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Braille Library changes - FAQs

RNIB has been the leading advocate for braille for more than 150 years. In 2021, we are renewing our commitment to providing embossed braille, particularly in children’s literature.

Image: A woman and a child reading braille.

From April 2021, our Braille Library service will be improved to offer braille books produced on demand giving our readers access to a larger collection of books via home delivery. These will be A4 format, smaller and slimmer in volume so they can fit through letterboxes, making them easier to store or read on the go.

Combined with our growing collection of electronic braille library books - available on memory card and download - the upgrade represents a renewed commitment to braille literacy and offers readers greater choice than ever before. To explain what we are doing in more detail, a list of questions and answers about the changes is below.

Why is RNIB making changes to the Braille Library?

As braille readers ourselves, we recognise braille is a vital literacy medium for tens of thousands of readers across the UK. However, the Braille Library in its current form is increasingly unfit for purpose for its library members. Large parts of our current collection are in old braille codes and most of the collection has not left the warehouse in years. Despite our best efforts, many books are sadly in a poor state of disrepair and over time have become unreadable.

Some Braille Library books are large, heavy, and difficult to return to the library. These books exclude some readers, especially those with physical difficulties. Braille books occupy miles of shelving that is complex and expensive to maintain. Popular books can involve waiting times, despite our best efforts, many readers will have to wait months for newly published book to become available in braille.

After careful research and evaluation of braille library services around the world, braille on demand offers the best opportunity for sustaining access to hardcopy braille for as long as is needed. Braille on Demand means that multiple people can read the same book at the same time and – for most publishers – RNIB can release braille books on the same week that print editions are published.

Will the Braille Library service continue to be free of charge?

Yes, all RNIB library services will continue to be free.

Will this change affect the provision of braille books for children?

RNIB recognises and champions the importance of braille in children’s literacy. When children are learning braille, the print quality is particularly important. A squashed dot can make a disproportionate difference when you are learning braille and this change will significantly improve the print quality of the braille books we supply to children. It will also improve the quantity, offering children a wider range of books to choose from.

The lighter format books will fit better in a school bag and use the same size of paper (staple bound A4) as books used by their sighted peers.

Most importantly, new books will be available on Braille on Demand at the same time as the version read by their sighted peers so that – for example – braille readers will not have to wait longer for the latest book in a saga to be available.

Will Braille on Demand books only be available in Unified English Braille (UEB)? Will readers still be able to borrow books in Standard English Braille (SEB)?

New books will continue to be produced in UEB, but the books in our digital collection that are SEB will still be there to loan except for children’s titles where we are moving solely to UEB.

Will there be a limit to the number of Braille on Demand books a reader can request?

No. RNIB will not be applying limits to the number of Braille on Demand books people can have. However, our heaviest readers read around two books per week. We are not expecting people’s reading habits to change significantly, but if it means people are reading more, we’re sure we can accommodate this.

How long will books take to arrive?

Turnaround is expected to be like the current library, around one week. In many cases, delivery times will be shorter as the new service is not constrained by limited stock or late returns.

What changes will readers notice?

Braille Library members will notice the change in format when the new slimmer books start arriving. There is no need to take any action. New readers can continue to register through our website and the RNIB Helpline.

Will there be a gap between in receiving braille books between the old and new Braille Library service?

No, the two versions will overlap.

Will readers have access to books?

Ultimately, this move will massively increase the size of the collection and make it possible to make significant further increases in the future.

How will the RNIB make sure that eager braille readers get access to all the titles they want?

Readers will still have access to the titles they do currently from our digital collection, and we will continue to add to it.  Our next development is to be able to generate a braille book automatically from the ePub titles we receive from publishers. This will mean instant access to newly published titles from the largest publishers, but more on that to come.

Isn’t this like the changes to the Giant Print library and indicative of a trend toward reduced library services from RNIB?

