Benetech Partners with State Libraries to Bring Bookshare to Adult Patrons with Reading Barriers

By Julianna Wright, posted on

Ensuring information is free and equally available to everyone through accessible ebooks

A woman sits on a couch and listens to an audiobook on a tablet.

Access to information is a fundamental human right, and local libraries play a critical role in ensuring this right for the public. Libraries are a hub for the communities that they serve, providing free access to books, technology, services, and other resources for their patrons. Whether for enjoyment, career advancement, education, or civic participation, reading books improves peoples’ lives, and free public libraries ensure that this experience is accessible to anyone regardless of economic status.

Bringing the Benefits of Libraries to Patrons with Reading Barriers

Carla Hayden, the 14th Librarian of Congress, said “libraries are the cornerstone of democracy – where information is free and equally available to everyone.” However, the five percent of people with reading barriers such as a visual impairment, dyslexia, or a physical disability that makes it difficult to manage a printed book, do not benefit from the massive collections of print books that libraries provide. They need alternative formats such as audio or large text to read.

Talking book libraries meet that need for alternative formats by offering audio and large print books for their members with reading barriers. Benetech is partnering with these libraries across the US to vastly increase access to books for their qualified patrons. Through these partnerships, libraries can grant their patrons with reading barriers free access to virtually any book they want to read from Bookshare’s enormous collection of accessible ebooks.

New and Renewed Partnerships with Libraries From Coast to Coast

We are pleased to announce new partnerships with the Colorado Talking Book Library, the Maryland State Library for the Blind and Physically Handicapped, and the Washington Talking Book and Braille Library. Qualified residents in these states can now work with their libraries to gain free access to Bookshare’s collection.

Libraries in Alabama, California, Georgia, Massachusetts, New York, and Pennsylvania have all renewed partnerships to continue to provide Bookshare access for their patrons. The complete list of partner libraries in 2020 includes:

  • Alabama: Alabama Regional Library for the Blind and Physically Handicapped
  • California: California Braille and Talking Book Library (Sacramento), the Braille Institute Library (Los Angeles), the Fresno Public Talking Book Library for the Blind, San Francisco Public Library Talking Books and Braille Center
  • Colorado: Colorado Talking Book Library
  • Georgia: Georgia Library for Accessible Statewide Services (GLASS)
  • Maryland: Maryland State Library for the Blind and Physically Handicapped
  • Massachusetts: Perkins Library
  • New York: New York Public Library
  • Pennsylvania: Carnegie Library and the Free Library of Philadelphia
  • Washington: Washington Talking Book & Braille Library

Currently, all U.S. students with qualifying disabilities can access Bookshare for free thanks to funding from the US Department of Education Office of Special Education Programs. The partnerships with state libraries serve eligible residents who have disabilities and are not students.

Patrons Enjoy More Titles and Reading Options

Qualified library patrons are eligible for free access to Bookshare’s huge online library, including bestsellers, literature, nonfiction, picture books, educational texts, and career guides. They can choose from a wide variety of customizable reading options, including ebooks in audio, audio + highlighted text, large text, and braille. Other benefits include:

  • Same day availability: get new books at the same time as retail bookstores
  • One-to-many lending: No holds needed! Allow multiple patrons to access the same book at one time.
  • Unlimited downloads: Patrons can download as many books as they like.
  • Use Virtually Any Device: Patrons can read on computers, tablets, smartphones, and braille devices using free reading applications.
  • Cost-effective: Bookshare allows libraries to provide their patrons with reading barriers nearly unlimited access to the books that they want to read at a fraction of the cost of interlibrary loans. Monthly reports on downloads make it easy to track impact and return on investment.

“Every library should offer Bookshare to their print-disabled patrons,” said Mark Lee, Library Services Administrator at the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh. “In addition to making reading accessible, Bookshare opens up hundreds of thousands of titles, and in many cases, makes them available for the first time ever to people who can’t read traditional print.”

Support All Readers with Bookshare

We want to work with your library to ensure free and inclusive access to information for all. Please contact [email protected] to learn more about the program, and how you can get involved.

Read more:

Georgia Keeps Library Patrons Engaged with Bookshare’s Accessible Ebook Library