government-owned disc players, many of which had been in constant use since 1935 (when the first lot was distributed), continued to be indispensable to talking-book borrowers, who could not play the slow-speed records on ordinary home phonographs. An appropriations for machine repair was approved in 1943; AFB was awarded a contract under competitive bidding and repaired library-owned machines until the end of the war.

In 1946 AFB resumed manufacturing the latest-model talking-book machine, and the Library of Congress purchased 550; during 1947 the Library purchased 3,500 machines manufactured commercially. With this purchase, the Library of Congress, for the first time, was fully committed to providing machines from its own appropriation.

From 1949-1967, NLS had no testing facility of its own and relied on outside test centers to perform needed evaluations. Since 1967, the program has had its own research and development facilities including an anechoic chamber for evaluating machine performance. Detailed specifications, originally developed by AFB and, from 1948-1952, the National Bureau of Standards, were adopted to which all commercial manufacturers producing talking-book machines for NLS must conform. As a result, uniformly high quality in equipment for the talking-book program can be maintained.

Over the years, improvement of the talking-book machine continued. Notable developments include model D, the seventeenth disc player, which was introduced in fiscal year 1957. Model D and improved models in the AD series subsequently manufactured through 1964 had two-speed motors to accommodate records at 33-1/3 and 16-2/3 rpm. In 1965 the AE-1 talking-book machine with a three-speed motor to operate that the additional speed of 8-1/3 rpm was put into service. Three-speed motors were installed in thousands of existing two-speed machines by the volunteer group Telephone Pioneers of America, who worked diligently on this project over a number of years. Model AE-5, introduced in 1968, was the first machine with a transistorized amplifier and a lightweight, colored plastic case. The AE-5 weighed about twelve pounds, as compared to the early model of 1935 that weighed thirty pounds. It was designed to accommodate optional accessories for greater ease of operation by physically disabled persons lacking digital dexterity.

The A-70 machine, produced in 1970, had a completely redesigned base to provide greater stability. That model, along with the A-71, A-72, and A-73, produced with funds from those fiscal years, featured three operating speeds (8-1/3 rpm, 16-2/3 rpm, and 33-1/3 rpm). Beginning with the A-77 model, and continuing through the A-80 model, additional refinements included an automatic cut-off switch that stopped the motor and the turntable at the end of the record, a two-sided needle that could be switched by turning the flip lever, a detachable lid containing a speaker that could be set up separately, and retractable tab guides that helped center the record so that the hole dropped on the spindle.

Several years elapsed with no production of talking-book machines; then, in 1990, the A-1 was manufactured. It differed from the A-80 and earlier models in having a variable-speed control that allowed discs to be player at speeds faster and slower than normal, and a tone arm equipped with a device for locating the edge of the disc and the grooves leading to the beginning of the recording.

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Cassette Books and Machines

By 1968 the Philips-Norelco-type cassette-tape system, developed commercially, became recognized as the industry standard. The potential for using this system in the program was quickly recognized. A pilot study was begun in July 1968 to test commercially available cassette players for their suitability in the talking-book program. As a result, by the summer of 1969 the Library of Congress had initiated measures to distribute cassette tapes and players throughout the regional library network as a supplement to the talking-book program.

The first cassette machines produced according to program specifications were contract for delivery in January 1971. Under this contract, 14,000 cassette machines in two models were produced. Although basically similar in design to cassette equipment on the commercial market, these units included some new features to facilitate use by blind and physically handicapped readers

One of the models, of which 9,000 were produced, was a playback-only unit. This unit contained rechargeable nickel-cadmium batteries. Chargers for the batteries were provided to regional libraries and machine-lending agencies so that readers with no access to electricity could mail batteries for recharge. The other model, of which 5,000 were produced, could also function as a recorder and operated on six size-C dry-cell batteries. These units were intended for students and other readers who needed to record material not otherwise available. Both the play-only and the recorder units were capable of operating at two speeds: 1-7/8 and 15/16 inches per second (ips).

