The History of BARD

August 4, 2022 |
by: Scott Meneely

BARD and the BARD mobile app are services we are proud to provide to qualifying residents of Pennsylvania. BARD connects readers with audio and digital braille reading materials they can access on their terms and on their timeline. Since 2013, NLS patrons have been able to enjoy books without having to wait for them to arrive in the mail. How did our service get to where it is today? Here’s a brief history of the NLS and the evolution of BARD.

The National Library Service (NLS) for the Blind and Print Disabled as we know it today was founded by an act of Congress (Pratt-Smoot Act) in 1931. Prior to this there were efforts to get braille and other accessible materials to individuals, but the efforts were not organized into a national network. The original service was for blind adults, but service was expanded for blind children in 1952, for people with physical disabilities in 1966, and for people with reading disabilities in 1974.

Technology has always played a key role in the way NLS makes books accessible. Whether through braille embossing machines or use of the phonograph records for the first talking books, NLS technology has been evolving since the service’s inception.

What would eventually become BARD started as Web-Braille in 1999. Web-Braille consisted of files that could be read with a braille display, translated to text and then read with a screen reading software or printed out as braille.

The next step towards what would eventually become BARD occurred in 2003 when the NLS conducted a pilot of delivering audio magazines in an online format. Then, in 2004, four regional libraries made audiobooks available through the website (now a dead link).

All of these pilots and tech discoveries coincided with the development of the digital book, which was finalized in 2007 and distributed in the years that followed. With the NLS standard in a digital rather than analog format, conditions were right to develop a tool where people could access NLS materials online.

BARD Mobile for iOS was released in 2013 and for Android in 2015. This made digital audio and braille books available anytime and anywhere to patrons with smart devices. We are thrilled that patrons who have mobile devices no longer have to wait for materials to come in the mail. If you are interested in BARD and are already a member of LAMP you can apply here. If you are not a member of LAMP and think you may qualify, check out our eligibility requirements here. If you think you qualify, our application is on the same site.

NLS service has gone through many iterations to get where it is today. As technology continues to advance, we look forward to the new ways NLS service will adapt with technology to keep making reading available for everyone.

For more information on the history of the National Library Service, please visit this page: