Services for visually-impaired people

Hampshire libraries have a wide range of stock available for customers who have difficulty using traditional formats.

Podcast for visually impaired users

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Concessionary Membership Schemes

Anyone who has difficulty reading print is entitled to concessionary membership which offer customers special borrowing rights.  
Please ask staff about registering

Large Print

Libraries have always been the best source of large print books which use a bigger, clearer typeface. Some people assume they must be abridged but they’re not.


eBooks are available for loan and can be read on your computer or, using our downloading service, be transferred to a mobile device.

Audio Books

We have a great range of books on cassette, CD and for download. Most of them are unabridged though we also have some shorter versions as well. The titles you see on the library shelves are just a very small part of the total collection so do check the catalogue or ask library staff to do it for you.

If you are print disabled you are allowed free reservations for audio books in Hampshire’s stock.

Audio Described Videos and DVDs

Audio Description (AD) helps people with sight loss to watch and enjoy films. The soundtrack includes a professional narration that explains what is happening on screen when characters aren’t speaking. Hampshire Libraries have a complete set of 100+ videos of popular films with an RNIB audio description.

An increasing number of DVDs now give you the option of selecting audio description. You can see whether a DVD has audio description by checking the information on the back of the box. It will be listed as an optional audio or language track as either:

  • Audio Described English
  • Audio Description
  • Audio Descriptive Track
  • AD logo

The range of titles includes both adult and family viewing and no special equipment is needed other than an ordinary DVD player.

National Talking Newspapers & Magazines Audio Download Service

Free access to audio versions of current national newspapers and magazines - available in all Hampshire libraries and Discovery Centres

Here’s how it works

  • bring your USB memory stick to the library
  • staff will download your choice of titles onto the memory stick
  • each publication is divided into two or four parts with each part about 13MB in size equivalent to a tape ‘side’
  • the downloads only take a few seconds but allow up to 5 minutes for the whole procedure. If staff can’t do straight away, you can leave your USB with us and collect later.
  • you take the USB stick home to listen at your leisure on any USB MP3 player such as a Sapphire Box, Boom Box, Daisy Player – and many more!

Local Talking Newspapers

There are over 500 local Talking Newspapers in the UK, providing audio recordings of local news in a variety of formats.

ClearVision' books

Standard children's picture books rebound with brailled text on clear plastic sheets so that the pictures and print are still visible.

Reading Groups

If you enjoy talking about books with other people, why not join one of our reading groups. Several groups have been set up specifically for visually impaired people but any group you wish to join will endeavour to provide books in suitable formats.

Bee Aware Scheme

You may be eligible to use the Bee Aware Scheme. This is a national lending service for borrowing books and newspapers in alternative formats, free of charge, through the public library.
To use the service, ask for a Declaration Form at your local library and get it signed by a health or care professional, confirming an inability to read ordinary print.
Registration for the scheme can start as soon as the form is handed back to the library.


All our libraries provide free use of computers linked to the Internet. You can surf the web, send emails or use standard office programs like word processing.
Each computer has 'Supernova' software designed to help visually impaired people. It will enlarge anything on the screen as well as read aloud in an electronic voice.

  • Find out more about Accessible IT

Electronic magnifier (CCTV)

Many libraries have an electronic magnifier (CCTV) which enlarges print or images onto a screen. You can alter size, contrast and, on some models, adjust the colour. It can be used for viewing anything from books, maps and photographs to handwritten letters and objects. You can also use it for writing and drawing. Anyone is welcome to use this equipment, check your local library for availability.

Winchester Discovery Centre has the latest generation CCTV device called a MyReader which photographs the page and reorganises the layout of the print on the screen to make it much easier to read continuous text

Gosport Discovery Centre has a text reader which reads aloud printed documents in an electronically-produced voice.


Podcast transcript - Library Services for VIPs in Hampshire

Are you getting the most out of Hampshire’s library service? With so many things now available for visually impaired people through your local public library, we thought it would be a good idea to run through them all briefly. You may find that you’ve been missing out on something.

Most people know that libraries have books in large print, including ones for children. But did you know that you can request any of them free of charge? So if the particular book you want is out on loan, or it’s not in your local library, we’ll reserve it for you – free.

Similarly you can request any of our audio books – our talking books on cassette, CD, MP3 disc or Playaway – absolutely free. You won’t be charged for borrowing them either. Just let staff know that you are visually impaired when you join the library. Make sure you ask for a ‘Print Disabled Membership’ card.

