This week, the NLS Music Section celebrates 60 years of service to our patrons. Because, on October 9, 1962, a “music score library for the blind” was established by law. This law was the foundation to solidify the existence of the NLS Music Section as it is known today.
Music materials in raised characters had always been part of the NLS collection. On this very day, 125 years ago, on October 6, 1897, the Librarian of Congress John Russell Young, opened a specially designated reading room for the blind. At that time, the reading room already contained 200 volumes of books and music items in raised characters. Young designated Etta Josselyn Giffin to direct the reading room. Giffin became an advocate for the blind, grew the braille library and its readership, and ensured the development of an accessible music collection.
Fast forward to 1961. The Pratt-Smoot Act has been established for 30 years, and the time was right to have a designated braille music library within NLS. According to the magazine “The Blind American” from 1962, the National Federation of the Blind (NFB) played a significant role in these efforts.
How did they do it? They sponsored, together with other “major organizations and agencies engaged in work for the blind, the music library proposal.” They facilitated that two Congressmen, Senator Wayne Morse of Oregon and Representative Robert J. Corbett of Pennsylvania, presented identical bills to Congress in order to establish a library of musical scores and instructional materials in 1961.
The magazine article states: “John Nagle, the NFB’s Washington representative, called on all members of the Senate and House committees which had jurisdiction over the measure and also talked with committee staff. The result of this organized preparation was that both congressional committees approved the bill without the usual requirement of public hearings or even a request for supporting statements from interested groups and persons.” The article continues: “The report described the two new civil service positions as follows: ‘A reference librarian with a knowledge of music to select, acquire, organize, maintain, and answer reference inquiries on the collection; and a braille instructor with a knowledge of music and the braille music code, to instruct sighted volunteers. The braille instructor could be a blind person, and the position is essential since most requests for music will involve material not available from any source other than being transcribed on order.’” (Link to article)
It took 16 months from the time of introducing the bill to turning it into law:
06/13/1961 Introduced in Senate.
07/18/1961 Passed Senate/agreed to in Senate.
09/17/1961 Passed/agreed to in House.
10/09/1962 Became Public Law No. 87-765.
President Kennedy signed the law. The original text, as shown in the picture, states: “An Act. // To establish in the Library of Congress a library of musical scores and other instructional materials to further educational, vocational, and cultural opportunities in the field of music for blind persons. // Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled, That (a) the Librarian of Congress shall establish and maintain a library of musical scores, instructional texts, and other specialized materials for the use of blind residents of the United States and its possessions in the field of music. Such scores, texts, and materials shall be made available on a loan basis under regulations developed by the Librarian or his designee in consultation with persons, organizations, and agencies engaged in work for the blind. // (b) There are authorized to be appropriated such amounts as may be necessary to carry out the provisions of this Act. // Approved October 9, 1962. // Public Law 87-766. // [Right column:] Blind persons. // Library of musical scores. // Establishment.” (Link)
The National Library Service for the Blind then acquired thousands of music items from the American Printing House for the Blind (APH) and from the Howe Press, which was part of the Perkins School for the Blind. By the late 1960s, what once started as a humble collection of a few accessible music scores, became the largest braille music score collection in the world.
Since its inception, the original Public Law 87-766 went through several iterations and evolved into today’s Title 2, Chapter 5, $135a, which states:
“The Librarian of Congress is authorized to provide to eligible persons who are residents of the United States (including residents of the several States, insular possessions, and the District of Columbia) and to eligible persons who are United States citizens residing outside the United States the following items: (A) Literary works published in raised characters, on sound-reproduction recordings, or in any other accessible format. // (B) Musical scores, instructional texts, and other specialized materials used in furthering educational, vocational, and cultural opportunities in the field of music published in any accessible format. // (C) Reproducers for such formats.” (Link)
With dedication, the NLS Music Section team continues to develop our collection of braille scores, instructional methods and music appreciation books. Our goal is to make all of these items easily available via download from BARD, and of course, we continue to lend physical copies per request. We are excited to see a growing number of patrons and look forward to serving you.
More information about NLS
NLS Blogs: Etta Josselyn Giffin, and NLS Music Section
Sign up for the program: //www.loc.gov/nls/enrollment-equipment/apply-for-nls-service/
To learn more about checking out music materials, please contact the NLS Music Section by phone 1-800-424-8567, ext. 2, or by e-mail at [email protected] NLS materials listed below are available to borrow by mail, not only through BARD.
Celebration music, recommended by your Music Section team
90 Year Celebration of NLS: Matthew Whitaker Interview and Concert at the Library of Congress, 2021 (DBM04355)
—Anniversary Song. Piano by Ear. (DBM01744)
—Engagement Party from “La La Land.” Piano by Ear. (DBM03908)
—Party Crowd in the style of David Lee Murphy. Guitar by Ear. (DBM02095)
Beethoven, Ludwig van. Wellington’s Victory op. 91. Arranged for organ. In: “They Joy of Organ Music,” compiled by Nelson Varon. (BRM29211)
Dubin, Al. The Anniversary Waltz. For piano in bar over bar format (BRM19101)
Elgar, Edward. Pomp and Circumstance, op. 39 no. 1. Military March. For piano in bar over bar format. (BRM35741)
Offenbach, Jacques. “Can Can” from the Opera “Orpheus in the Underworld”. In: Favorite Classic Melodies – Primer Level, compiled by James W Bastien. For piano in bar over bar format. (BRM37008)
Persichetti, Vincent. Fanfare, op. 60 no. 8. For piano in bar over bar format. (BRT37559)
Sousa, John Philip.
—The Liberty Bell. For piano in bar over bar format. (BRM07282)
—Stars and Stripes Forever March. For piano in bar over bar format. (BRM00470)
—Washington Post March. For piano in bar over bar format. (BRM07422)
Strauss, Johann. Radetzky March op. 228. For piano in section by section format (BRM32845)
Rutter, John. Choral Fanfare. Open and short score format. (BRM29479)
Warsame, Keinan. “Wavin’ Flag”. (Coca-Cola celebration mix). 2010 FIFA World Cup Anthem. (BRT37037)
Williams, Pharrell. “Happy”. In Popular Music Lead Sheets #125. (BRM36586)
Wonder, Stevie. “Happy Birthday”. For voice and piano. (BRM30706)
Congratulations to the NLS Music Section! Your work is of immeasurable value. All best wishes for the next 60 years.
Thank you so much, Ann!