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Pennsylvania Libraries Expand Accessible Reading Opportunities

  • Published: 2016-08-02 : Author: Benetech : Contact:
  • Synopsis: Pennsylvania Libraries partner with Benetech/Bookshare to expand accessible reading opportunities for patrons with print disabilities.

Bookshare, a project run by Benetech, a nonprofit based in Palo Alto, California, is an online accessible digital library for people with disabilities that affect the reading of print, such as blindness, vision impairment, dyslexia and certain physical disabilities. Bookshare currently has over a quarter million users and over 375,000 books in its collection, contributed by volunteers and by major publishers (who send digital versions of their books to the collection).

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"This partnership greatly expands the number of accessible titles available to Pennsylvania residents who are print disabled."

In a mission to expand more meaningful and accessible reading experiences for Pennsylvania residents who cannot read standard print, Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh and the Free Library of Philadelphia have entered into a partnership agreement with Benetech, a Silicon Valley nonprofit that manages Bookshare, the world's largest online accessible library for individuals with qualifying print disabilities.

Today, Bookshare serves more than 425,000 members who are blind, have low vision, a physical disability, or a learning disability, like dyslexia. The new partnership will enable qualified Pennsylvania residents who are print disabled to enjoy unlimited and 24/7 access to over 446,000 available electronic books at no cost in digital audio, text, and braille formats. Patrons can read Bookshare's accessible ebooks on tablets, smart phones, computers, assistive technology devices, and MP3 players using free and paid apps and some free reading tools.

Mark Lee, Library Services Manager at Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh-Library for the Blind and Physically Handicapped said, "This partnership greatly expands the number of accessible titles available to Pennsylvania residents who are print disabled. Now they will have the opportunity to access those titles instantly and through a device of their choosing."

Bookshare collections include a broad range of topics for all age groups and reading interests such as New York Times bestsellers, children's literature, picture books, fiction and nonfiction, scientific and technical journals, periodicals, professional publications, career guides, and much more. In addition to English titles, ebooks are offered in other languages, including Spanish.

Currently, through awards from the U.S. Department of Education, Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP), all students in the United States with qualifying disabilities can access Bookshare for free. Through the new Pennsylvania state library partnership, all eligible Pennsylvania patrons, of all ages, will have access to Bookshare.

Keri Wilkins, Administrator, Philadelphia Library for the Blind and Physically Handicapped said, "I agree with Mark about the benefits of this partnership. Philadelphia and Pittsburgh Libraries for the Blind and Physically Handicapped have been long-time partners in serving our residents with print impairments. Working with Benetech is another great step in expanding accessible titles using Bookshare now and well into the future."

In 2016, Benetech announced similar partnerships with libraries in New York City and with the state of Georgia. Brad Turner, Vice President of Global Literacy at Benetech said, "We're excited about this new partnership with Pennsylvania state libraries to change how people with disabilities read today. We extend an invitation to other library systems with a similar mission to follow their footsteps and consider Bookshare to be the online accessible library that can open the world of meaningful reading experiences for their patrons with print disabilities."

For information about the Pennsylvania library partnership, contact Mark Lee at Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh or Keri Wilkins at the Free Library of Philadelphia.

For information about Benetech, Bookshare, and partnerships, contact Lisa Wadors Verne, Program Manager, Education Research and Partnerships.

Benetech is a different kind of tech company. We're a nonprofit whose mission is to empower communities in need by creating scalable technology solutions. Our work has transformed how over 425,000 people with disabilities read; made it safer for human rights defenders in over fifty countries to document human rights violations; and equipped environmental conservationists to protect ecosystems and species all over the world. Our Benetech Labs is working on the next big impact. Visit

Bookshare is the world's largest online library of accessible ebooks for people with print disabilities. Through its extensive collection of educational and popular titles, specialized book formats, and reading tools, Bookshare offers individuals who cannot read standard print materials the same ease of access that people without disabilities enjoy. In 2007 and 2012, Bookshare received two five-year awards from the U.S. Department of Education, Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP), to provide free access for all U.S. students with a qualifying print disability. Bookshare is an initiative of Benetech, a Palo Alto, CA-based nonprofit that develops and uses technology to create positive social change.

Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh is supporting individual achievement and strengthening the power of community. Through the community's investment, the Library is enhancing the lives of people in the greater Pittsburgh region with dynamic and diverse resources such as creative learning programs for children and teens, job and career assistance for our community's workforce, and free computer and Internet access for all. Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh builds community, enables learning, provides access and values people.

The Free Library of Philadelphia system, with 54 locations and the Rosenbach, advances literacy, guides learning, and inspires curiosity with millions of digital and physical materials; 25,000 yearly programs and workshops; free public computers and extensive Wi-Fi, including neighborhood Hotspots; and rich special collections, including those at Parkway Central Library and at the Rosenbach. With more than six million in-person visits and millions more online annually, the Free Library and the Rosenbach are among the most widely-used educational and cultural institutions in Philadelphia and boast a worldwide impact.

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