No cassette machines were produced in 1972, as the model designed by General Electric was rejected because it was too big. The C-73, C-74, and C-75 models, produced with funds from those fiscal years, used a four-track system so that a single cassette could provide up to six hours of playback. The C-76 was the first cassette machine to have automatic shutoff, a tape-motion sensor that would shut off the machine whenever the cassette take-up reel stopped, and a built-in variable-speed control. No major changes were made in the models produced from 1977-1979. The first cassette title recorded at 15/16 ips on four tracks was sent to regional libraries for circulation in March 1977. This first title, Roots by Alex Haley, requires five cassettes. Each four-track tape cassette holds six hours of playing time, about the equivalent of 200 pages of print.

In 1980, a pitch-restoration feature was built into the C-80 model so that cassettes could be played at fast and slow speeds without a "Donald Duck" or a low-pitched drone effect. In 1981, the standard cassette machine, the C-1, began production and continues in production. In 1992, a second manufacturer for cassette machines built to NLS specifications began producing the C-2. Both the C-1 and C-2 are considered the standard cassette playback equipment.

Several years in development, the E-1 cassette machine began production in 1986. Called the "Easy Machine", it has only two main controls: a sliding switch to start, play, and stop the machine, as well as to control the volume; and a push button to rewind tape. Designed for use by patrons who were intimidated by the standard cassette machine with its many controls, and for those severely physically handicapped, the E-1 is a very complex instrument using microprocessors to control the various functions. At the end of each side, the motor reverses, switching the track so the patron never has to turn the cassette over to receive six hours of listening.

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Combination Machine

A machine combining the best features of the standard cassette and talking-book models and appropriately named the combination machine (CT-1) began production in 1991 after years of development. It is equipped with one rewind switch for both tapes and discs (the needle moves backward over the record), and for both the record player and the tape deck, with fast-forward and variable speed capabilities. Pressing down on the tone arm, rather than lifting it up, removes it from the record, retracts the needle automatically, and prevents damage to the disc. The cover of the CT-1 can be closed without removing the needle from the record and the machine can be moved with no change to the needle's position on the disc. Cassette features include automatic reverse and track-switching so that an entire cassette can be played with no action from the user.

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Machine Repair

The machine-repair program was decentralized in 1958 in an effort to reduce growing backlogs of machines needing maintenance or repair. Major repairs were still to be made a a central point, but minor ones (such as replacement of fuses, defective tubes, and other parts) were to be handled by the distributing agencies. Unfortunately, personnel in the machine-lending agencies lacked the technical knowledge to make the system workable. Forced to look elsewhere for a solution, the Library of Congress turned to the Telephone Pioneers of America.

In the spring of 1960, pilot studies were undertaken in two machine-lending agencies, one in a metropolitan area and the other in a rural community. Under the pilot program, the Pioneers, drawing on their technical and electronics skills, made major repairs of machines and trained agency personnel to make minor repairs. By September 1960, both regional agencies declared the study an unqualified success, and the Library of Congress requested extension of the service to other areas. The Telephone Pioneers are now an integral part of the national program, repairing thousands of machines annually and providing more than two million dollars worth of volunteer labor.

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Multistate Centers

The increase over the years in the number of borrowers, combined with the distribution of more talking-book machines and the steady growth of collections, placed a heavier burden on NLS to provide support services to distributing libraries. Therefore, Congress increased the appropriation to the Library of Congress for fiscal year 1974 to provide for two centers serving multistate areas as decentralized storage and distribution points. Subsequently, Congress provided for two more such centers and, by 1977, all libraries in the national network were served by one of four multistate centers. These centers were established in response to the serious problems of storage and logistics created by the growth of the program after 1967 without parallel expansion of space at NLS to house, coordinate, and ship reading materials and playback equipment.

