Books for the Blind

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Books for the Blind (a.k.a. Talking Books) is a United States program which provides audio recordings of books free of charge to people who are blind or visually impaired. With additional legislation and appropriations, Books for the Blind began incorporating digital talking-book formats with leadership from the National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped (NLS).[1] Services include digital lending and distribution, the latter via the Braille and Audio Reading Download (BARD) program (formerly Web-Braille[2]), which is more convenient compared to a physical braille book or older audio formats provided under the original library lending system[3] since both provide the whole book on single media (memory-card or USB drive) through digital lending, or via immediate download through BARD.


In 1931, the United States passed the Pratt-Smoot Act to provide blind adults with access to books. Before audio recordings, books were made available in braille. Beginning with 19 libraries in 1931, the network expanded to 55 regional libraries, 36 subregional libraries, and 14 advisory and outreach centers serving the United States, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and Guam.[4] The program was expanded in 1952 to include blind children, in 1962 to include music materials, and in 1966 to include individuals with physical impairments that prevent the reading of standard print.[5]

Audio recordings were first created on vinyl when Pratt-Smoot Act was amended in 1933 to include "talking books", and later, in 1969,[6] on proprietary cassette tape and player,[7] becoming the preferred format. As a hurdle to the distribution and playback of talking books, the copyright law proviso requires talking-books be produced in "specialized formats...exclusively for use by blind or other persons with disabilities", becoming a de facto form of digital rights management for copyright holders. Additionally, since the player needs to be accessible, it needs to be created with the blind in mind. In 2001, the NLS held a contest to come up with the most practical player, as of 2004, no winner or design had been chosen.[8]

According to the NLS in 2003, using federal funds, NLS annually published approximately 2,000 books and 70 magazines on cassettes, discs, and in braille. As of 2014, the NLS Union Catalog contains more than 216,000 book records, of which more than 68,000 are braille books and more than 146,000 are audiobooks. The NLS music collection contains more than 25,000 titles, while Braille and Audio Reading Download (BARD) contains more than 53,000 books, 62 audio magazine titles, and 49 braille magazine titles, with new materials added regularly.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ John M. Taylor (December 2004). "Serving Blind Readers in a Digital Age". American Libraries. 35 (11): 49. 
  2. ^ NLS Factsheets Web-Braille
  3. ^ Kim Charlson, “Visionary Ideas,” Kirkus Reviews 75, no. 2 (January 2007): 12-13,
  4. ^ 2014 NLS Factsheets: Books for Individuals Who Are Blind or Have a Physical Disability
  5. ^ NLS Factsheets: Copyright Law Amendment, 1996: PL 104-197
  6. ^ Virgil L. P. Blake (1990). "Something New Has Been Added: Aural Literacy and Libraries". Information Literacies for the Twenty-First Century. G. K. Hall & Co. pp. 203–218. 
  7. ^ "Performance Specification Cassette Book Machine 2003" (PDF). Library of Congress. April 2003. Retrieved January 25, 2014. 
  8. ^ John M. Taylor, “Serving Blind Readers in a Digital Age,” American Libraries 35, no. 11 (December 2004): 50-51,

External links[edit]

  • History of the program (with a state of Michigan emphasis): [1]
  • A site for visually disabled to share reading materials: [2]