Frequently Asked Questions

Welcome to the Andrew Heiskell Braille and Talking Book Library. This handbook is intended to help you get the most out of your library service. You might want to save this for future reference. If you still have questions after reading this handbook, please contact the library and we’ll be happy to discuss any questions or concerns you might have. Listen to an MP3 of this Handbook.

I just sent in my application. Now what?

The library processes applications as soon as they arrive. This involves verifying the certification, entering the patron information into the library’s computer database, and preparing the welcome packet for mailing. Three business days are usually needed to complete this process. Included with this handbook, you will find catalogs, the current newsletter, and instructions for the talking book player if that service was requested. Patrons who requested books in the audio format are also sent a talking book player in a separate package.

As soon as registration is complete, we will start sending audio and/or braille books to patrons who opted to let the library choose books by subject when their requests are not available.

You must borrow at least one talking book or magazine annually in order to keep the talking book player. Downloading a book from BARD counts.

How do I order books?

You will be receiving catalogs in the mail, either Talking Book Topics (in print or as a digital audio cartridge) or Braille Book Review or the combined version. Each has an order form. The large print version of Talking Book Topics has order pages in the back of the books, while the other catalogs have separate forms. When sending these in, make sure your name and address is on the forms. Some will have this information imprinted on them, but some will require you to write the information in. The catalogs are sent every two months. You do not need to return the paper version of the catalog to the library, but if you get the Talking Books Topics catalog on digital audio, you will need to return that.

You may also order by calling 212-206-5400, faxing (212-206-5418), emailing, or writing a letter to the library. Be sure to include your name, address, and telephone number with the order. Remember, if the phone line has a queue, you can always press 4 to leave us a voice message. 

How do I know what books you have?

You can sign up to get the audio-format  catalog mailed to you every two months,. This is a catalog of our newest titles with annotations.  People with access to the Internet can check PAWS, our online catalog.  If you are interested in seeing what books are available for you to download online or play on the BARD  app, can browse the BARD catalog of digitized talking books. Some books are not available directly from our New York holdings, but we can request them to be sent to you from our National holdings. You can browse or search the National catalog here. And you can always contact the library for more information.

How do I find out if you have a particular book?

The best ways are to check the library's online PAWS catalog, or call the library 212-206-5400. You may also write, fax (212-206-5418), or email your request. Contact the library to get your user login and password to order books through PAWS.

How often will I get books?

Service depends on how your application was filled out. At the start of service, patrons will either receive only the books requested or, if requested titles are not currently available, books from indicated subjects will be sent. Unless other arrangements are made, the library will automatically send out two titles each day until ten is reached. After that point, books won’t be sent until those already loaned to the patron are received after being returned. You may contact us to make changes to your profile and service at any time.

How many books can I ask for at one time?

You may request as many books as you would like to read (up to a maximum of 40 out at a time). The more titles you ask for, the easier it will be for us to find something available to send you.

What if I want books sent on a different schedule?

We can change your service to weekly, bi-weekly, or monthly. We can also set your service from automatic to manual. Manual service, also called On Request Only, means you will have to contact the library whenever you want a book.

How do I listen to the talking books?

Talking books come in a few formats.  Most popular are the NLS digital books and magazines which are audio files available on special format cartridges called DBs or Digital Books, and also for downloading from the BARD website or listening to through the BARD iOS  or Android app for mobile devices.

Special playback machines are provided free of charge to play the cartridges. The digital machines will also play books downloaded to a computer and transferred to the player using a USB flash drive.  The machines may be kept for as long as patrons are borrowing NLS cartridges from the library. Patrons must borrow, or download from BARD, at least one talking book or magazine per year in order to keep their service status active and keep the machines. If not being used, the machines must be returned to the library.

If the machine stops operating properly, contact the library to get a replacement machine.

In addition, many companies make NLS-compatible digital machines and cassette players for sale. These are often smaller than the desk model provided by the library. The library can provide catalogs and/or contact information for some of these companies upon request. See our Special Equipment page for more information.

How does the digital talking book player work?

The digital machines come with a sheet of large -print instructions and a sheet of the instructions in braille for getting started. There are two models: Standard and Advanced. The only difference between them is that the Advanced model has five more function buttons to navigate through the tables of contents and indexes in non-fiction books. Once you turn the machine on, if there is no cartridge in the machine, each button will explain its function when pressed. The machine will tell you how much charge remains in the battery pack. When it's low, you should plug in the machine while not using it to recharge it. You should not leave machines plugged in when not in use except to recharge them.

