If you’re not familiar with the National Library Service for the Blind and Print Disabled (NLS), our name can be a little confusing. Here’s a brief overview of who this free nationwide library program serves. Follow the links for more information about how NLS can help you, a family member or friend, a student you teach, a patient you care for, or a patron of your library.
But NLS isn’t only for people who are blind or visually impaired. If you have a physical disability that makes it difficult to hold a book or turn its pages, we’re ready to serve you. Even if your condition is temporary—if you’re recovering from a stroke, an injury, or eye surgery, for example—NLS can help.
Likewise if you’re a student or an adult who has a reading disability such as dyslexia that makes it hard to read regular printed materials.
Congress created NLS in 1931 out of concern for veterans who were blinded in war, and veterans—whether or not their qualifying disability is combat-related—still receive priority service. Any US resident, as well as American citizens living abroad, can apply. And it’s not only for adults. NLS has a large selection of books for children and teenagers, as well as resources for parents and guardians of children with visual or physical disabilities. And if you’re an educator or other professional at an institution who teaches or treats people who might be eligible, we have materials to help you spread the word about NLS.
NLS patrons have access to hundreds of thousands of books and magazines in audio and braille that can be instantly downloaded to a personal device and kept indefinitely or can be sent and returned through the mail for free. And there are no waiting lists for popular titles! Reading materials are available in Spanish and many other languages too. NLS also has the world’s largest collection of accessible music instruction and appreciation materials. With BARD, our Braille and Audio Reading Download website, and the BARD Mobile app, patrons can access the NLS collection anytime, anywhere.
NLS’s fully accessible audiobooks are created with our patrons’ needs in mind, with features such as chapter-by-chapter navigation and audio descriptions of graphic material like maps, charts, and illustrations. Same for the custom-made playback equipment we loan to patrons who don’t have their own devices. NLS also produces resource guides on topics related to blindness and disabilities and compiles bibliographies of audio and braille books on financial planning, employment, and other useful subjects.
NLS is part of the Library of Congress in Washington, DC, and operates through a nationwide network of libraries that serve residents of every state, US territory, and the District of Columbia. Those libraries process applications, circulate books by mail, help patrons find books that match their interests, and offer user support for NLS equipment. It doesn’t matter how far you live from the NLS network library that serves your state or community—they’re just a phone call or an email away.
And this might be the best part: all our services are free.
Want to get more information for yourself? Or are you a family member, friend, or caregiver of someone NLS could help? Call 888-NLS-READ (888-657-7323) and follow the prompts to be connected to the NLS partner library that serves your state. Or complete a short online form to request more information.
My husband gets books this way. It's a lifesaver for him.— Spouse of an NLS patron