The talking books 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.
Individuals with learning disabilities may also be eligible for this free service. 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 fact sheet Talking Books and Reading Disabilities available on the NLS website at www.loc.gov/nls or by calling 1-888-NLS-READ.
Individuals who do not have a visual or physical handicap, such as people who are illiterate or who are learning English as a second language are not eligible to use the service. Public libraries are an excellent source of information about local literacy and English-language programs.
Individuals who qualify for service begin receiving materials quickly. 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. This program is tax-supported by federal, state, and (where appropriate) local government agencies. There is no direct cost to eligible readers.
Talking books require the use of a specialized playback device. For many years, talking books have been available on cassette, and specialized cassette players were available on loan to eligible readers. 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 are encouraged to use both cassette and 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.
Books and magazines may be downloaded from the internet. 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. More information about BARD is at https://nlsbard.loc.gov/.
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.
Magazines are available in braille and audio formats.
Books in the collection begin at the preschool level. Parents may consult the reference circular Parents’ Guide to the Development of Preschool Children with Disabilities: Resources and Services for additional information.
About 95 percent of talking books produced under contract for NLS are recorded in commercial studios. Many network libraries and agencies use volunteer readers to record materials for local use. A directory of such agencies, Sources of Custom-Produced Books: Braille, Audio Recordings, and Large Print, is available on the NLS website. Production studios awarded NLS contracts recruit and hire professional narrators.
Follow all the news about Pets, Education and Child Health by subscribing to my articles. Click on the “Subscribe” button, or here: http://quadrust.com/user-bmader.