Bridges Resource Library

About Bookshare

Updated as of February 4, 2024.

What is it?

Bookshare provides accessible books for individuals with print disabilities. Bookshare offers more than one million (1,000,000) titles from many genres and for all ages.

People with documented print disabilities may receive “Individual Memberships” that allow them to search for, download, and read titles independently using accessible technology.

Bookshare also includes textbooks and curricular materials, such as workbooks. Bookshare provides all of its resources in accessible media so that individuals with print disabilities may access them efficiently and effectively. Only eligible individuals and institutions may download books from Bookshare.

Who is Eligible?

Due to U.S. Copyright laws, “Bookshare® is available only for individuals who have a qualifying reading or perceptual disability, a visual impairment, or a physical disability that affects their ability to read printed works.” Qualifying disabilities include:

  • Blindness
  • Low vision that prevents the individual from accessing printed works to substantially the same degree as a person without an impairment or disability
  • Perceptual or reading disability that prevents the individual from accessing printed works to substantially the same degree as a person without an impairment or disability
  • Physical disability that prevents the individual from holding or manipulating a book
  • Physical disability that prevents the individual from focusing or moving the eyes to the extent that would be normally acceptable for reading

Proof of Disability

Individuals “automatically” qualify if they meet one or more of the following criteria:

  • Patrons of the National Library Service (NLS) – including LBPD
  • Members of Learning Ally
  • Qualifying students in schools that have current Bookshare Organizational Memberships

Individuals who do not “automatically” qualify must provide Bookshare Proof of Disability using one of several options. The primary method is completing Bookshare’s Proof of Disability form, which includes certification of eligibility by a Qualifying Professional.

Membership Information

How much does Bookshare cost?

For patrons of the Maryland State Library for the Blind and Print Disabled (LBPD)

As noted in the Bridges Resource Library’s Maryland Library for the Blind and Print Disabled entry, there is no fee for LBPD patrons to join Bookshare. Of course, if an LBPD patron has other free options (such as being a qualified U.S. student), they would use that means of membership in order to preserve funds for other LBPD patrons.

For non-LBPD patrons

Bookshare is free for qualifying students (must have a print disability and be enrolled in K-12, post-secondary, and rehabilitation programs) in the U.S. (through a federal grant). The text-to-speech is synthetic, but it is easy to get used to with practice.

For all other individuals, Bookshare does have an annual fee of $79.99 per year. Individuals with financial needs may request a 25% discount on the fee using Bookshare’s Membership Fee Discount Request online form.

Applying for membership

For individuals

Bookshare’s membership application has two parts, and both must be completed. First, complete Bookshare’s Member Information form and create a free account. Next, the individual must complete Bookshare’s Proof of Disability process.

For educational institutions

Bookshare offers “Organizational  Memberships” to qualifying educational institutions, including elementary and secondary schools, and these organizational  memberships are free for U.S. educational and rehabilitation institutions.

Once organizational membership is secured, institutions list qualifying students on their rosters and may download books for students using those rosters. Please note that books may ONLY be used by the eligible individual for whom the download was made.

Textbooks – through NIMAC

In the United States, these K-12 institutions have access to a wide variety of textbooks through the National Instructional Materials Accessibility Center (NIMAC). Students may not download NIMAC books themselves, and NIMAC textbooks are ONLY available for students with qualifying print disabilities who have IEPs (individualized education plans). K-12 students in private schools or who are homeschooled may receive access to NIMAC textbooks if they have an IEP in place and an agreement with an institution that will download books on their behalf. Find out more on Bookshare’s Access to NIMAC books web page.

Should a student get an individual membership or should the institution add the student to its account?

Yes, and yes.

Students are entitled to individual Bookshare accounts, even if that student is signed up on an organizational account (such as at school). Students benefit from having an individual account because it allows them to easily download books without the approval of a teacher. However, only qualifying organizations may download NIMAC textbooks from Bookshare for eligible students, so the organizational account also serves an important purpose.

About the Books

What book formats are available?

Bookshare titles are available in file formats that allow individuals to access the book using print, enlarged print, audio, and Braille. Though not every format is available for every title, Bookshare’s formats include:

How many books can I download?

The default setting for downloading books is one hundred fifty (150) titles per month. However, if an individual needs to download more, that person may email Bookshare and make that request.

How can I read the books I download?

Individuals may play the books on a Windows or Mac computer, an iOS device (iPhone, iPad), or an Android device using Bookshare’s free software Bookshare Reader, by using third-party text-to-speech software, extensions, or apps, or by using special equipment designed to access braille or DAISY files. Check out the Bridges Resource Library’s Bookshare Reader entry for more information.

Are there restrictions I should know about?

Please note that it is illegal to share materials downloaded from Bookshare with other individuals—even others with Bookshare accounts. Instead, please perform any additional downloads needed

Additionally, Bookshare automatically restricts adult-oriented materials to members over the age of eighteen (18).

Contact the Bridges Helpdesk for More Information

This unique project is being coordinated through The IMAGE Center of Maryland, a center for independent living in Towson, and it is funded by a grant from the Maryland Department of Education Division of Special Education/Early Intervention Services.

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