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The National Network for Equitable Library Service also known as NNELS, provides services and collections to users throughout Canada.

NNELS' collection is owned and sustained by Canadian public libraries. NNELS also works with International partners, libraries, readers, and publishers (particularly Canadian ones) to make books in accessible formats available to anyone in Canada who has a print disability. Simply put, a print disability is a learning, physical or visual disability that prevents a person from reading conventional print.

Print disabilities, also known as perceptual disabilities, include three broad categories of people who require accessible formats. Individuals who have:

  • a severe or total impairment of sight, hearing, or the inability to focus or move one’s eyes
  • the inability to hold or manipulate a book
  • an impairment relating to comprehension such as Dyslexia

Numbers from Statistics Canada suggest that about 10% of Canadians have a print disability, which limits people’s ability to read in a traditional print format. Many people who do not currently have a print disability will have one in the future.

NNELS is fully funded and supported by the provincial governments of British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Nova Scotia, Northwest Territories, Nunavut, and Yukon. The service provider for NNELS is the British Columbia Libraries Cooperative, a non-profit Community Services organization which is a service provider to libraries and library-related organizations throughout Canada.

The annual budget for NNELS is approximately $500,000 which works out to about $0.03 per capita for Canadians in the participating jurisdictions.

NNELS in action

The information environment for people with print disabilities has seen a revolution thanks to inexpensive and customizable technology built with open standards and universal design principles. While readers and librarians are frequently dismayed by the stark contrast between the abundance of technology and the shortage of accessible content, they are also excited about what changing technology means for access to books. 

Reports show that less than 5% of published works are available in accessible formats. With NNELS, librarians and readers have instant access to thousands of accessible books and the ability to request titles not commercially available in accessible formats. 

In addition to providing the catalogue, NNELS' services are multi-faceted and include the following ongoing efforts

  • Working with our provincial and territorial partners to develop a cost-effective, predictable, and healthy funding model for accessible online library services
  • Growing and supporting outstanding public library service with, and for people with perceptual disabilities
  • Protecting the privacy of our users' personal information
  • Encouraging the peer-production of information, knowledge, and culture
  • Facilitating learning and sharing information with our partners
  • Using open standards and accessible tools
  • NNELS works with International partners, libraries, testers, and Canadian publishers to create born-digital accessible books
  • NNELS is a Living Wage Employer and many of our team members have lived experience with perceptual disabilities

To find out if your library is participating in NNELS, please see our list of participating libraries or search to check your library’s status