February is National Library Lovers Month focusing on reading and the institutions that provide books. It is a time to honor and recognize the important role that libraries play in our communities. For those of us who are blind or low vision and enjoy books, there are three libraries that provide access to great reading material.
First, the National Library Service for the Blind and Print Disabled, also known as the NLS, offers a huge volume of books in audio and braille formats.
Second, Bookshare.org is an accessible online library for people with disabilities. Books are available in various electronic formats and can be read on devices like refreshable braille displays, computers, tablets, and smartphones. Bookshare is free for qualifying U.S. students and schools, offers reduced fees in certain countries, and costs $50 per year for adults.
Third, have you ever considered your local public library right in your neighborhood? Perhaps you have thought this library is only for sighted people and would provide little for those with a visual impairment. But I encourage you to think again, and here are seven reasons why.
Accessible Formats Are Available
Local public libraries supply books in audio and large print formats although their collection may be limited. Many times, I have checked out books on CD from my public library, and members of my book club have obtained the large print version. Also, library books are offered in audio or electronic formats through tablet and smartphone apps. My favorite app is Hoopla. It is fairly accessible with Voiceover on my iPhone. I can check out a certain number of books, magazines, movies, and music per month, using my library card. These library materials are available through instant download so there is no wait time. Two additional library apps are Libby and Overdrive, but some materials, depending on demand, are not offered as instant downloads.
Low Vision Devices
Some public libraries offer low vision aids and devices. Hand-held magnifiers, electronic magnifying systems (CCTVs) and magnifying screen overlays may be available at the library to assist with reading print material. If you have low vision, ask about these devices at the circulation desk.
Staying Connected to the Community
The public library helps you stay connected to your community. Sometimes, being visually impaired can be isolating, and struggling to connect can be hard. Many times, I have attended events like county/city meetings, forums, and town halls at the local library. At these meetings, I have not only kept up with current and local events but have also made connections and built relationships with people in my community.
Many public libraries are voting precincts used for early voting and special elections. I have voted several times at my local public library. I have found it easier, faster, and more convenient to vote there than the precinct on my voter registration card. Contact your voter registration office for more details about this option.
A couple of years ago, my library conducted a demonstration of the new paper ballot machines when they were rolling them out in my state. I learned how to use the new machines and was ready to vote when the next election came up.
Special Classes and Events
Empish standing with Noel Holston, the author of the book Life After Deaf
Public libraries host special classes and events. I have attended many special community events at my library. For example, I went to an arts and crafts class where I learned how to make homemade sugar scrub. There have also been classes on yoga, personal finance, home ownership, and even movie nights. Over the past several years, I have attended numerous author lecture discussions where writers have read their work and hosted a Q&A session. I especially love these events, as I get to engage with the author, learn about their latest book and get it signed. Book festivals are another library special event. These bring out tons of book lovers and enthusiasts. You get to hear lots of authors share about their books, get them signed and interact with others like yourself.
Monthly Book Discussions
Public libraries host monthly book discussions. Besides reading books, I love attending book discussions. As of today, I am in three, and two of them are at my public library. We meet monthly via Zoom because of the pandemic, but before COVID we met in person; one met at the library and the other met at a local restaurant for dinner and discussion.
Free Passes to Local Attractions
Some libraries offer free passes to the zoo, parks, and museums. These passes are typically on a first come first served basis. Just ask the librarian at the circulation desk for more details.
There you have it! Seven reasons to love your local public library. February is the month of love, and the above reasons give you an excuse to start loving your public library all year long.
Audio Players and Talking Books, VisionAware
Reading Apps for Booklovers Who Are Blind or Visually Impaired, VisionAware
Reading for All: The Potential of the Public Library System Providing Access – VisionAware
Talking Books | OIB-TAC–Webinar about Talking Books