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CDNLAO Newsletter

No. 96, August 2020

Special topic: Library services for persons with disabilities

The National Library of New Zealand – supporting the Print Disabled since 1980

By Felicity Benjes, Print Disabilities Service Librarian, National Library of New Zealand

In 1980, the National Library of New Zealand (NLNZ) established a central repository of audio books for the exclusive use of the print disabled. This article describes how the Print Disabilities Service has evolved, and the impact it has had on some of the lives of those who use it.

For the past 40 years, the NLNZ has provided audio books free of charge to people with print disabilities. The NLNZ adopted the definition of print disabled, as set out by the Round Table on Information Access for People with Print Disabilities Inc.1, and provides audio books for adults, young adults and children who are unable to independently read, hold or turn the pages of a standard book because they:

  • are blind or vision impaired.
  • have physical disabilities which limit their ability to hold or manipulate information in a printed form.
  • have perceptual or other disabilities which limit their ability to follow a line of print or which affect their concentration.

For example, arthritis, dyslexia, learning difficulties and lack of concentration caused by medication may all result in the inability to use a standard book, and thus qualify someone to access the NLNZ's Print Disabilities Service.

The Print Disabilities Collection currently holds over 20,000 physical items and is one of the highest use Collections at the NLNZ. The focus of the Collection is popular literature and includes both fiction and non-fiction across a variety of genres. Our borrowers are particularly keen on travel, westerns, ‘nice murders’ and books set in New Zealand. We are often asked for ‘farming stories’ and it is not uncommon for audio books to be returned to us with errant pet fur, grass clippings and clods of dirt stuck to the CDs.
Originally, the Print Disabilities Service was set up to supplement the collections of small and medium size public libraries which often struggle to keep up with the reading demands of their print disabled borrowers. Over the years, as our Collection has expanded, interest in the resources has increased and we now also support the print disabled in rest homes, schools and prisons.

While the Collection is intended for recreational reading, we do hold many texts which are suitable for school students studying towards national qualifications. One school librarian recently described the Print Disabilities Service as a ‘lifeline for some of the boys who struggle to read’ at the school. She said the audio books have ‘opened up the book for them and allowed them to access the novel in a way that works for them.’ Another school librarian described the delight on her student's face when she receives a new box of audio books. Being able to listen to the same books her friends are reading, allows her to actively contribute to conversations about the books, in class and socially.

It is not only school students who benefit from these titles. We have recently been working with prisons around the country to promote audio books to inmates, particularly those who are studying for their high school qualifications. Dyslexia and other print disabilities can be a cause of frustration for someone facing numerous set texts to read. Audio can support their reading so they can keep up with lectures and discussions and increase the probability of passing their exams. With the Department of Corrections2 making rehabilitation a priority, education will play a key role – one we can contribute to.

One of the biggest changes we have seen over time is in format types. One format solution certainly doesn't suit all, and the NLNZ is committed to offering a range of options to accommodate the many and varied requirements of its print disabled end users. 10 years ago, tape cassettes made up the largest part of the Print Disabilities Collection, but now these have been replaced largely by compact discs and MP3CDs. We also hold a range of kits (CD plus book) and VOX books (picture books with built-in audio). This year we are very excited to have launched our Print Disabilities Service ePlatform which gives free access to Wheelers eBooks and eAudiobooks for print disabled children and young adults in any New Zealand school.

Over the years, the Print Disabilities Service has had a positive impact on many lives, and this was demonstrated recently when we were bequeathed a sum of money by a past borrower. We decided to use some of the money to convert two NZ award winning young adult titles into audio format. Very little New Zealand literature is available in an accessible format, so this project allowed us to draw attention to this issue while showing our support for NZ authors. The two books are now available in CD, eBook and eAudiobook formats, as well as traditional print.

As we look to the future, the NLNZ will continue to support the print disabled in new ways. The Marrakesh Treaty3 came into force in New Zealand in January this year and with it a myriad of questions from public libraries about what will be expected of them. The NLNZ is already contributing copyright expertise to discussions and will provide leadership as we strive for equal access to information for the print disabled. And we hope to make a difference to more lives as we do.

< Lolohea and Rachael from the Print Disabilities Service select a loan >

For further information about the Print Disabilities Service, please contact:

Felicity Benjes
Print Disabilities Service Librarian
National Library of New Zealand
PO Box 1467
Wellington 6011
New Zealand Email:

Felicity Benjes is a Registered member (RLIANZA) of the Library and Information Association of New Zealand Aotearoa. She is also a Corresponding Member of the IFLA Standing Committee of the Section on Library Services for People with Special Needs.

1 For more information on the Round Table see

2 The Department of Corrections is the public service department responsible for managing NZ prisons

3 For more information on the Marrakesh Treaty see

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