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Library services for those with visual impairments and disabilities

Every community in Pennsylvania has people with visual impairments or physical limitations that may prevent them from holding a book or turning pages. These individuals may have trouble using your library; or they may be limited in what they are able to use at your library. They may not ask you for services, but you might recognize them because they:

  • Ask to borrow a magnifying glass, or ask you to read something for them because they ‘forgot’ their glasses; 
  • Frequently use your library’s large print books, or have run out of large print books that interest them from your collection; 
  • Have short-term, temporary visual or dexterity problems (or permanent, long-term ones). 

Fortunately, the National Library Service (NLS) at the Library of Congress offers a free braille and talking book library service for people with temporary or permanent low vision, blindness, or a physical limitation  that prevents them from reading or holding the printed page. Through a national network of cooperating libraries, NLS circulates books and magazines in braille or audio formats, delivered by postage-free mail or instantly downloadable. 

Pennsylvania’s Services

In Pennsylvania, we have two designated NLS regional libraries that provide our residents with materials and support: Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh and the Free Library of Philadelphia. Both the federal and state government help fund these libraries so that service is available either in-person or by mail (postage free) for any state resident.
This means that any person who has challenges using standard print materials due to a temporary or permanent visual or physical limitation is eligible. Registration for the service requires certification of eligibility by a librarian, doctor, or social worker.
For people who register for the service, materials are available in multiple formats, such as braille, digital audio recording cartridges, recordings available by download via BARD (Braille and Audio Recording Download service), or in large print. All audios and downloadable braille products may only be played with specially-provided equipment.
All services (including equipment) are offered free of charge, without any fees like postage or overdue charges.

How Can Your Library Help?

There are many people (especially Veterans and seniors) who are eligible to use the service, but aren’t aware of it. Please help promote these services by:
  1. Educating yourself and your library staff about the availability of the services. You can do that by reviewing the information available at the NLS website (including its educational videos FAQs) or by requesting a speaker from one of our two regional LBPHs;
  2. Making sure that your librarians know that they can certify eligible people to use the service;
  3. Establishing a free institutional account by contacting one of our two regional libraries. In return, they will send you a digital player, a few sample digital cartridges with popular titles; and set-up an account with BARD (Braille and Audio Reading Download service). You can use this equipment for show and tell or public displays. You can also use the institutional account to serve activities coordinators at nursing homes or other caregivers to order materials on a continuing basis for patients in their care;
  4. Displaying promotional information and the equipment at your library on a regular basis. (Request promotional information from either library);
  5. Providing information and website links to the NLS registration website, and to Pennsylvania’s two regional libraries; and
  6. Telling everyone you know about the service!


For questions about these services, please contact your closest regional library:

Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh  
4724 Baum Boulevard
Pittsburgh, PA 15213-1389

Free Library of Philadelphia
1500 Spring Garden Street
Philadelphia, PA 19130
Phone:  1-800-222-1754