So requests are free, but how do you find out what books we’ve actually got in large print or on the various recorded formats. You can consult the catalogue in any of our libraries or ask a member of library staff to do so, and it’s also available on the Web. If you or your family have got access to the Internet at home, go to the following webpage: http://libcat.hants.gov.uk

You can also download a spreadsheet version of the audio book catalogue onto your own computer if that’s more convenient. Just go to www.hants.gov.uk/audio-books.

This site also gives you a link to our free download audio books and eBooks. All you need is access to a computer, an internet connection and a Hampshire Library membership card. For first timers, use the links to install OverDrive Media Console enabling you to download audiobooks, listen on your computer or transfer to a portable device. Titles currently are available in WMA and MP3 formats though we are moving more to MP3 which is a much more flexible format.. The website takes you through the process step-by-step.

eBooks have lots of benefits for people with sight loss. They can make it easier for you to read print as most eBook readers or eBook apps let you enlarge the print, zoom in on a particular passage or phrase and invert the screen colour. Some devices also have text-to-speech facilities where a synthetic voice can read aloud the content of your book or newspaper. This is different to hearing a human-narrated audio book, however many people find this feature helpful.

Many people seem to have the impression that the talking books you get through the library are abridged. In fact the great majority of them are full text. And anyway we’ve usually got an unabridged version of the abridged titles, so you can decide yourself which one you want. We’ve got over twenty thousand different talking books, fiction and non-fiction, so there’s plenty of choice.

Moving on to national newspapers & magazines …

Are you struggling to read your favourite newspaper or magazine? Maybe you already have given it up as a lost cause? Well there’s no need to miss out. Hampshire Libraries have a subscription to the National Talking Newspapers & Magazines which gives you free access to audio versions of over 150 titles from popular through to specialist interest.

Simply bring a memory stick to any Hampshire library or Discovery Centre, staff will help you make your selection and then download the titles for you. You then take the memory stick home and listen at your leisure on your Sapphire Box, Boom Box, Daisy Player or any USB MP3 player. The good news is that you don’t need any technical know-how to use the service although you are very welcome to do the downloads yourself if you wish to. The downloads only take a few minutes but, if staff can’t do straight away, you can leave the memory stick and call back later.

What about DVDs and music?

If you want to borrow DVDs and music CDs as well as audio books, you can ask for Concessionary AV membership. There are two categories - under 18 years of age and over 18. This entitles you to borrow audio-visual items free of charge. If the particular title that you want is out on loan, or not available in your local library, you can request it for free.

Anyone who finds reading print difficult or impossible can apply for either the  Concessionary Audio-Visual Membership or the Print Disabled Membership. Simply choose the scheme that most suits your needs. Library staff can help you to do this. We do ask for documentary evidence of eligibility (such as the Hampshire County Council disability card) when you apply for Concessionary Audio-Visual membership. Disability cards can be obtained from Adult Services. You can contact them by calling 0845 603 5630, or e-mail adultservices@hants.gov.uk  

If you are under 18, you can show your Gateway card or a letter from your school or doctor indicating that you have a significant print disability. You can register online for a Gateway card at http://www3.hants.gov.uk/gatewaycard

Free films may not seem all that appealing to someone with a sight problem but we also have a collection of ‘audio described’ videos. And an increasing number of DVDs now give you the option of selecting audio description. If you’ve never experienced an audio described film, do try one. A discreet commentary, inserted in between the dialogue, tells you what’s happening on the screen, allowing you to follow the film’s action so that you can enjoy it along with your family and friends.

What about if you need something that’s not available in Hampshire Libraries? A Braille book for instance from the RNIB National Library Service or a book from Calibre Audio Library? We can still get it for you - if you belong to something called the Bee Aware Scheme.

It’s a slightly odd name for what is a great idea. The big national voluntary organisations for blind people, like the RNIB, Calibre and National Talking Newspapers and Magazines, have all got together with the public library service to agree a system of inter-lending. Anyone registered for the Bee Aware Scheme can use their local public library to borrow items from any of the organisations taking part. We, the public library service, will get the material for you and you can also return it through us. There’s no charge for the service. The only thing you won’t be able to borrow through the Scheme at the moment are the RNIB Daisy Talking Books because they require a special player.