No, we are committed to providing braille in both physical and digital formats. No reduction, rather we are gearing up for more choice of titles and more ways to read them. Our print-on-demand service is there for customers who read large or giant print. Other organisations and commercial publishers also produce large print books.

What is the plan for books currently only available in hard copy (no electronic master file)?

Where sufficient demand exists amongst readers content can be transcribed. Please contact the library with any book requests.  A large proportion of the books we add to the collection are chosen by customers and this will continue.

What will happen to the old braille books in the RNIB Library?

We are aiming to donate any books in good condition to existing readers and schools. Books will then be donated to sister organisations overseas. Special items of cultural significance will be preserved as part of RNIB’s Heritage collection located in London. Books in disrepair and unsuitable for circulation will be recycled. Readers who would like to keep a favourite book in the old format are welcome to do so and we can arrange this by contacting the Braille Library. Although children may find the new format easier to hold and read.

What were the size of books from the existing Braille library? What will be the size of the books that customers will now receive?

The current books are in 30cm x 30.8cm ‘book size’. The new ones will increasingly be A4.

If customers can’t store the books that they receive to keep, what can they do with them?

We are encouraging our readers to share them with friends, colleagues, or classmates. If you love the book, you could also keep it to read again. The books are also completely recyclable.

Hardly any family could store any quantity of braille books. Isn’t it wasteful to suggest we use and throw out?

Braille books can be physically much larger than the equivalent title in print. We want children to read as much as possible. Obviously, recycling books is always a difficult choice, but millions of print books are thrown away each year. Our research has shown us that it will use less energy to print new books than it will to run our current warehouse, so this is better in environmental terms.

Will the customers enjoy the same reading experience as before? Will the braille be spaced out? Is the quality of the braille going to be worse?

The quality of the braille should be considerably better and easier to read with the upgrade. The only change is the size of the paper which will now be easier to hold and will not involve the awkward plastic folders.

What is the size and weight comparison between the existing braille book compared to the new service provision?

The overall weight of the entire book will be similar, but the individual sections will be lighter and easier to hold. We hope that it will make it easier to children to read in bed or, for example, for our adult readers to enjoy a book in the bath. Plus, if you drop one in, we can easily replace it.

Is RNIB still committed to children learning from hard copy braille?

Yes, and we will continue to provide hard copy braille. This move should significantly improve the availability of high-quality braille in the UK.

Have the changes to the braille offering been based on research from another organisations?

Yes. We have consulted with braille library services in the Netherlands, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and elsewhere many of whom have already adopted this model or, like us, are about to.

Has the service been tested on any customers or internal staff?

Yes. Sample books are available to readers upon request from the Braille Library.

Will older braille users be able to read the new braille books, as the new braille code may not be easy to read for old braille code users?

Yes. Where we have a digital master of a book in an older braille code, we can make those books available to readers who request them. Note, the official braille code adopted by the UK Association for Accessible formats in 2011 is Unified English Braille. As such all new books will continue to be produced in UEB.

Will the physical quality of the books be compromised to create the cost savings e.g. will it withstand multiple read throughs if shared and not tear easily?

These changes are not being made to deliver cost savings. Our research and testing show that the books will survive multiple read throughs. The new format should be easier to carry, read in the bath etc. When they wear out or get lost (or get dropped in the bath) we can easily replace individual volumes or entire books.

To keep costs down, will books be embossed on lower quality paper, possibly only bound with treasury tags or similar?

We will be using the same paper using the format we produce magazines in.  Each volume will have a paper wrapper around it that has the customer’s name and address printed on it for posting.  This means that we will be removing all plastic from the process and using paper from a sustainable source.

If readers still want to buy braille and have space to store it, can they still get a higher quality bound product with covers?

Yes, readers can still buy books from the RNIB Shop and they will be bound in the same way that our braille books are bound with the card covers and wire binding.

Further information

If we have not answered your question here, please feel free to contact the RNIB Helpline on 0303 123 9999.