See Operating Instructions for the Standard Digital Talking Book Machine and for the Advanced Digital Talking Book Machine.

Watch and listen to a video on how to use the talking book machine with a mailed talking book or with a flashdrive from BARD

How long can I keep the books?

You may keep the books for as long as you need them; the suggested time is four-to-six weeks. The library does not charge for overdue or lost books, but you must return books in order to get new ones.

What do the letters on the books mean?

  • DB = Digital Book
  • BR = Braille
  • BRA = Specially produced braille books

I haven’t gotten books for a while. Why not?

This can be due to a number of things. Books might have been sent to you but you might not have received them yet. You might not have allowed the library to choose alternate books from specific subjects for you and none of the titles you asked for are available. You might let us choose, but you’ve read all of the available books in your favorite subjects. We might not yet have gotten your books back. There might have been problems with delivering books to you and they were returned by the post office. The best thing to do is contact the library so we can figure out a solution.

How do I return the books when I’m finished with them?

Place the cartridge back into its container and seal it with the plastic straps. Braille books should be secured in their boxes.

Remove the mailing card from the slot and throw it out. Our return address is preprinted on a sticker affixed to the case.

The talking book containers may be dropped into any mailbox, unless it has been fitten with a theft-prevention slot. Braille book boxes are too large and need to be brought to the Post Office. The cards are stamped FREE MATTER FOR THE BLIND OR HANDICAPPED. No postage is needed.

Should I return the books all at once or one at a time?

To ensure a steady flow of books to you, please return each title as you finish it. If  you wait, we won’t know you need new books since it can take a week to ten days for books to travel through the mail.

The talking book is damaged. How should I let the library know?

Place a string or rubber band around the damaged cartridge. Do not include notes. Do not put anything on the outside of the container. 

My machine won’t work. What do I do?

You may either bring the machine in for an exchange or contact the library for mailing instructions. We will send an adhesive-backed label to place on the box to return the old one. You may wait until the new player arrives so you can use that box, or use any box it will fit inside if you no longer have the one it came in.

I don’t like the books I’ve been getting. What should I do?

Contact the library and we’ll adjust the subjects or make other changes to your file as needed until you are happy with your service.

I’m getting too many (or too few) books. What should I do?

Contact the library and we’ll make adjustments to the number of books sent each time and the maximum you receive. These adjustments can be made at any time. On occasion, it takes a few tries to get a satisfactory schedule arranged.

Can I get magazines in braille or in audio format?

Yes. Most of the magazines are available in braille or digital audio format from NLS.  Magazines on digital cartridge do need to be returned to the library. A catalog of the NLS magazines is available upon request and should have been included in your welcome packet. You can also find an anotated list here.

Also, the we can help you apply for the National Federation of the Blind’s Newsline, a newspaper reading service available by telephone.

Can I get only magazines?

Yes. Just let us know and we’ll change your status to Magazine Only.

Does the library have books in languages other than English?

Yes. The library has a large collection of Spanish language audio books and a small number of Russian language audio books. There is also a limited collection of books in  other languages available for . We can send lists of these titles upon request. As there are limited quantities of these titles available for all of the United States, there is usually a wait for these titles.

I want to learn how to play a musical instrument. Can I get music instructions in audio or braille?

Yes. NLS runs a music division. Music services are provided directly to readers from NLS in Washington, D.C. The program of music services includes a circulating collection of braille, large-print, and recorded instructional materials and a subscription program of magazines produced in braille, on digital cartridge, and in large print. Contact the Andrew Heiskell Library if you would like to apply for this service.

Can I get music from the library?

Musical recordings intended solely for listening are not part of the music collection, as these materials are readily available from stores and local public libraries. Patrons with library cards from either The New York Public Library, Brooklyn Public Library, or Queens Borough Public Library may borrow music cassettes in person from the library. These cassettes, along with other New York Public Library materials (including large-print books and descriptive videocassettes) have a specified due date and fines for lateness will be charged.

Can I get large-print books mailed to me?

Large-print books are available in local branches of The New York Public Library, Brooklyn Public Library, and Queens Borough Public Library. Homebound patrons in Bronx, Manhattan, and Staten Island may contact The New York Public Library’s Books-by-Mail program about receiving large-print books by mail.

The New York Public Library Books by Mail

Brooklyn Books by Mail

Queens Borough Public Library Mail-A-Book Service

I want to stop getting books for a while. What should I do?

Contact the library and we’ll put a temporary hold on your service. Then, when you’re ready for more books, just let us know. We can do a temporary stop and you’ll continue to receive magazines, catalogs, and our newsletter, or a longer suspension of service that will cancel your magazines and catalogs as well as our newsletter. When you want to resume service, you will have to contact the library to start the subscriptions again.

