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NLS Operations Alert

No. 21-19

DATE         :   February 17, 2021
TO             :   Network Libraries
FROM        :   Karen Keninger, NLS Director
SUBJECT  :   Change of Certifying Authorities


NLS has implemented a long-awaited change to make it easier for people with reading disabilities to enroll for our services. Now reading specialists, educators, librarians, and school psychologists will be able to certify the eligibility of applicants with reading disabilities.

NLS has long made its services available to people with reading disabilities. Up to now, however, a doctor of medicine or osteopathy was required to certify that an applicant's reading disability was "the result of organic dysfunction." This requirement was a high bar for potential patrons to hurdle, and network libraries had urged NLS to relax it. A 2016 Government Accountability Office report on NLS also noted that it is now widely accepted that a medical diagnosis is not necessary to determine if a person has a reading disability.

Before implementing this change, NLS needed Congress to amend the eligibility language in its authorizing legislation. This was accomplished in the 2018 Marrakesh Treaty Implementation Act and the 2019 Library of Congress Technical Corrections Act. The final regulatory step was publication of the new language in the Federal Register, which was done this winter.

The legal language regarding the certifying authorities for any NLS applicant now reads as follows:

701.6  Loans of library materials for blind and other print-disabled persons
(b) Eligibility
(ii) Eligibility must be certified by one of the following: doctor of medicine, doctor of osteopathy, ophthalmologist, optometrist, psychologist, registered nurse, therapist, and professional staff of hospitals, institutions, and public or welfare agencies (such as an educator, a social worker, case worker, counselor, rehabilitation teacher, certified reading specialist, school psychologist, superintendent, or librarian).

This change in no way means NLS is turning its attention away from serving people who are blind. NLS remains committed to serving all blind and print-disabled individuals. The Library of Congress Technical Corrections Act specifically continues NLS's policy of giving lending preferences to "the needs of the blind and visually disabled" and "the needs of eligible persons who have honorably discharged from the Armed Forces of the United States."

Enrollment of more people with reading disabilities won't take resources away from other NLS patron groups. NLS has received generous support from Congress in recent years to implement modernization-related operational upgrades. Our efforts to build infrastructure to accommodate more users-by moving BARD to the cloud, for example-will benefit everyone who needs our services.

We are asking network libraries to take several steps to address this change:


  *   Please update the language on your applications and promotional materials, including your website, to reflect the new language on certifying authorities. If you have questions about wording, please contact Communications and Outreach Section Head Kristen Fernekes, [log in to unmask]<mailto:[log in to unmask]>, or Special Assistant to the Director Matt Field, [log in to unmask]<mailto:[log in to unmask]>. Revised NLS application text is also available on the network library website for use by libraries when modifying their own applications.
  *   You should begin including groups that serve people with reading disabilities in your outreach.
  *   And-depending on the extent of your outreach-you should prepare for an increase in applicants with reading disabilities. Last year, network libraries in Texas and Pennsylvania participated in a pilot to assess the impact of expanding the list of certifying authorities. Since the pilot began, NLS gained more than 2,100 new patrons with reading disabilities-96 percent of them in Texas, where a new state law requires schools to refer students with reading disabilities to NLS. The key conclusion of the pilot is that the change in certifying authorities must be coupled with robust outreach, as occurred in Texas, for patron growth to occur. On its own, simply expanding the list of certifying authorities will not impact the patron base.

Keeping in mind that the number of DTBMs available to distribute to libraries and patrons is not unlimited, we ask you to emphasize BARD and its array of services and benefits-such as its instant access to the NLS collection and convenience of use-to both new and existing patrons. In the pilot, which took a BARD-first approach, less than .5 percent of the new patrons requested a DTBM.

An FAQ with more details on the change in certifying authorities is attached to this Operations Alert. This document is designed to help you answer questions with your staff and patrons, but is not intended for distribution. We will continue to update the FAQs as new questions arise. In addition, NLS's Patron and Network Engagement Division is planning additional information and assistance to help libraries anticipate and respond to the impact of these revisions.

We appreciate your help with implementing this change.

For more information, contact:
Pamela Davenport, Network Consultant
[log in to unmask]<mailto:[log in to unmask]>

MaryBeth Wise, Network Consultant
[log in to unmask]<mailto:[log in to unmask]>

Attachment:  Network Library FAQs [MS Word (DOCX)/ 4 p.]