The National Library Service for the Blind and Print Disabled Celebrates 90 Years

Help us wish the National Library Service for the Blind and Print Disabled (NLS) a happy 90th anniversary!  Our library is a regional library in the NLS network and we are excited to celebrate this year with them.

NLS is celebrating its 90th anniversary in 2021 with curated digital content and features throughout the year and a kick-off concert that took place on March 3, marking the day in 1931 that President Herbert Hoover signed legislation creating a national library service to provide “books for the adult blind.”

The online concert featured jazz pianist and NLS patron Matthew Whitaker and his quartet. The selection of Whitaker, an innovative performer, composer and arranger, was an apt choice at such an important time in NLS’s history, as the organization continues to find new ways to meet the needs of Americans with disabilities.

Whitaker became interested in music as a toddler, taking immediately to the toy piano he was given by his grandfather. At age five, he began training in classical piano and in reading braille music with Dalia Sakas from the Filomen M. D’Agostino Greenberg Music School in New York City, the only community music school for the blind and visually impaired in the United States. In the fall of 2019 Whitaker became the first blind undergraduate student to join Juilliard’s Jazz Studies program.

In an interview with Whitaker, NLS Director Karen Keninger mentioned NLS’s ongoing project to expand its already impressive music catalog by converting rare hard-copy braille scores to digital. “I’m glad that you guys are always finding ways for us as blind individuals to have access,” Whitaker said. “I feel that everybody should have a way of accessing music, whether visually impaired or not.” The interview and concert can be found on the NLS’s YouTube channel.

Beyond the Whitaker concert, NLS will share historical content and celebrations from across its nationwide network of libraries on its various digital channels through the rest of the year.

In 1930, Rep. Ruth Pratt of New York and Sen. Reed Smoot of Utah introduced identical bills to provide service to blind readers on a national scale through the Library of Congress. That led to passage of the Pratt-Smoot Act, which created what we now know as NLS, the National Library Service for the Blind and Print Disabled. The law has been amended several times, extending the service beyond adults who are blind to include children and people with physical and reading disabilities. In addition, in 1962 Congress authorized NLS to collect and maintain a library of musical scores and instructional texts. That collection is now the largest of its kind in the world.

National Library Service for the Blind and Print Disabled Kicks Off 90th Anniversary Celebration

Matthew Whitaker with NLS LogoThe National Library Service for the Blind and Print Disabled (NLS), Library of Congress, will kick off its 90th-anniversary celebration with a free virtual concert by jazz pianist Matthew Whitaker on Wednesday, March 3, at 8:00 p.m. (EST)—and you’re invited!

Whitaker, who has been blind since birth, is an NLS patron who has garnered accolades across the jazz world. He won ASCAP Foundation Herb Alpert Young Jazz Composer Awards for 2019 and 2020 and has been featured on stages around the world and on TV shows including Ellen and NBC’s Today. In a story on the CBS newsmagazine 60 Minutes, neuroscientists discussed how Whitaker’s brain is stimulated by music—so much so that his visual cortex lights up when he plays.

Like previous NLS concerts that featured José André in 2019 and Justin Kauflin in 2014, this event showcases the NLS Music Section’s work in providing patrons with direct access to the world’s largest collection of braille, audio, and large print music materials.

Whitaker’s concert will be broadcast on the Library of Congress YouTube channel (www.youtube.com/libraryofcongress). An interview with Whitaker will be posted there at 8:00 a.m. (EST) on March 3.

For more information, follow NLS on Facebook or check out the Library of Congress Events page or the NLS Music Notes blog.