In 1986, the center serving the southern region was closed due to federal budgetary constraints. In 1990, the center serving the northern region was closed after NLS determined that two strategically located centers could effectively and efficiently supply NLS materials to the network. The Multistate Center East in Cincinnati, Ohio, now serves libraries east of the Mississippi River, and the Multistate Center West in Salt Lake City, Utah, serves the libraries west of the Mississippi River.

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As a result of a resolution proposed at the Conference on Volunteer Activities in Recording and Transcribing Books for the Blind in 1952, centralized cataloging was begun for all titles issued as talking books and press-braille materials. Adapted cards were printed and distributed to the regional libraries, beginning with fiscal year 1955, the first full year of centralized cataloging of books in braille and talking book formats.

The first computer-produced catalog of 16-2/3 rpm talking-book titles was presented at the eighth National Conference of Librarians Serving Blind and Physically Handicapped Individuals, held in Louisville, Kentucky, May 15-17, 1972. The catalog included talking-books numbered 1-3374 at the Library of Congress. This printout represented a milestone in the development of a national union catalog of materials for blind and physically handicapped readers. In addition, it was part of an overall investigation of the use of automated techniques to provide timely and comprehensive book production and fiscal management information.

The first edition of the computer-output-microfiche (COM) catalog, Reading Material for the Blind and Physically Handicapped, and microfiche readers were distributed by the Library of Congress to network libraries early in 1977. This publication, issued quarterly, marked the first step in the creation of a catalog that would be the most complete record available of loan materials in braille and recorded form.

In 1992, the first edition of a CD-ROM catalog of loan materials was distributed to network libraries. This catalog could be accessed by patrons as well as by libraries.

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Suggested Further Reading

More detailed accounts of the developments leading up to the establishment of the NLS/BPH program can be found in As I Saw It, by Robert B. Irwin, (New York, American Foundation for the Blind, 1955), and The Unseen Minority, by Frances A. Koestler (New York, David McKay, 1976).

A full description of the struggle to establish a uniform system of touch reading for blind persons is contained in Irwin's As I Saw It.

That All May Read: Library Services for Blind and Physically Handicapped People, (Washington, D.C., The Library of Congress, 1983) is a collection of original essays on all aspects of the history and then current state of library service to the handicapped population.

Talking Books: Pioneering and Beyond, by Marilyn Lundell Majeska (Washington D.C., The Library of Congress, 1988) is a history of the playback equipment and recorded books and magazines in the national program.

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Chronology of Developments in the National Program


On March 3, President Hoover signs the Pratt-Smoot Act, which establishes a national library program administered by the Library of Congress—what is known today as NLS.  The following local libraries join the NLS Network: Albany, New York; Atlanta, Georgia; Austin, Texas; Springfield, Illinois; Cincinnati, Ohio; Cleveland, Ohio; Denver, Colorado; Wayne, Michigan; Honolulu, Hawaii; New York, New York; Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; Sacramento, California; Lansing, Michigan; Jefferson, Missouri; Seattle, Washington; Washington, DC; Watertown, Massachusetts; and Lincoln, Nebraska.


Local libraries in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, and Salem, Oregon, join the NLS Network.


Standard English Braille, the first uniform braille code for the English Speaking World, is adopted.

The following local libraries join the NLS Network: Faribault, Minnesota; Oklahoma City, Oklahoma; and Salt Lake City, Utah.


Local libraries in Indianapolis, Indiana, and Los Angeles, California, join the NLS Network.


The American Foundation for the Blind publishes the first issue of Talking Books Bulletin, later changed to Talking Book Topics.


Funds are allotted to the WPA for the construction of 5,000 talking-book machines.


Manufacture and repair of talking-book machines by the WPA is discontinued because of the war effort.


The Library of Congress makes first purchase of talking-book machines from appropriated funds.


National Bureau of Standards develops specifications for a low cost, reliable talking-book machine.


Daytona Beach, Florida, joins the NLS Network.


The word "adult" is deleted from enabling legislation, making children eligible for service.


Research is undertaken on feasibility of slower recording speeds.

Raleigh, North Carolina, joins the NLS Network.


