Even in the Digital Age, Books-by-Mail Matters for Americans

Books-by-mail from our nation’s libraries are vital resources for people who are blind, visually impaired, physically handicapped, dyslexic, living remotely, or facing reading barriers.

The boom in technological advancements over the past few decades have moved many forms of entertainment to online platforms. Movies are rented and downloaded within seconds. Music can be endlessly streamed. E-books mean that everything from bestsellers to car manuals are released in physical and electronic forms. It may be easy to get caught up with screens, but we’re here to remind you that even in a digital centric society, books-by-mail make life-changing impacts on many Americans

Books-by-Mail

Books-by-mail is a system that libraries across the country make available for readers. This system offers accessibility to library resources to a wide number of patrons whether they live far away, have visual or learning disabilities, or just want to get their hands on a good read. You can find these services in libraries all the way in rural Alaska, which serve residents all across the state, to the busy county of Palm Beach, Florida, which provides services to county residents.


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Those that apply for these services through their preferred libraries can have a variety of materials delivered to them. Options range from audiobook CDs, hard copies, and even books and movies. These materials are carefully packed and delivered through the United States Postal Service (USPS) and come with reusable address labels that make returning books convenient. While checkout limits and loan periods vary by library, many allow for at least a dozen or more books to be borrowed and kept for a few weeks.

Importance of Books-by-Mail

Books-by-mail are vital resources for many people. Besides your average bibliophile looking for their next read, this system of mailing books serve people who are blind, visually impaired, physically handicapped, dyslexic, living remotely or facing reading barriers. The list goes on.

Programs like the National Library Service for the Blind and Print Disabled (NLS) from the Library of Congress serve citizens all over the United States on a daily basis. This service is a free braille and talking book library for those that have vision impairment, blindness, or physical disability that would prevent them from holding print material. It serves residents by mailing braille or audiobooks as well as providing downloadable copies. What is great about services like this one is the mission. They are dedicated to sharing the gift of reading with anyone eligible for the program regardless of age, economic status, or technical expertise.

Many libraries also use state and federal funds to provide books-by-mail services to their community. The Maine State Library created a Talking Books program that serves the visually impaired or physically handicapped as well. They even provide special digital players for free to people that need it. Juneau Public Libraries understands the difficulties that come with living in a rural state. Their program mails books, movies, audiobooks, and music to any location in Alaska. Palm Beach County Library ensures that those with long term illnesses or lack of transportation are still able to access library materials including the newest title on its shelves.

Speaking of illnesses, we cannot ignore the presence that COVD-19 has had on everyone’s lives. Many libraries have temporarily closed to walk-in service in the wake of the pandemic, meaning librarians are learning to innovate and expand the way libraries are being used. Virtual programming and live streams have become the new normal but what is surprising is that the demand for print materials have not decreased. In fact, there is a higher demand for books-by-mail with libraries such as those in Orange County, Orlando, Florida seeing double the amount of requests per day. Communities have shown immense gratitude for books-by-mail options which points to the evidence of its value.


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Book Rates & the Post Office

A major contributor to the feasibility of books-by-mail services is the Post Office. USPS is a vital part of any book delivery program. It offers affordable pricing for shipping media items like books, recorded media, CDs, DVDs, etc. through Media Mail (Book Rate). Media Mail allows libraries to regularly send packages containing these heavier items for lower costs. Packages can weigh up to 70 lbs. meaning those utilizing books-by-mail services can request multiple print or audio materials at once. In addition to affordability, the United States Post Office is the only mail delivery service in the entire country that serves all locations, even helping other delivery companies complete their routes in rural communities. This perfectly complements the goals of many libraries who want to connect those who live remotely to their educational tools, print materials, assistive technologies, and audiobooks.

Books-by-mail programs have made an impact across the country. It is just one example of the tremendous amount of resources that public and state libraries provide to millions of individuals. While technology has also provided an incredible amount of opportunities for reading, we cannot overlook the importance of delivering material for education or enjoyment to blind/low-vision people, those with hearing impairments, physical disabilities, or the general public.

The USPS and the library system work hand-in-hand to ensure everyone has access to valuable resources. The next time you are looking to find print materials for yourself or family and friends in need of a good old-fashioned book delivery, be sure to look into the books-by-mail programs offered by your local libraries.


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  • Patrick Sweeney
    published this page in News 2020-09-23 09:41:29 -0700