To register for the Bee Aware Scheme, you will need to complete a form which is available at any library. Staff will be happy to help you with it. If you are not a member of the RNIB, Calibre or National Talking Newspapers, you’ll need to get the form signed by someone who can confirm that you have a sight impairment.

If you want to find out what is available for loan through the Scheme you can consult the RNIB Library Catalogue, or ask library staff to do it for you. This is a catalogue of all the resources available in Braille, moon, audio book and large print, and it also offers lots of other useful information. The web address is http://librarycatalogue.rnib.org.uk/

Although the library doesn’t have its own stock of Braille books, we can help you to get them, and for children we can obtain what’s known as ‘ClearVision’ books. These are standard children’s picture books interleaved with transparent pages of Braille. They’re a wonderful idea because they enable a blind parent to share a story with a sighted child, or equally they let a sighted adult share a book with a blind child. The web address for ClearVision is www.clearvisionproject.org.

We can also provide picture books in both giant print (75 pt) and Braille which we buy from an organisation called Access to Books and their web address is http://www.access2books.org/  These books are beautifully produced and great for sharing and reading together.

Of course a very large amount of printed material never finds its way into large print or Braille, or gets recorded in audio format. However, in many of our libraries we have a device for enlarging images onto a TV screen. Some call it a ‘video magnifier’ or ‘screen enlarger’ – many just know it as a ‘CCTV’. You can use it to enlarge anything – books, letters, maps, medicine bottles, photographs, even your wedding ring. And a really good feature is that you can use it to help you write, whether it’s a tax form, a love letter or a lottery ticket. Library staff will be happy to show you how it works. It’s actually far simpler than it might look at first.

Of course so much more these days is available on the Internet. There’s no doubt that computers have transformed the lives of many disabled people, including those with sight problems. One major attraction for many people is e-mail, which makes it so easy to keep in touch with family and friends, wherever they are in the world.

Across Hampshire we have almost six hundred computers in our libraries, all linked to the internet, all available to the public free of charge. Many libraries also have Wi-Fi.

In addition, some libraries run weekly computer classes for people with sight loss. We use built-in accessibility features or special software with magnification and screen readers such as Supernova and Guide.

Now we’d like to tell you about something for blind people which we’ve been organising in Hampshire Libraries for over ten years and has proved to be a runaway success. With ‘reading groups’ becoming so popular throughout the country, we wanted to make sure that people who have to rely on alternative formats for reading, like large print and audio, weren’t being excluded from this experience.

So in 1998 we set up a reading group in Winchester aimed specifically at blind and partially sighted people. The idea took off immediately and we’ve now got many more similar groups across Hampshire.

Before each meeting we all agree on a book to discuss, and the library service supplies everyone with a copy in the format they prefer – which most of the time is audio or large print. So everyone comes to the next meeting having recently read or heard the same book, and we share our views of it over a cup of tea or coffee. Library staff bring along any interesting reviews and background information to the book and its author, and we always finish a meeting by asking each member of the group to give it a score out of ten. The best meetings are invariably those where there’s a lot of good-natured disagreement.

These book groups are also an opportunity to share general information among members. And through occasional get-togethers of all the reading groups, we are trying to build up a countywide sense of identity and community among our visually impaired readers.

Not everyone, however, can get about easily - particularly older people - and we’re aware that many simply can’t get to their local library. If you are in this position and you’ve got a neighbour or friend who’s willing to visit the library on your behalf, we can help you through the ‘Good Neighbour Scheme’. The advantage for you and your helper is that you won’t need to worry about library charges. And you’ll also be able to enjoy all the privileges of Print Disabled Membership.

If you haven’t got a willing friend, neighbour or relative, then we can arrange for library material to be brought to your home by a member of staff or by one of our library volunteers. Check with your local library for details of the ‘Home Library Service’ which operates in your area.

So as we said at the beginning, there is a lot available for ‘VIPs’ through Hampshire public libraries, and we want as many of you to benefit from our services and resources as possible.

Incidentally, if you live within Southampton or Portsmouth, the two cities run their own library services so you’ll need to ask your local library about what’s available.

If you would like more information about anything mentioned on this recording, you can contact us

  • by telephone – 0845 603 5631
  • or by email: library@hants.gov.uk
  • or by letter – write to:
    County Library Headquarters
    Units 5 / 6 Moorside Place
    Moorside Road
    SO23 7FZ

Or just contact your local library.