Canadian Federation of the Blind Letter and Background Information Mailed to Librarians and Legislators

Please circulate widely.
April 13, 2017

Dear legislators and librarians interested in services to blind Canadians:

Canada currently has two library services for blind people and others with print disabilities. The publicly owned system is called National Network for Equitable Library Service (NNELS). The privately owned system is the old CNIB library, now called Centre for Equitable Library Access (CELA).

Having two library systems is an unreasonable duplication of effort and a tragic waste of resources. The Canadian Federation of the Blind urges governments and libraries to put an end to this nonsense and once and for all make our library service truly public. We believe NNELS is fully
capable of managing distribution of books in alternate formats and should become Canada’s resource for libraries as they integrate service to people with print disabilities.

We urge government to cut all funding to CNIB/CELA and fund the public NNELS system instead.

Although the public has already paid to produce digital versions of the material in the CNIB library, we would support a one-time payment to CNIB for the transfer of ownership of that collection to NNELS.

Mary Ellen Gabias, President
Canadian Federation of the Blind


The National Network for Equitable Library Service ( ) is paid for by several, but not all, provincial libraries. It’s publicly owned, and has developed an infrastructure for delivering books to eligible borrowers through its website and through public libraries.

The Center for Equitable Library Access (CELA) is the CNIB library under a new name. It’s paid for by some, but not all, provincial libraries, and
some public libraries in non-participating jurisdictions. It is privately owned and its collection is licensed to libraries that pay for access.

Until now, legally blind CNIB clients throughout the country who had become clients before 2011 could use CELA. That may soon change. CNIB/CELA is making it known that access may soon be cut off to blind people in localities that don’t pay CELA’s licensing fees.

The books in the CNIB/CELA collection were paid for with public funds, yet they’re being treated like the private property of CNIB.

The NNELS public library service is completely capable of managing both its collection and the books held by CNIB/CELA. Canadian public policy should focus on making sure that public libraries own the alternate format books in both collections, since the public has already paid to create them.

CNIB should be informed that public money will no longer go to support its private, proprietary, redundant, and more expensive infrastructure now that public libraries have an adequate means of getting books to the people who require them, and doing so more affordably.

In the interest of integration, government should negotiate a one-time payment to CNIB to transfer digital copies of its collection to public ownership through NNELS.

Continuing to pay CNIB for segregated library service is degrading and flies in the face of the new spirit of inclusion of people with disabilities into the mainstream. It also places libraries and governments in danger of
repeated moves by CNIB to withhold books from borrowers as has been done in the past and is currently being threatened.

Technology has created the possibility for truly integrated mainstream library service for people with print disabilities. Canada should embrace that possibility. CNIB is familiar and traditional, but it is neither mainstream nor integrated into the public library system. Familiarity and
tradition do not make CNIB an appropriate choice for providing library service in the twenty-first century.

end of letter.