Braille printing houses adopt English Braille, American Edition, as the standard for braille produced in the U.S.

Books on open-reel tape are circulated to readers as a supplement to the talking-book program.

Richmond, Virginiajoins the NLS Network.


Telephone Pioneers participate in pilot machine-repair project to handle increasing repair program.

Des Moines, Iowa, joins the NLS Network.


Milwaukee, Wisconsin, joins the NLS Network.


National music library services are authorized by Congress.

Talking books for children are produced on ten-inch discs at 16-2/3 rpm.


All talking books are produced on ten-inch discs at 16-2/3 rpm.


AE-1 talking-book machine equipped with a three-speed motor (33-1/3, 16-2/3, 8-1/3 rpm) is put into service.

Telephone Pioneers begin installing three-speed motors in thousands of existing talking-book machines.

First large-print music score is produced for the collection by volunteers from Sigma Alpha Iota women's music sorority.

Montgomery, Alabama, joins the NLS Network.


Legislation is passed by Congress (Public Law 89-522) to extend free library service to physically handicapped readers.

Local Libraries in Santa Fe, New Mexico, and Providence, Rhode Island, join the NLS Network.


First transistorized, lightweight talking-book machines are produced.

All magazines are recorded at 8-1/3 rpm.

Talking Book Topics becomes first flexible-disc magazine.

Computers are used for production of press braille.

Pilot program is launched to test reader response to cassette books.

The following local libraries join the NLS Network: Helena, Montana; St. Croix, Virgin Islands; Baltimore, Maryland; Rocky Hill, Connecticut; and Carson City, Nevada.


Cassette books are recorded at 1-7/8 ips on two tracks and machines are made available for general circulation.

A national survey of readers' interests and needs is published.

The following local libraries join the NLS Network: Pierre, South Dakota; Frankfort, Kentucky; and Little Rock, Arkansas.


The following local libraries join the NLS Network: Concord, New Hampshire; Phoenix, Arizona; Nashville, Tennessee; Jackson, Mississippi; and Emporia, Kansas.


U.S. News & World Report on flexible disc is made available by subscription from the publisher.


Local libraries in Indianapolis, Dover, Delaware, and Charleston, West Virginia, join the NLS Network.


Wheels, by Arthur Hailey, becomes the first flexible-disc book circulated.

Sports Illustrated becomes the first flexible-disc magazine produced for the program.

A catalog listing 4,000 titles is produced by computer; plans proceed for a comprehensive catalog of all titles available through the national program.

Augusta, Maine, joins the NLS Network.


All talking-books are recorded at 8-1/3 rpm.

The local libraries in Boise, Idaho, and Columbia, South Carolina, join the NLS Network.


Congress appropriates funds for establishment of two multistate centers.

NLS assumes editorial control of Braille Book Review and Talking Book Topics from the American Foundation for the Blind.


Tone indexing is used for the first time for talking books.

Cassette books are produced at 15/16 ips on two track tapes.

San Juan, Puerto Rico, joins the NLS Network.


Bestselling books are produced regularly in the flexible-disc format.

NLS sponsors the development of high-speed braille plate embossers to replace manually-operated stereographic equipment.

Local libraries in Anchorage, Alaska, and Montpelier, Vermont, join the NLS Network.


First edition of the COM catalog, Reading Materials for the Blind and Physically Handicapped, is distributed to the network.

Four-track cassettes are introduced.

Round Table of Libraries for the Blind is organized as part of the International Federation of Library Associations (IFLA).


The Division for the Blind and Physically Handicapped was renamed the National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped on June 5.

Research and development began on a combination disc/cassette machine.

Reading Material for the Blind and Physically Handicapped was made available for on-line searching through BRS.

Introduction to Braille Mathematics is produced in braille and a training and certification program for math braille transcribers begins.


Holdings of network libraries begin to be added to the microfiche catalog as the first step in planned production of a union catalog.

Development of foreign-language collection is augmented through addition of foreign-language specialist to NLS/BPH staff.

