Letters to Parents: Youth and Outreach Librarian 

A person putting the talking library card into the reader.

Editor’s note: In this series of letters to parents, professionals share their knowledge with parents of children who are blind or have low vision. Our first letter is from Stephanie Wambaugh of the National Library Service (NLS).

Books, Books, Books: That All May Read  

If you had asked me a decade ago while I was getting my Master’s in Library and Information Science, where children who are blind or low vision get accessible books, I would have been stumped- their public libraries? their schools? – I didn’t know! Thankfully, I can now provide a list of places for families to check out. I’ll do so today.

As the Youth and Outreach Librarian for the Michigan Braille and Talking Book Library, a part of the National Library Service for the Blind and Print Disabled, as well as the Bureau of Services for Blind Persons in Michigan, I have spent close to ten years providing accessible reading materials to our patrons. My experience includes working with Teacher Consultants for the Visually Impaired (TCVIs) and student families to ensure they are getting books they can enjoy. 

Obtaining the Best Resources

Now, I’ll be the first to admit that the “best” resource depends on the child’s needs. Are you looking for recreational reading materials to instill a love of reading, or are you searching for a textbook in an accessible format?

Do you care if the book is human-narrated, or is audio with highlighted text more critical to you? Are you searching for braille books to practice braille skills, or do you want to connect to a resource offering braille classes for families? Whatever your needs are, rest assured there are accessible books available to fit your needs!  

So, where do you start? I’ll try to break it down, but remember that some resources may vary from state to state. In addition, all these resources have fantastic offerings, so visit their websites for a more comprehensive overview of services.

National Library for the Blind and Print Disabled (NLS) 

NLS is a nationwide network of libraries providing recreational reading materials for all ages. Like a public library collection, it provides access to over 140,000 fiction and nonfiction books in braille and audio formats in multiple languages. You can download books on Apple or Android devices through the free BARD Mobile App, or the NLS network library can provide special playback equipment.  

I may be partial to NLS as a librarian within this network, but I find this service beneficial for numerous reasons.

NLS Benefits

First, everything is free, always, no matter what. The lack of cost can be significant for families on a budget or those looking for a long-term one-stop shop for library services.  

Second, all the audiobooks in the collection are human-narrated! Human narration makes connecting with a book more accessible for youth patrons. So, if you are trying to instill a love of reading, this collection of professionally narrated materials is a great fit. It’s like library Story Time on-demand! 

Third, families do not need to supply their own devices. NLS can provide free playback equipment, including a Digital Talking Book Player for audiobook cartridges or the *new* eReader refreshable braille display for braille readers. All materials are mailed using Free Matter for the Blind, so there is no cost to send materials back to the library.  

Lastly, the Braille and Talking Book Library and NLS network are just Libraries! So above and beyond books, they can help build a sense of community and foster connections among students who are blind or low vision and families. While specific offerings may vary from state to state, typical programming would include things like Summer Reading Programs, book clubs, and technology clubs. With a library-centered mission, it’s more than just a way to get accessible materials.     

Many NLS alternatives deserve a shout-out and may be a better fit for your child. I recommend the following to my families and teachers in Michigan as needed.  


Bookshare provides access to over one million books. They offer customized reading experiences such as audio + highlighted text, large print, and more. Some kids need the ‘extra’ features that Bookshare offers. Another huge perk for teachers- the Bookshare App works on almost any device, including Chromebooks (NLS service is not quite there yet). It’s also free for students and schools. However, regular pricing applies after a student graduates.

Most Bookshare books are not human-narrated. If this matters to you, the selection will be smaller.  

Learning Ally 

This nonprofit includes an extensive collection of textbook materials in audio format, which NLS does not offer. With more than 80,000 books in the collection, these human-narrated books come with what they call an “Audiobook Solution.” The goal is to help students master basic reading skills.

These books are available on a variety of devices, including Chromebooks. Learning Ally focuses on helping teachers implement their service within the existing curriculum. It also offers ‘extras’ like ongoing professional training and support.  Annual membership is required, although schools can currently request funding state-by-state.    

State-by-State School Support 

Does your state operate a dedicated School for the Blind? Or are services integrated across Intermediate School Districts with centralized outreach support? In Michigan, TVIs collaborate within school districts. The Michigan Department of Education Low Incidence Outreach offers services. This includes outreach, braille or large print textbooks, APH resources, training, and more. Look into how your state operates to find out what amazing resources are available to families.

Seedlings Braille Books for Children 

This organization sells low-cost children’s books in braille. They also offer programs where students and teachers receive free braille books each year! This small nonprofit has a huge heart and makes a BIG impact.  

In Closing 

With so many fantastic book services, one thing is for sure: Accessible audio, braille, and large print books are out there waiting to be read! It starts with deciding the right fit for your family and school situation. And the best part is that you don’t have to figure it out alone! Connect with your state’s NLS network library to speak to a librarian about the options available in your area.  

Accessible books matter. Like the NLS motto says, ‘That All May Read.’  

P.S. True Story

While writing this blog, I had a teacher call looking for resources for her student with dyslexia. After a short discussion, I found that she most wanted highlighted text as a companion to the audiobooks for her student. I quickly referred her to Bookshare, and she profusely thanked me for my advice. This is the life of an NLS librarian. We want to ensure you have the resources to help your kiddos. We can help you find someone who does if we don’t have it. Read on, friends!