The National Library Service for the Blind and Print Disabled (NLS), part of the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C., works with a network of cooperating libraries in every state to provide library services and accessible content to people who are blind or have print disabilities. NLS primarily creates and circulates books and magazines in audio and braille, and provides the devices and technology necessary to read this content in digital format, including apps for smartphones and tablets. Additionally, NLS produces and circulates hard-copy braille for patrons who prefer that format.

Better Together:
Accessible Library Services in Public Library Spaces 

The relationship between NLS and the network libraries is a critical part of providing comprehensive, engaging, and personal library service so that all may read. Network libraries establish long, rich relationships with their patrons, working with some people their entire lives to provide an array of professional services. Network libraries circulate materials to patrons, help readers find books of interest, and provide technical assistance for playback machines and apps—just like staff members at public libraries. In fact, many, if not all, of the services provided by network libraries mirror the services provided by public libraries. 

Unlike public libraries, some network libraries do not have a walk-in location, serving their patrons via telephone and mail. However, when network libraries and the accessible services they provide are co-located within public libraries, the synergy creates exciting opportunities to serve people with print disabilities.

When we take the spirit of “let’s library for all!” into our communities, we are better together!

At the Chicago Public Library, accessible library services are seamlessly integrated into the public library space. Blind and print-disabled patrons have accessible technology, reader advisory, and other specialized services available to them, but are also able to leverage the full richness of the public library. Public services and programming are available in accessible formats, and close cross-departmental collaboration ensures patrons have access to the benefits of the entire library. Additionally, staff members throughout the library system know how to direct NLS patrons to the Assistive Resources and Talking Book Center and are able to give an overview of its services. The accessible library also has the opportunity to engage with non-NLS patrons in its public programming, such as a popular described-images film series to which both NLS patrons and the general public are invited. 

In Atlanta, a branch of the Georgia Library Service for the Blind and Print Disabled (GLS) offers a major collection of large-print titles that are available to patrons of the greater Atlanta library as well as patrons of GLS. A sticker inside each large-print book informs readers about the other accessible services and content available to patrons of GLS. By understanding that some Atlanta patrons who enjoy large print might not be aware that they are actually eligible for NLS, GLS is providing a low-key yet targeted communication, taking full advantage of the intersection between public library and accessible library services, meeting patrons (and potential patrons) where they are to create excellent library experiences. 

These examples are proof positive that enhancing accessible library services with the benefits of public library service can be a path towards a richer set of services for both print-disabled and print-reading library patrons. Providing these side-by-side also allows current public library patrons who are actually eligible for accessible library services to learn about the availability of talking book and braille services. If you aren’t already working with a public library, establishing a collaborative relationship can benefit both your accessible library patrons and public library patrons in equal measure. When we take the spirit of “let’s library for all!” into our communities, we are better together!