The American Library Association publishes Standards of Service for the Library of Congress Network of Libraries for the Blind and Physically Handicapped.


Field testing and evaluation of cassette braille machines are initiated.

All magazines produced for the program are distributed by direct circulation.

Voice-indexing is used for the first time in talking-books (Access to National Parks: A Guide for Handicapped Visitors).

The first full-time network consultant appointed to assist in coordinating the national effort of over 150 libraries cooperating with the Library of Congress.

A national survey to determine extent of the eligible user population is published.

Special headset amplifier is made available to hard-of-hearing readers.

Study is begun on reader acceptability of Grades 1 and 2 braille.

Computerized mailing list (CMLS) becomes operational to include all recipients of program materials.

C-80 cassette machine is produced with built-in pitch restoration for use in conjunction with the variable-speed selection switch.


Pilot braille production center is established at American Foundation for the Blind under NLS sponsorship.

A second national survey of readers' interests and needs is published.

NLS/BPH Consumer Relations Section is created to strengthen responsiveness to patrons and consumer groups.

C-1 cassette machine begins production with fat-forward, fat-rewind, end-of-tape sensor, and a track-selector switch.


Evaluation of paperless braille is published.

Solar battery chargers are made available to patrons without access to electricity.

Remote control units for cassette and talking-book machines are redesigned.

New cassette-container design is field tested.


Multistate Center for the South is closed.

Standards of service for the Library of Congress Network of Libraries for the Blind and Physically Handicapped is revised by the American Library Association.


E-1 simplified cassette machine is produced.


Tactile map circulation begins from NLS and a catalog is published listing the holdings.

The last rigid-disc title is produced in May; titles formerly produced on rigid-disc are now produced on cassette.

Telephone Pioneers reach milestone of one millionth repair to talking-book machines.


A-1, the first talking-book machine with a variable speed control, is produced.

Telephone Pioneers complete 30 years of volunteer service in the machine repair program.

Study begins on possible braille and machine-lending agency centralization (Phase I).

Standard automated format for braille books presented to braille producers.


Multistate Center for the North is closed.


The CT-1, the first combination talking-book machine and cassette player, is produced.

Digital recording of books is formalized into contracts with producers.

Friends of Libraries for Blind and Physically Handicapped Individuals of North America, Inc. is established in Washington, DC.


Circulation broke 20 million and readership 750,000.

A beta test CD-ROM version of the International Union Catalog is made available.


The International Union Catalog is made available on the Internet. A manual was prepared to enable users to search the database more effectively.

The NLS easy cassette book machine (E-1) is awarded Exhibit Honorable Mention because of its ease of operation by persons with limited manual dexterity. The award was given by the American Society on Aging’s 1994 New Products for Mature Markets Design Competition.

The International Yearbook of Library Service for Blind and Physically Handicapped Individuals is published by K. G. Saur in cooperation with the Friends of Libraries for Blind and Physically Handicapped Individuals in North America and NLS.

A Volunteer Repair Project is launched to establish standards for the repair of audio machines.


The ten-thousandth braille book, Brother Eagle, Sister Sky, is published.

Sixty thousand braille and recorded books from Canadian libraries are added to the International Union Catalog, bringing the total number of titles in the catalog to nearly 240,000.

Say How, a manual of pronunciation of the names of famous people and places assimilated over the past twenty-three years, is published and distributed to NLS producers, volunteer agencies, and interested network libraries.
The collection of 33-1/3 rpm discs archived for historical value and interest.

An international delegation of 30 representatives from blindness organizations meet in Canada to discuss audio technology developments.

An Internet mailing list for exchange of ideas among researchers and developers of digital talking books is implemented.

Answering the Call: Telephone Pioneer Talking-Book Machine-Repair Program 1960-1993 is published. The book describes the development of a nationwide network of repair workshops staffed by volunteers who are members of Telephone Pioneers of America.

The Telephone Pioneers of America are honored in a gala reception sponsored by NLS in the Great Hall of the Library of Congress Thomas Jefferson Building.

