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Assistive Technologies: Spotlight on Utah State Library for the Blind and Disabled

Utah State Library for the Blind and Disabled

The Utah State Library for the Blind and Disabled provides materials found in public libraries in formats accessible to the blind and disabled. Services are provided by the Utah State Library Division in cooperation with the Library of Congress, National Library Service for the Blind and Print Disabled. Since its fledgling beginnings, the Utah State Library’s Program for the Blind and Disabled has expanded to serve patrons in Utah, Wyoming and Alaska, and also provides braille to people in 23 states nationwide. Today Lisa Nelson provides us with information and insights on this special-format library from her experience of working for the Blind Library Program at the Utah State Library for over 17 years, and as the program manager for 9 years.

What is your library’s role within the disability community?

The library’s role is to provide informational and leisure reading materials in a format that is accessible to people with print disabilities of all ages, including the blind, visually and print disabled. Also, people with a physical disability that prevents them from holding a book. In addition to books and magazines, the library produces materials from state agencies in braille and audio, including legislative materials, so that the information is available to everyone.

Over 300,000 books and magazines in audio format, braille and large print are circulated annually. The collection has over 19,700 braille titles, 34,000 audio book titles and 15,000 large print titles. Catalogs of the material are available—including a large print book subject catalog and catalogs of our locally produced books. Books of local and regional interest are produced through our volunteer program. We provide patrons with book lists, reader’s advisory services, adult and children’s reading programs, and book discussions. Services are provided free of charge to eligible readers, including people in private homes, nursing homes, hospitals, schools, and other institutions.

The Utah State Library is in the same building as the Utah State Division of Services for the Blind and Visually Impaired, so it is also a community center. The Division of Services for the Blind and Visually Impaired provides life skills training, classes, employment assistance and other services for people experiencing blindness or visual impairment. Utah’s public transportation system, including bus and TRAX (light rail), provide service to the library building. An art installation at the nearby TRAX stop, Spatial Perception, includes braille inscriptions of the artist’s writings about the Great Salt Lake ecosystem.

How do you determine your community’s needs and interests?

We conduct surveys, hold an annual open house, and daily interactions with patrons.

What Assistive Technology do you have available and what community impacts have you seen as a result?

Computer based assistive technology is available at the library for use by our patrons, so that people can access information online. Assistive technology equipment and software are expensive, making it unaffordable to many. We often have students participating in the classes held at the Division of Services for the Blind and Visually Impaired use the assistive technology to access the internet.

The library has a closed-circuit television (CCTV), a patron station with JAWS software and a 40 cell refreshable braille display, and a patron station with ZoomText magnification software. For those registered for library service, we provide digital talking book machines that play digital book cartridges, braille, and large print books. Registered library patrons are able to access two sites for downloading books, the National Library Service’s BARD (nationally produced titles) and SHELF (titles produced locally, by the library).

The Program for the Blind and Disabled and the Division of Services for the Blind and Visually Impaired cooperatively provide access to NFB Newsline, a subscription based newspaper reading service that provides access to over 300 national and local newspapers including the Deseret News and The Salt Lake Tribune. NFB Newsline can be accessed via phone, Google and Amazon Echo, the Victor Reader Stream, and can be delivered via email.

What recommendations do you have for libraries hoping to add or expand assistive technologies?

Implement a device, software, or system that will be used by the greatest number of patrons to maximize your investment. There are great resources in Utah at the State Division of Services for the Blind and Visually Impaired, if libraries are interested in additional information and/or recommendations about the type of technology to provide to their patrons.

To learn more about USLBD and its services, visit  https://library.utah.gov/library-for-the-blind-disabled/. Feel free to post any comments or questions.


This post addresses ALSC Core Competencies I. Commitment to Client Group and II. Reference and User Services.

Rita Christensen is the Children’s Department Manager at the Orem Public Library and a member of the ALSC Children and Technology Committee. She can be reached at rchristensen@orem.org.

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