Frequently Asked Questions


The free library service was established by an Act of Congress in 1931 to provide blind adults with books in an embossed format. The Act was amended in 1934 to include sound recordings (talking books), and was expanded in 1952 to include children, in 1962 to provide music materials, and again in 1966 to include individuals with physical limitations that prevent the reading of regular print.

Residents of the United States or American citizens living abroad who are unable to read or use regular print materials as a result of a temporary or permanent visual or physical limitation may receive service.

1. In cases of blindness, visual impairment, or physical handicap, eligibility may be certified by doctors of medicine; doctors of osteopathy; ophthalmologists; optometrists; registered nurses; therapists; and professional staff of hospitals, institutions, and public or private welfare agencies (e.g., social workers, caseworkers, counselors, rehabilitation teachers, and superintendents). In the absence of any of these, certification may be made by professional librarians or by any person whose competence under specific circumstances is acceptable to the Library of Congress.

2. In the case of a reading disability from organic dysfunction, eligibility must be certified by doctors of medicine or doctors of osteopathy, who may consult with colleagues in associated disciplines.

The definition of learning disabilities varies and may include not only reading disabilities and dyslexia but also problems with spoken language, writing, or reasoning ability. Because NLS is a service for blind and physically handicapped individuals, all applications must be based on a visual or physical handicap, including applications accepted under the terms "learning disabilities" (the broader term), "dyslexia," or "reading disability." The certifying authority, as defined by Public Law 89-522—which governs the program—must determine that the reading disability prevents reading regular print in a normal manner and must be medically able to judge whether the disability has a physical or organic basis. For more information about learning disabilities and the program, refer to the factsheet Talking Books and Reading Disabilities available on the NLS website at www.loc.gov/nls or by calling 1-888-NLS-READ.

Yes. Eligible patrons may receive direct individual service in care of the facility. If the establishment has a deposit collection, they may use these materials without going through the process of signing up to receive individual service. Direct service is always available, and this option ensures that readers receive materials that they specifically want to read.

No. This program is tax-supported by federal, state, and (where appropriate) local government agencies. There is no direct cost to eligible readers.

The goal of network libraries is to send playback equipment and an initial shipment of books and catalogs within five working days of receiving a properly certified application.

Individuals who do not have a visual or physical handicap are not eligible to use the service. Public libraries are an excellent source of information about local literacy and English-language programs.

Talking books require the use of a specialized playback device. In 2009, digital format books were introduced on easy-to-handle cartridges. Two types of digital players are available: a standard model and an advanced model with navigation and bookmark features. Current readers may use digital players to access the full range of the NLS collection. NLS formats render the books unusable by the general public, a requirement under the U.S. copyright law to protect intellectual property while allowing NLS patrons free use of the material.

The standard digital talking-book machine has eight controls and provides basic functionality for the playback of talking books, including volume and tone control, rewind and fast forward, and variable speed. The advanced digital talking-book machine has additional controls for setting bookmarks and navigating through the structured levels (chapters, sections, etc.) of a book. Both machines can be operated on a built-in rechargeable battery and have an internal audio user guide, as well as a key describer mode.

Yes. An amplifier/headphone combination that produces sound up to 130 decibels is available for adults with severe hearing loss. A special application form is necessary and must be signed by a physician or licensed audiologist. The application has details about the need for a doctor’s certification and what precautions are necessary to prevent injury. This device is not intended for individuals with mild or moderate hearing loss; the use of standard headphones may sometimes help these individuals.

All books, magazines, catalogs, and equipment are sent to readers through the U.S. Postal Service as "Free Matter for the Blind" and may be returned the same way. Materials are sent by a network library with a removable address card that, when turned over and reinserted, will show the library’s name and address for return mailing.

Books in the collection begin at the preschool level.

The Accessible Instructional Materials Center, located within the Oklahoma Library for the Blind and Physically Handicapped, helps meet the educational needs of Oklahoma students who are unable to make use of standard print by providing textbooks and other instructional materials in Braille, large print, and other accessible formats. Click here for more information about the AIM Center

NLS does not produce large-print books. Large-print books are available from many public libraries and bookstores, and some NLS network libraries have large-print collections. All NLS catalogs, bibliographies, and bimonthly magazines sent to patrons to help them select books are available in large print as one of several format options.

Services are provided directly by a regional or subregional library of the NLS network. You may use the "Find a Library" link on the NLS website to locate a talking-book library in your area or call 1-888-NLS-READ. Some public libraries do have small collections of NLS-produced talking books for eligible users. Check with the regional library in your state to determine if there is a talking-book collection at a public library near you.

Yes. Registered patrons may download digital talking books and magazines from the Internet through the NLS Braille and Audio Reading Download (BARD). Once these materials are downloaded and transferred to a digital flash cartridge they may be played on the digital talking-book machine or on one of several third-party players. Patrons must have access to a computer with high-speed Internet connection to use BARD. Patrons may also download the BARD Mobile app, which allows them to listen to books using their iPhone or iPad. More information about BARD is at https://nlsbard.loc.gov/.

NLS does not offer music for listening, but offers musical scores and books in braille and large print (sometimes known as bold note), and recorded instructional materials for learning to play various musical instruments. Click here for more information on the NLS Music Program.

Yes. Magazines are available in braille and audio formats. Criteria for the selection of periodicals are the same as for books. Selection librarians also consider whether the periodicals reflect a balance of current thinking in the various fields represented, have high interest and demand, are representative in their points of view, and provide recreational as well as informational reading. Click here to see a list of available magazines.

NLS talking books are recorded by professional narrators in the studios of contractors who bid each year on book production. These contractors are usually nonprofit organizations that also provide other products and services for blind and physically handicapped individuals. NLS maintains a recording studio in its Washington, D.C., office in order to keep abreast of current recording technology. This studio records approximately one hundred titles per year.

About 95 percent of talking books produced under contract for NLS are recorded in commercial studios.

The Oklahoma Library for the Blind and Physically handicapped uses volunteer readers to record materials for local use. If you have any questions or are interested in volunteering please call the library or contact Jill Streck, Studio Director at jstreck@okdrs.gov.

NLS selects the same types of books that are available though public libraries. Titles are considered for production in braille or recorded format when favorably reviewed in reputable nationally distributed publications or included in authoritative bibliographies. NLS strives to provide classics and informational readings, along with popular recreational works that appeal to children, young adults, and older readers. Science fiction, mysteries, romances, and westerns are represented, as well as bestsellers, standard religious works, and some foreign-language materials. Books of local or regional interest are generally produced by network libraries.