Remember, you’ll need to borrow at least one talking book a year in order to keep the playback machine.

I had stopped getting books, but want to start receiving them again. What should I do?

Contact the library and we’ll reinstate your service.

I want to cancel my talking book or braille service.

Contact the library for instructions. You may either bring in your machine or we’ll send you a label for its return. All equipment borrowed from the library is federal property and must be returned.

How do I return a Talking Book Player?

If you still have the box it came in, you can use it to return the machine. Just flip the address card and it will have our return address and free matter for the blind already written on it.  If you no longer have the box it came in, you can use any box to mail it back. Write our address: Andrew Heiskell Library, 40 West 20th Street, New York, NY 10011 And instead of postage, write "FREE MATTER FOR THE BLIND" in the upper right corner. 


Or, you may return the machine in person to any branch of the New York Public Library.


I’ll be out of town for a few months. Do I need to stop my library service?

No. If you’ll be staying elsewhere in the United States, you may continue to receive service from the library at an alternate address. You may also opt to register as a temporary patron with the regional library nearest to where you’ll be staying.

I’ve moved. Do I need to tell the library?

Yes. In order for you to keep getting library materials in a timely fashion, without interruption, it is important to keep us up-to-date regarding your address and telephone number.

Can I have my library material sent to a different address than my home?

Yes. We need your legal address for our records, but we can put in alternate shipping addresses if you want.

I’m moving out of New York City. Can I keep my library service?

Yes, if you’ll be moving elsewhere in the United States or one of its territories, we’ll be able to transfer your records. Contact the library with your new address and we’ll give you information about the library that will be serving you.

I’m leaving the country. Can I still get talking books and braille?

People who will be out of the country receive service directly from NLS in Washington, DC. Power adaptors are available from NLS.

Contact the Andrew Heiskell Library (212-206-5400 or 212-206-5425; email: for more information.

My friend or relative wants to get service, but doesn’t live in New York City. Who should they contact?

They can contact us and we’ll locate the right library for them, provided they live in the United States or one of its territories.

How can I get a free currency reader to tell me what bills I have?

The ureau of engraving and printing is sending our library patrons these free devices to help make money more accessible. Find out more here:  /about/locations/heiskell/currency-reader-information


Do you have anything to help me or my child learn braille and tactile literacy?

Yes! In addition to our braille study groups which happen twice weekly and out  brailled board book collection, We offer 6 kinds of early braille and tactile literacy kits that can be checked out by anyone with a New York Public Library Card. 

Early literacy skills differ but are just as important for children with lower levels of vision. These kits provide the materials and lead families or students through steps of tactile awareness, pattern matching, line tracking, braille recognition, alphabet learning, and inclusive activities and games, while teaching the importance of books, pictures, and braille for independence.  


Kit A: Caregiver's Kit!

Includes: "Just Enough to Know Better"  (intro to braille for caregivers,) "Because Books Matter" (Eng & Spa), "Because Pictures Matter", “ABC Read with Me in NYC” (nursery rhymes and fingerplays with uncontracted braille, print, and images), “That’s not my Dinosaur” or “-Bunny” (texture books with print, images, and uncontracted braille), caregiver’s folder of information and activities. (Kit F offers the caregivers’ items in braille).

Kit B: Tactile Learning and Pre-Braille Skills!

Includes: “Humpty Dumpty and other Touching Rhymes” (contracted braille, print, and embossed images), Flip-over concept books: “Line Paths” and “Parts of a Whole”, “Amazing Mazes”, DK Books:  "Counting" and “Shapes” (print, uncontracted braille, images, and tactile).


Kit C: Beginning with Braille!                                       

Includes: Braille caravan, Pop-a-cell, braille label maker, DK Book “Animals” or “On the Move” (print, uncontracted braille, images, and tactile), Embossed alphabet and counting decks, braille alphabet card.

Kit D: Braille Books with Tactile Tracking, Embossing, and Textures!

Includes: "Bumpy Rolls Away," "Jennifer's Messes" and “The Caterpillar” – all in contracted braille. (Note that UEB-learning textbooks are available for checkout separately)


Kit E: More Braille Activities, Maps, and Games!

Includes: Squid Braille and Tactile Activities Magazine, contracted braille and tactile maps of the continents, DK Book “It Can’t be True” (print, uncontracted braille, images, and tactile), brailled Uno cards, brailled playing cards, tactile dice.