I have been an avid reader since I can remember. Over the years, I have joined as many libraries as I could in order to obtain the largest selection of reading material. Since I am visually impaired, there are a number of specialized libraries that I am able to join which provide books for readers with print disabilities. I have been a member of the National Library Service since I was around nine, back in the days when talking books were mailed to your home on cassettes as well as on phonograph records on that big record player that could play at speeds as slow as 8 RPM. Now, all of the content I receive from NLS is via the amazing BARD Mobile app.
I have also been a Learning Ally subscriber since 1981, when the organization was known as Recording for the Blind. As a practicing Catholic, I appreciate the amount of reading material I can receive from the Xavier Society for the Blind. Bookshare is another specialized library, providing access to many books I am unable to obtain from other sources.
In the nonspecialized realm, I read books from the Kindle store using their iOS app. Librivox also provides free access to recorded books in the public domain, both via their Web site as well as from iOS apps. There are many excellent resources for text copies of public domain titles such as Project Gutenberg, the Online Books Page and the massive collection at the Internet Archive.
With all of these amazing resources some might wonder why I would bother signing up with a local public library. Many visually impaired readers might be tempted to ask, "isn’t a public library mainly for sighted readers?"
Many years ago, I was one of those people who made the same assumption. For me, NLS, as well as other online resources, contained a wealth of reading material that I could access without sighted assistance. Why would I want to bother walking into a public library, seeking sighted help just to obtain reading material?
Many years ago, when I was involved with my local ACB affiliate, we had a guest speaker at one of our conventions from a local NLS affiliate who addressed this very question. He encouraged blind readers to go beyond their NLS library affiliate and talked about the many benefits and services of a local public library that NLS doesn’t offer. I was so moved by his presentation that a friend and I went to our local public library that very day to get our very first library cards.
First, I am not at all suggesting that NLS, as well as all of the other online resources I mentioned earlier, should be avoided. These resources are convenient and provides easy and quick access to a huge selection of reading material and I still heavily rely on them. However, a local public library offers so much more than printed material.
First, libraries offer many books on audio CD, books which may not be available through NLS or other specialized libraries. While I happen to love Bookshare, some readers prefer recorded books with actual human narration and public libraries may appeal to readers with this preference. In addition to books on CD, libraries now distribute books which can be played on a variety of digital devices.
Libraries also offer music, TV shows and movies to patrons, something which usually is not available from your local NLS affiliate. Several years ago, a good friend of mine told me that she was watching Babylon 5, one of my favorite science fiction programs. I asked her where she had obtained the shows and she said that she rented them through her local public library. I was floored as I didn’t realize that TV show rentals were even an option.
Many libraries offer access to some amazing online services such as encyclopedias and journals. A few examples, taken from the digital collections page of my local library, include:
Biography in Context
Biographical information on more than 200,000 people throughout history. Search for people based on personal facts, nationality, ethnicity, occupation, or gender. Or combine criteria to create a customized search.
Literature Resource Center
Biographies, bibliographies, and critical analyses of authors from every age and literary discipline. Includes information about literary movements and themes as well as literary-historical timelines and definitions.
Reference USA ReferenceUSA: Business Database is a directory database of over 11 million U.S. businesses. Search by company name, type, size or location of a business or a combination. Parent/subsidiary information is also available. Cooking Collection Includes 250 of the major cooking and nutrition magazines. Coverage includes thousands of searchable recipes and restaurant reviews. World News Digest (provided by Facts on File) Authoritative summaries of the day's news since 1940, plus special feature articles on historic events, key people, country profiles and an almanac. Funk and Wagnalls Encyclopedia General encyclopedia covering a variety of subject areas. And those are just a few. Your library card number and PIN are all that you need to gain access to these services. Those are the reasons for why I personally love having access to a local public library. Some of you may have reasons of your own for being a public library patron, such as services which have benefited you which I have not mentioned. Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments. For those who haven't done so, I hope that this post might cause you to consider signing up with your local public library.