That All May Read: Technological Innovations Extend Reach of National Library

This is a guest post by Benny Seda-Galarza of the Communications Office.

Family members in the recently launched ad campaign of the National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped (NLS) react with joy at being able to share a reading experience thanks to a digital NLS audio book.

From braille to audio books, the National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped (NLS) has embraced technological innovations throughout its 85-year history to allow people with visual impairments and other disabilities to read texts all over the world.

NLS is a free braille and talking book library service for people with low vision or blindness or a physical disability that prevents them from reading or holding the printed page. Through a national network of cooperating libraries, NLS circulates books and magazines in braille and audio formats by postage-free mail or instant download.

NLS Talking Books traces its beginning to March 3, 1931, when President Herbert Hoover signed the Pratt-Smoot Act into law. The legislation authorized the distribution of embossed braille books through a network of regional libraries, administered by the Library of Congress. Two years later, the act was amended to include recorded books.

Student Harley Cannon uses an open-reel talking book in 1969.

In the early days, talking books were produced on long-playing vinyl records. Later, slower speed, smaller and lighter records were deployed. Talking books recorded on open-reel magnetic tape began circulating in 1959; a decade later, the first books on cassette tapes were produced.

In 2009, as we transitioned into the digital era, digital talking book players started replacing analog cassette players. Now, all new NLS audio-book titles are produced on easy-to-handle digital cartridges that are about the same size as a cassette. Digital talking book players offer high-quality sound, multilevel navigation and variable speed controls. Each cartridge has 1 gigabyte of flash memory, allowing an entire book—even the complete King James Version of the Bible—to fit on a single cartridge.

Available accessories for the talking books machines include amplifiers for readers with a significant hearing loss, headphones for readers in nursing homes and hospitals where speakers are not permitted and pillow speakers for readers who are confined to bed.

NLS audio-book titles are also available on the internet through the Braille and Audio Reading Download, a web-based service that provides access to thousands of special format books, magazines and music scores.

As part of the National Library’s commitment to its users, it recently launched a major outreach campaign to educate the public about the free services it provides to U.S. residents and American citizens abroad with visual impairments and other disabilities.

A patron listens to a talking book in the 1970s.

The campaign’s commercial, “Magical Moments,” tells the story of a little girl who wants to be an astronaut. When she realizes her grandfather, who has visual impairments, cannot read her favorite fictional book, “Astronaut Abbey,” her mother tells him about NLS, enabling the grandfather to read it by listening to an NLS audio book. Watch the commercial here on the Library’s YouTube site.

 The NLS network includes more than 100 libraries that distribute digital audio and braille books to a readership of approximately 500,000. Additionally, patrons can choose from more than 320,000 titles in the NLS International Union Catalog.

NLS also has a National Music Collection, which includes braille and large-print musical scores, recorded instructional guides and recorded materials about music and musicians. The collection is the largest of its kind in the world and contains more than 22,000 titles.

Partnerships with state and local libraries allow NLS to offer services to individuals who are blind and physically disabled in every state, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands and Guam, as well as to U.S. citizens living outside of the country.

These services promote independence and wellness, offering a much-needed way for participants to enhance their lives by staying connected with the world through reading.

For information about how to apply for services, visit the NLS website.

Baseballs: The Heart of the Matter

This is a guest post by Nanette Gibbs, a reference librarian in the Science, Business and Technology Division. Spring training is now under way, and in a few short weeks it will be opening day. In the Science, Technology and Business Division, we have something on nearly everything connected with the game of baseball: balls, […]

Technology at the Library: Long-Hidden Text Is Uncovered in Alexander Hamilton Letter

This is a guest post by Julie Miller, a historian in the Manuscript Division. It is published today to coincide with the anniversary of Alexander Hamilton’s birth: He was born on January 11, 1757. In the mid-19th century John Church Hamilton, a son of Alexander and Elizabeth Schuyler Hamilton, published an edition of his father’s […]

Update on the Twitter Archive at the Library of Congress

In 2010, the Library of Congress announced an exciting and groundbreaking acquisition—a gift from Twitter of the entire archive of public tweet text beginning with the first tweets of 2006 through 2010, and continuing with all public tweet text going forward. The Library took this step for the same reason it collects other materials – […]

Trending: Who Invented Electric Christmas Lights?

Thomas Edison, inventor of the first successful practical light bulb, created the very first strand of electric lights. During Christmas 1880, strands of lights were strung outside his Menlo Park, New Jersey, laboratory, giving railroad passengers traveling by their first look at an electrical light display. But it would take almost 40 years for electric […]

This Day in History: Wright Brothers Take Flight

On a dark and windy morning on the Outer Banks of North Carolina, 114 years ago this Sunday, Orville Wright took flight in a tiny airplane he and his brother Wilbur had painstakingly constructed. The 605-pound craft flew all of 120 feet and remained airborne only 12 seconds. After Orville’s first success, Wilbur set the […]

Trending: An App to Answer Your Questions about the Constitution

This is a guest post by Margaret M. Wood, legal reference librarian in the Law Library. Two years ago, in honor of Constitution Day—celebrated annually on September 17—I wrote a post about the publication “Constitution of the United States: Analysis and Interpretation,” also referred to as the “Constitution Annotated.” Along with the U.S. Code, it […]

A New Website and More: Expanding Our Services for the Blind and Physically Handicapped

This is a guest post by Karen Keninger, director of the National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped (NLS). The NLS has a couple years of adventures ahead of it—adventures that sound chiefly technological but are really about meeting our patrons’ needs as reliably, easily and responsibly as possible. Technology is exciting in […]

Technology at the Library: Getting the Whole Picture

(The following is from the November/December 2016 Library of Congress Magazine, LCM, and was written by Phil Michel, digital project coordinator in the Library’s Prints and Photographs Division.) A new, oversize scanner is putting the Library’s collection of panoramic photographs in focus. One of the great joys in looking at a panoramic photograph is finding small […]

New Online: Website Updates, Education Resources & New Collections

(The following is a guest post by William Kellum, manager in the Library’s Web Services Division.)  Website Updates The Library’s new home page was released released last week, and you can read all about it in this excellent Library of Congress blog post. The Library’s Web Services team took advantage of the home page project […]