A 52" x 20" educational poster entitled Library Service for Blind and Physically Handicapped Individuals: A World Perspective is produced and distributed jointly by NLS and Friends of Libraries for Blind and Physically Handicapped Individuals to libraries and educational institutions around the world and to individuals and corporate members of the Friends.

A new injection molding tool is produced to make mailing containers that hold six cassettes at a time to save money.
The first production lot of C-2 cassette machines is approved and the manufacturer’s performance is monitored during full production.

Bismarck, North Dakota, joins the NLS Network.


Troubling a Star, by Madeleine L’Engle, becomes the first digital book narrated in the NLS recording studio.
More than five hundred catalog records for cassette books about music are added to the International Union Catalog.
The Copyright Law Amendment, introduced by Senator John H. Chafee and known as the Chafee Amendment, is signed by President Clinton and becomes Public Law 104-197. The most significant improvement in the national reading program since the Pratt-Smoot Amendment more than sixty years earlier, the new law provides that groups producing specialized formats for the blind will no longer have to gain permission from the copyright holder to begin production.

Andrew Heiskell Library for the Blind and Physically Handicapped in New York City and the New York State Talking Book and Braille Library in Albany celebrate one hundred years of service.

New Zealand titles are added to the International Union Catalog, bringing it to 251,000 entries. Royal New Zealand Foundation for the Blind contributed 1,217 items.

Web-BLND, an easy-to-use interface to the International Union Catalog, is made available on SCORPIO, a Library of Congress online system.

The Volunteer Repair Project, a national "train the trainer" program is launched to train and recognize the Telephone Pioneers of America, the G E Elfuns, and other volunteer repair groups.

Biography of the Blind, a compilation of essays about noted blind people, is published by the Friends of Libraries for Blind and Physically Handicapped Individuals in North America, Inc.

For the first time braille books are obtained from the China National Publishing Trading Council.

The NLS Technology Assessment and Research Program compiles Technology in Transition, which describes a long-term technical vision and the plans to achieve it.

Plans are announced to initiate the development of a technical standard for the digital talking-book through the National Information Standards Organization (NISO) External.

A magazine content study is conducted to determine patron satisfaction with the selection of audio and braille magazine titles and to identify potential areas for change.

NLS and the Canadian National Institute for the Blind External undertake a pilot project to circulate the French-language edition of The Reader’s Digest (Sélections du Reader’s Digest) to interested NLS patrons.

A new audiocassette brochure, My Books Adapt to Me, is prepared for promotional distribution at national conferences and exhibits.

NLS releases bar-code labeling of new C-1 cassette machines and their cartons for equipment inventory control.
The NLS-developed system for producing print-braille labels for cassettes is implemented.


Narrator Mitzi Friedlander is honored as the first person in the history of the talking-book program to record one thousand books.

New specifications are developed to enable production of magazines on audiocassette tape. NLS begins conversion of audio disc magazines to audiocassette with all children’s, young adult, and foreign-language magazines.

The NISO digital talking-book (DTB) standards committee holds its first meeting to begin the process of designing a DTB system.

A three-day forum to review service patterns and to project appropriate approaches to meeting the future reading and information needs of individuals with visual or physical handicaps is held.

A two-year validation process is begun for the new National Literary Braille Competency Test.

James Wilson’s classic edition of Biography of the Blind, which lauds the accomplishment of noted blind people, is selected for the Fifth Biennial American Institute of Graphic Arts design competition.

The North American Precis Syndicate awards two certificates of excellence to NLS for the volume of media coverage produced from public service announcements made in conjunction with the release of two posters in 1996, My Books Talk and At Home with Talking Books.

Two papers are issued on planning digital technology: Twenty Steps to Next-Generation NLS Technology and Ten Steps to Alternative Cassette Book Machines.

The FBI seizes from music pirates $200,000 worth of state-of-the-art duplicating equipment and donates it to the talking-book program.

