Fifty Years of Oregon’s Talking Book and Braille Library


SALEM — The Talking Book and Braille Library, which provides books free of charge to any Oregonian with a visual, physical, or reading impairment, is celebrating 50 years at the State Library of Oregon in Salem. 

“I’ve always been a big reader,” said Nathanial Monsour, a Portland resident who found Talking Books in 2016 through the Blind Commission. “When I lost my vision, I felt less connected,” said Mansour. But once he started using Talking Books, Mansour said he rediscovered his love of reading and was able feel connected again.

He enjoys the “amazing array of materials” that are available, especially Braille books, which he credits with helping him learn to read Braille, and Braille music scores, as Monsour plays keyboards. Monsour also likes the many practical and professional development resources he can get through Talking Books, such as learning how to find a job or how to use a guide dog. 

Julie Glogau, a Salem-area resident who uses Talking Books due to a chronic illness, has been a patron since 1998. Glogau requests audiobooks by topic, which are sent to her through the mail. “I can get most anything I’m interested in. It’s fun!” said Glogau. She said Talking Books are a part of her day almost every day and she is thankful to be able to receive the service.

The first official library services for the blind began with passage of the Pratt-Smoot Act of 1931, which authorized the Library of Congress to provide books for blind adults. Eighteen regional distribution libraries were established with the Library Association of Portland chosen to circulate material in this area. The program would become the National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped.

Congress amended the Pratt-Smoot Act in 1952, expanding services to children. In 1966, Congress again expanded services to include all persons who could not read standard print because of visual or physical disability. 

In 1969, the Oregon Legislature appropriated $80,000 to relocate the library to Salem from its original home in Portland. The Talking Book and Braille Library began operation with seven staff members and was led by librarian Mary Jane Shamp. 

Circulation at the time was averaging 11,000 items per month to 1,700 users, including record discs, two-track cassette tapes, Braille and large print books. Today Talking Books circulation averages 31,000 items per month to 5,200 users, but still has a staff of seven.

A 16 2/3 rpm record player from the early 1960s. These smaller, slower-speed discs provided 45 minutes of recorded time on each side of the record.

The types of materials available through Talking Books has changed as technology has advanced. The first talking books, developed in 1933 were phonograph records. The size and speed of these records evolved through the years so more material could be stored on a smaller disc.

Eventually talking books became available on audio cassette which were even smaller and cost less. The first four-track cassette book (“Roots” by Alex Haley) was recorded in 1977. By 2001, all talking books were produced on cassettes. This format was eventually replaced by digital players and books. 

Digital players and books first became available for patrons in 2009. All patrons can get a free player to play specially formatted audiobooks.

The web-based Braille and Audio Reading Download system (BARD) from the National Library Service (NLS) was introduced in April 2009. BARD gave registered users unlimited and immediate access to the entire NLS digital audio and electronic Braille collection. The BARD app for iOS devices was added in 2013 and for Android in 2015.

The collection is ever-growing and currently has more than 80,000 titles available in audio, 19,000 titles in Braille, 95 audio and Braille magazines, and 150 descriptive videos. 

To learn more, visit The public can access the collection anytime online or in-person from 9 a.m. to noon and from 1 to 4 p.m. 

About Author

The State Library provides leadership and resources to continue growing vibrant library services for Oregonians with print disabilities, the Legislature and state government, and all Oregonians through local libraries.

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