That All May Read: Library Services for the Blind and Print Disabled

By Brandi Robertson (Follow us on LinkedIn)

A little over a year ago, I left my job as an assistant law librarian and took a position as an outreach librarian for Georgia Library Service for the Blind and Print Disabled (GLS). When I applied, I knew very little about GLS. However, when I accepted the position, I was still not very clear about the role or the library. I had never heard of a library for the blind. It was ironic because part of my role as an outreach librarian is to promote GLS and the services that we provide. 

Photo taken by author

Many people in our state do not know about this free amazing service that is available for eligible citizens. Furthermore, many people across the United States do not know that there are libraries that specifically serve people who are visually impaired or have a print disability. As a GLS outreach librarian, I travel throughout the state of Georgia with the outreach team to inform Georgians about our library service. The outreach team gives presentations at events, schools, libraries, or senior living centers. We also partner with organizations that serve our patrons.  

So, what is Georgia Library Service for the Blind and Print Disabled? As it states on our website, GLS is “a free braille and talking book library service for individuals who are blind or whose physical abilities require the use of books and magazines in audio, braille or other adapted formats.” Basically, we are a library for people who are blind, low vision, or have a disability that prevents them from reading standard print materials. The “blind” part of our name is obvious. But the “print disabled” part tends to confuse people. Print disabled includes any condition where a person cannot read regular print, such as paralysis, amputation, stroke, arthritis, or dyslexia. This even covers people who are allergic to ink, which I just learned about from another colleague. GLS serves all ages, from infants to the elderly.

How do we serve our patrons? We are like any other public library. People who qualify and apply for our services are called patrons. We do have an application process to ensure our patrons have a qualifying condition. This is required because of the nature of services. We provide our patrons with free audiobooks, braille, and large print materials. Once a person becomes a patron of GLS, they receive a talking book player to listen to audiobooks that are provided on a USB Cartridge. They also have the option to use our app called BARD, which stands for Braille and Audio Reading Download. Through BARD, a patron can download books directly to a smart device such as a tablet, iPhone, or android device. If a patron prefers to read braille, we circulate braille books. And if a patron still has some vision and can still read large print books, we will mail large print books directly to their home. All our services are free. Machines, cartridges, braille, and large prints are mailed end return through the U.S. Postal Service for free. Every aspect of our program is free. 

We also offer programming. GLS programs are either in-person or virtual. We have one physical library in Atlanta. So, to adequately serve our patrons across the state we offer most of our programs virtually. We hope to launch some traveling programs soon. Some of our programs include book clubs, summer reading programs, bingo, poetry slams, proms, and training classes.

GLS is a network library of the National Library Service for the Blind and Print Disabled (NLS), which is a division of the Library of Congress. There is a library like ours in every state. NLS was established by the Pratt-Smoot Act  in 1931, when the Library of Congress was authorized to arrange libraries to serve blind adults. Georgia was one of the first states to join the network. We’ve been around for a long time. We like to say that we are the best kept secret. 

Now that I’ve been with GLS for over a year, I truly understand what GLS is, what we offer, and my role as an outreach librarian. I’ve grown and learned so much. And I continue to do so. This has been an amazing experience. 

If you want to know more about GLS and other libraries like ours, check out the links below.

GLS Public Service Announcement

Georgia Library Service for the Blind and Print Disabled

National Library Service for the Blind and Print Disabled 


Notes Between Us (NBU) is a blog about conversations and topics of interest to the writers. The writers are expressing their personal opinions solely. The essays represent their personal beliefs and not that of their workplaces or any organization they are associated with.