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Music Services for Blind and Physically Handicapped Individuals

June 2010

In 1962 a special music collection for blind persons was authorized by Congress as part of its free national library program of braille and recorded books and magazines. The National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped (NLS), Library of Congress, administers the music program through its Music Section. These services are provided directly to NLS patrons from its headquarters in Washington, D.C. Patrons may access a circulating collection of braille, large-print, and recorded instructional materials and a subscription program of magazines produced in braille, audio, and large print. Musical recordings intended solely for listening are not part of the music collection, as these materials are readily available from stores and public libraries.

Eligibility and Application for Service

To be eligible for music services, an individual must:

  1. Reside in the United States or its territories or be a U.S. citizen living abroad
  2. Be unable to read standard print because of a temporary or permanent visual or physical disability

Anyone currently registered with a library in the NLS network of cooperating libraries that serve blind and physically handicapped individuals qualifies to receive music services and should contact the NLS Music Section directly. Others wishing to sign up for service must complete the Application for Library Service: Individuals and return it to their cooperating library or to the NLS Music Section.

Once an application is approved, patrons may obtain the necessary playback equipment from their cooperating network library.

The Collection

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The special music collection consists of more than thirty thousand audio, braille, and large-print music scores, texts, and instructional materials about music and musicians. Some materials are purchased from national and international commercial sources; others are selected and produced in braille and audio formats by NLS, with permission of composers, authors, and publishers. Some titles are developed solely for the NLS program. The collection materials range from beginning to advanced levels. Holdings are searchable online at nlscatalog.loc.gov. Individuals registered for NLS music services may borrow items for renewable three-month periods. Additional books about music and musicians are found in the general NLS collection circulated by the network of cooperating libraries. Materials not in our collection can sometimes be borrowed via international interlibrary loan.


Braille titles make up the largest portion of the collection. These include braille music transcriptions of the standard eighteenth- and nineteenth-century repertoire for most instruments, with emphasis on piano, vocal, and choral music. The braille collection also includes earlier and later classical music, popular music, textbooks, librettos, and music instruction books.


Many braille music scores are available in electronic format via the Internet, and more are being added frequently. To access these music files, patrons must first receive a username and password from either their cooperating network library or the NLS Music Section. Once these are designated, patrons may browse the music files online and download them for later reading or embossing. A list of available titles is on the Internet at www.loc.gov/nls/braille/musiclst.html, and a link to each music file is provided from its record in the online catalog at nlscatalog.loc.gov.

Braille and Audio Reading Download (BARD).

NLS Music Section magazines are available through BARD, a service that allows NLS patrons in good standing who have access to a high-speed Internet connection to download talking books and magazines. NLS recommends that users have basic computer and Internet skills, such as filling out online forms and downloading and unzipping files, before applying for the service. They will also need an NLS digital talking-book machine or compatible commercial player. To gain access to BARD, patrons must fill out the application available at https://nlsbard.loc.gov.

Large Print.

Large-print music, which is produced with a minimum 14-point type size and a one-inch staff size, is available for piano, voice, and other instruments. The large-print collection also includes books about music, librettos, biographies of popular and classical musicians, general music histories, and some music reference works.


The NLS music collection contains a variety of instructional recordings. These include music theory; appreciation; interviews and master classes; opera lectures; history; and biographical sketches of pop, jazz, and classical musicians with examples of their art. Many recorded titles are devoted to instruction in playing various instruments (e.g., guitar, piano, organ, and recorder).

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Six music magazines are available by direct-mail subscription to registered users of the program. Subscriptions may be obtained through the local cooperating network library or the NLS Music Section. The magazines are:

Music Section on the Web

Please check the Music Section’s page on the NLS web site at www.loc.gov/nls/music for news of the section, the Metropolitan Opera broadcast schedule, and music circulars and catalogs available on the Internet.  Some music circulars and catalogs are noted below.

Catalogs and Circulars of Materials Available in Various Formats

Instructional Audio

Large Print Music Scores

Braille Music Scores


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Publications on Reading Braille Music

Publications on Special Topics and Materials

Magazine Samples

For further information contact:

Music Section
National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped
Library of Congress
Washington, DC  20542

Since mid-October 2001, delivery by the United States Postal Service to this address has been sporadic. Phone and e-mail are more efficient means of contact


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Posted on 2011-02-14