Highlights from the 2020 National Library Service for the Blind and Print Disabled Conference

By Katie Neal

The National Library Service for the Blind and Print Disabled (NLS) conference took place virtually on December 1-3, 2020. The meeting featured informative presentations on ongoing projects, as well as ideas for the next five years. Two presentations of particular interest are summarized below. Click here for links to most conference speakers’ PowerPoint presentations and select sessions’ video recordings.


NLS' Diversity & Inclusion Initiative

Zaneta Watson, head of the audio & production section at NLS, presented See Every Voice: Diversity & Inclusion in Casting for Narration. Watson began with a story about a young Black man with a visual impairment who interviewed for a job with NLS after college. As a NLS patron, he told his interviewers how much he had felt connected with one of their narrators, an older Black man known for his “cool smooth tones” and his ability to breathe life into popular pieces of African American literature. This narrator happened to be in the building at that moment, recording a book in one of the studios. When introduced to the narrator, the young man broke down in tears, telling him that he felt like he already knew him, just from listening to the books he had narrated. The young man told the narrator that he was often able to see himself in the books he read and that the stories enabled him to drown out the voices of bullies and annoying children on his train rides home from school. 

Watson used this anecdote to demonstrate the importance of diversity in media, whether in movies, TV shows, or an NLS audiobook. She hopes readers will be able to peruse the NLS collections and connect with a book or a narrator, just as that young man did, no matter their cultural backgrounds. She noted, however, that in recent feedback some patrons have commented that they did not feel represented by many of the library’s offerings, due to the choice of narrator. These concerns were passed up the chain of command to Dr. Carla Hayden, Librarian of Congress, who is dedicated to ensuring diversity. As a result, not only is this push for more diversity taking place in NLS, but throughout the Library of Congress, as well. Collections will be analyzed to see that they are diverse and do indeed represent every American citizen. Going forward, NLS producers will make efforts to accurately cast their narrators to represent the authors’ intended tone for their books. Watson said this kind of change doesn't happen overnight, but the goal is to have a collection that all people can be proud of, no matter their races, religions, or beliefs. 

Music at the National Library Service

Juliette Appold, head of NLS’ Music Section, gave an update on her department. Despite temporary closure due to COVID-19, they have since opened the office on a limited basis and are able to provide circulation services twice per week. The music section is also focusing on creating more digital content for those who are unable to travel. During the closure, they offered digital internships and hosted two junior fellows, who worked on digital projects. The Music Section is looking forward to a virtual concert in March of 2021 and is exploring new options in braille music. 

They are developing a new braille scanning system and will be expanding their digital audiobook section to include more music appreciation and instructional materials, as well as new lectures and series. Recent additions to their braille catalogue include the Hamilton musical score and selections from Bach, Mozart, Aretha Franklin, Nat King Cole, and others. Patrons will find lectures about Beethoven & Schumann, the effects of music on the brain, the benefits of music for PTSD, and a variety of other topics in the audio section. Appold ended her talk with an explanation of how to explore the BARD catalog to learn more about their current offerings.


Central Rappahannock Regional Library is connected to the National Library Service, and we can connect you with its resources. Click here to learn more about using the BARD catalog to obtain talking books. Contact Access Services Librarian Babak Zarin – Babak.Zarin@crrl.org – or, by phone at (540) 372-1144, ext. 7054 for additional information on CRRL’s Access Services.