The German Centre for Accessible Reading, dzb lesen, unites tradition with the modern world. Founded on 12 November 1894 as the German Central Library for the Blind, it has been a library for blind and visually impaired people for more than 125 years and is thus the oldest specialist library of its kind in Germany. Over the years, the non-profit institution has constantly faced new challenges. Changes in the German copyright law in January 2019 made it possible to reposition and rename the institution in November 2019. We now offer accessible literature for loan or purchase for many different user groups, and, following our motto “a different sense of reading,” are developing new resources for people with dyslexia and people with physical disabilities who are unable to handle books. At dzb lesen, we use our expertise to offer advice and services that make reading accessible and promote inclusion.
In a nutshell, our vision is: we make reading possible. In order to bring our main principle to life, we work with accessibility always on our mind. Thus, dzb lesen enables numerous ways to access literature and information and tailors its activities to the individual interests and needs of its blind, visually impaired, and print-disabled users—anyone who cannot read the usual print. To fulfill our task, we collaborate in national and international networks and exchange experiences.
Among our goals for the foreseeable future are offering large print for visually impaired and print-disabled people, further developing our dzb lesen app (App Store, Google Play)—such as enabling voice commands, which would be useful for people with physical disabilities—and developing accessible e-books, which support, among others, people with dyslexia.
We know that in spite of our efforts and those of similar institutions, there is a great lack of accessible literature. We aim at changing this situation in cooperation with editors and publishers—that’s the only way. An important concept for us is “Born Accessible Content,” inclusive publishing right from the source. The process has started but there still is a lack of basic understanding and necessary skills, which is why we make many training offers to publishers and libraries alike.
The centre is not only a library but is first and foremost a production centre for Braille and audio media, large print, tactile media—and soon even more. Special offers are created for the special reading needs of blind, visually impaired, and print-disabled people.
To make print media accessible, the centre needs to adapt them: texts are transcribed into Braille or edited in large print, music scores are transcribed into Braille music, pictures are converted into touch images, and audio books are narrated. To do this, the centre has its own recording studio, printers, and bindery.
No matter if you prefer crime novels or non-fiction, light or classic novels, we’ve got books of all genres for your “aha!” moments, thrill, and enjoyable reading. Our free library offers approximately 75,000 different titles to eligible users. In addition, dzb lesen offers subscriptions for magazines and many products on sale. We also produce media on request from our readers and to order.
In general, fiction titles are on top of our lending numbers. Together with Braille literature, our audio books in the Digital Accessible Information System (DAISY) format are by far most popular. And our relief products, such as tactile children’s books or tactile maps, are definitely something special. Our collection of Braille music scores for blind professional and non-professional musicians is unique in Germany.
What makes dzb lesen special?
The fundamental difference between dzb lesen and other libraries—e.g. the public library in your residential area—is that we have no reading room, we have no reference library, hardly any visitors, and no usage fee. Our library operates via mail. Users request books, often by phoning our librarians, and get them sent home. Braille books, for example, are sent in a large kind of briefcase free of charge as a cecogram. Every day we send lots and lots of audio books by mail. Our “reading room” is all the German-speaking countries, and, even beyond them, we send our books to any place where our users read German—even to Canada and Australia. Many audio book fans also use our free dzb lesen app (App Store, Google Play) for streaming and downloading. We want to extend that service.
As a library, we work in the field of reading promotion, mainly together with schools for blind and visually impaired children and similar institutions. We’re also connected with public libraries via our initiative “Chance Inclusion.” We train their librarians and facilitate making our accessible literature available to public libraries. That way, elderly people can remain users of their home library, even if they lose sight and have difficulties reading. Our 50,000 audio books are an attractive offer for them.
Each year we host numerous public events, including readings and lectures, guided tours for children and adults, the night of museums, and our regular open day. We participate in different trade fairs and expert forums, we teach at Leipzig University and Leipzig University of Applied Sciences (HTWK Leipzig), we cooperate with public radio and TV stations to create accessible offers, plus a lot more. All of this makes our centre, our library, special.
Photos courtesy of dzb lesen. Used with permission.