More than five hundred additional records are received from the Jewish Braille Institute and added to the International Union Catalog. The catalog totals 235,244 records.

The International Union Catalog is made available on the NLS website and the CD-BLND edition goes from prototype to production. It is distributed quarterly to the network and subscribers.

A distribution-only electronic mailing list established to post network bulletins and other timely reports to interested network libraries.


The report Digital Talking Books: Planning for the Future is published, outlining plans and steps required to develop digital talking books.

A pilot test is launched to determine the feasibility of making digital contracted braille book files available to NLS braille readers.

A benchmark study is begun to define and explore the provision of educational and professional reading services to individuals with print handicaps.

NLS Reconditioning Procedures for Cassette Book Machines, a new machine-repair video that shows how to recondition a C-1 cassette book machine (CBM), is distributed.


Web-Braille on the Internet is launched for blind and visually impaired library users. Web-Braille providing direct access to thousands of electronic braille files.

A state-of-the-art recording facility is installed, moving the Library closer to digital talking-book production.

Thirty-eight thousand bibliographic records from Royal National Institute for the Blind (RNIB) are added to the NLS International Union Catalog.

A newly designed braille-book container developed by NLS staff goes into production.


The Complete Fairy Tales of Charles Perrault becomes the first digital talking-book master produced in the NLS recording studio.

The NLS International Union Catalog is upgraded to accommodate Web-Braille readers. The new feature provides a link for Web-Braille books to be accessed directly from the catalog by using author, title, subject, and language.

Braille: Into the Next Millennium, a 600-page anthology of articles by more than two dozen international experts in the field of braille, is published jointly by NLS and the Friends of Libraries for Blind and Physically Handicapped Individuals in North America.

NLS Interlibrary Loan System is established, allowing network libraries to send interlibrary loan requests over the Internet to other libraries in the network.

Actress Rita Moreno is featured in a TV public service announcement (PSA) and narrates a separate radio PSA. These are among six new PSAs distributed in English and Spanish.

A life-cycle cost-analysis tool is developed that allows NLS to compare the cost of analog book production with audiobook production.


All NLS-produced braille magazines are added to Web-Braille.

Nearly two hundred braille musical scores and one music magazine are added to Web-Braille.

A new video, Telephone Pioneers of America: Answering the Call, is produced to honor Telephone Pioneers’ contribution and partnership with NLS over the past 40 years.


Lachezar Tsvetanov, a senior from the University of Bridgeport in Connecticut, won first place and $5,000 for his winning entry titled Dook, in the Digital Talking-Book Player Competition. Six student-designed entries and a faculty advisor were named by a panel of six judges.

NISO approved the national standard for the Digital Talking Book (ANSI/NISO Z39.86-2002). This universal standard addresses the requirements of a range of agencies serving users with a wide variety of reading needs.

A Low-Complexity Mastering (LCM) System is created to ease the transition from open-reel tape to digital recording for volunteer studios.

Cooperative technology initiatives with NFB-NEWSLINE and Bookshare.org External streamline access to electronic information and expand available services to readers.

The Jewish Braille Institute (JBI) External donates to NLS its braille book collection of nearly 8,000 titles in more than 70,000 volumes.


NLS begins a pilot program to test Internet delivery of digital audio magazines presented in human speech.
Web-Braille grows to more than 2,800 users and almost 5,800 titles.

Development is completed of WB-View, NLS-sponsored software to allow Web-Braille users to browse Web-Braille material more easily online and offline.

The International Union Catalog is migrated to the Voyager Integrated Library System (ILS), the standard bibliographic system at the Library of Congress.

NLS hosts a conference to launch a national outreach program to increase readership.

Strategic Business Plan for the Implementation of the Digital Systems is published, detailing the progress and outlook for the transition to digital systems and services.

The New Jersey Library for the Blind and Handicapped inaugurates a service that makes newspapers and special-interest materials available to registered patrons through a Windows Media streaming format. Audiovision Internet Streaming Service provides the programs from the Audiovision Radio Reading Service.


