Today we're talking about talking book and braille libraries; specifically the National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped (NLS) administered by the Library of Congress. This service was established in 1931 with an act of congress, commonly known as the Pratt-Smoot act. The text is found in Title 2, Chapter 5, section 135a of the US Code and establishes an annual appropriation in the budget to Library of Congress for the dissemination of books in accessible format.
Unfortunately at the time of writing this, the NLS website is down for maintenance during the entire veterans day weekend. The NLS itself is an office located just north of Columbia Heights in Washington, DC. Visionaware has a great brief description of the service, which I'm copying here because, admittedly, it's easier than paraphrasing.
"The National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped (NLS), Library of Congress, administers the Braille and Talking Book Library Service, a free program that loans recorded and braille books and magazines, music scores in braille and large print, and specially designed playback equipment to residents of the United States who are unable to read or use standard print materials because of visual or physical impairment.
Local cooperating libraries throughout the United States mail NLS audiobooks, magazines, audio equipment, braille books, and braille magazines directly to enrollees at no cost. Talking books and magazines and braille publications are delivered to eligible borrowers by postage-free mail and through a network of cooperative libraries. Religious publications include: Bibles, Other Scriptures, Liturgies, and Hymnals in Special Media.
From a beginning of 19 cooperating libraries, the network has expanded to 57 regional and 74 subregional libraries throughout the U.S."
Most state libraries administer braille and talking book libraries through State Libraries. You can find a list of libraries on the NLS website, or use this list from VisionAware. Check out the Washington Talking Book and Braille Library for an example of the services available at the state level.
The service provided by the NLS and the network of libraries is invaluable for connecting the visually impaired with accessible information, literature, and technology tools. I highly recommend visiting a library in your area to learn more about the amazing technology available, and the programs operating locally across the nation. If you're interested in this area of librarianship as a career path and in working in DC, NLS has a job opening for a Digital Reference Librarian. The post is open until December 6th. The application process is fairly rigorous and Library of Congress still requires full KSA essays. Good luck if you apply. And as my closing, here's an interesting example of the material transcribed into braille by the NLS.