People, Smart Computing, and U.S. News & World Report, are selected for a six-month pilot test of Web-based audio magazines. Thirty-four volunteer testers are selected from a cross-section of NLS program users throughout the country who expressed interest to NLS.

The last open-reel narration tape is submitted for review, ending a three year phase-out of analog tapes and ensuring that all new narrations will be provided in digital format.

Revised Standards and Guidelines for Network Library Service for the National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped is updated by the ASCLA and NLS network library committees.

The NLS recording studio develops and installs Storage Area Network (SAN) to store files produced with the Low-Complexity Mastering System, a simpler method for recording and editing.


NLS contracts Battelle, a technology innovation firm, to design and develop a digital talking-book playback machine.


NLS forms advisory committee for digital transition.

NLS awards a competitive contract was awarded to the National Federation of the Blind (NFB) to conduct NLS braille certification programs.


NLS finalizes digital talking-book system design and prepares for production and the last cassette book machine is produced.


The Library of Congress presents the exhibition “Louis Braille: His Legacy and Influence” in observance of the 200th anniversary of his birth.


NLS offers offer Alexander Scourby’s classic narration of the Bible in digital format, replacing the 15-audiocassette version.


NLS celebrates 80th anniversary.

NLS partners with military hospitals and rehabilitation centers to distribute digital talking-book players to service members who can no longer read or handle printed materials.


NLS presents a summit, The Future of Braille, in concert with Perkins School for the Blind External in Watertown, Massachusetts, to solicit ideas on ways libraries can promote and support braille literacy.

NLS releases the BARD app for iOS devices External.


The Library of Congress releases a report “The Future of Braille” to improve literacy options.


President Barack Obama signs into law S. 3207, legislation to allow NLS to provide playback equipment in all formats, and NLS launches a pilot program to study usage of refreshable braille displays.

NLS embraces new braille code, Unified English Braille, on January 4, 2016—the 207th birthday of Louis Braille.


BARD Express launched, simplifying download of braille and audio reading material


Educational Outreach Campaign: As part of NLS’s national outreach and education campaign, a commercial, called “Magical Moments External,” is airing on cable TV stations and radio across the United States.


The United States becomes the fiftieth member to be party to The Marrakesh Treaty to Facilitate Access to Published Works for Persons Who Are Blind, Visually Impaired or Otherwise Print Disabled, on February 8, 2019.

On October 1, the full name of NLS changed to the National Library Service for the Blind and Print Disabled. The new name took into consideration input from various stakeholders and the public, removed outdated language, and sought to communicate more clearly who NLS serves.


NLS celebrates its 90th Anniversary!  NLS finalizes changes to regulatory language to expand its list of certifying authorities to include additional educational professionals, thus easing access to NLS services for individuals with reading disabilities such as dyslexia. In a major milestone for NLS’s modernization efforts, BARD is moved to a cloud environment. This major infrastructure enhancement improves capacity and download speeds and positions the BARD system to support future NLS devices such as voice navigation-enabled smartphones, smart speakers, refreshable braille displays, and a new Digital Talking Book Machine.


NLS pilots Braille-on-Demand, in which patrons can choose each month to have one of the 16,000-plus electronic braille books on BARD embossed in hard-copy braille, to keep indefinitely for their personal use.

The American Foundation for the Blind presents longtime NLS staff member Judy Dixon, internationally known for her braille advocacy, with the Migel Medal. Social media star Molly Burke and disability rights activist Judith Heumann are among the featured speakers at NLS’s biennial annual conference, held virtually in May.

A new national advertising campaign begins in October with promoted keywords on Internet search engines and advertising and paid promotions on social media and other channels.


The year begins with the launch of a 24-page Spanish-language website, which provides general program information and lists of resources in Spanish. NLS marks two milestones in the spring: the 100,000th download of audio and braille materials acquired from other countries under the Marrakesh Treaty and the 500th veteran enrolled under its Rapid Sign-up partnership with the Department of Veterans Affairs.

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