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Jacobus tenBroek Library

Steve Booth reading a Braille book with Trisha Tatam reading a print book beside himLibrary Director Morman holding a copy of Louis Braille's 1829 book that first described the Braille codeAisle of shelves filled with books at the Jacobus tenBroek Library

...The research library on blindness that is owned and controlled by the blind themselves

Archives and Manuscript Collections | Published materials | Other resources |
On-site Access | Statistics and Facts about Blindness | Oral History | NFB Affiliate Guide for Submitting to the Archives | The First Publication of the Braille Code | Full text Digital Files | Exhibits | Plans for the Future of the tenBroek Library

The Jacobus tenBroek Library welcomes researchers interested in non-medical aspects of blindness. Our collections cover areas including (but not limited to):

  • education of blind children 
  • disability law and policy 
  • the history of attitudes toward the blind 
  • rehabilitation methods and practices 
  • technologies developed by and for the blind 
  • blind achievers in science and the arts 
  • fiction with blind characters 
  • depictions of the blind in children's books 
  • literary works by blind authors 

We provide facilities for using our collections, regardless of format, by both sighted and blind readers.

Access to Our Resources

THE CANE TIP and THE BLIND CAT, are fully accessible portals to the collections of the Jacobus tenBroek Library. 

Archives and Manuscript Collections 

THE CANE TIP is the database for finding aids that describe manuscript and archival collections held by the Jacobus tenBroek Library. These include the personal and professional papers of Jacobus tenBroek, the NFB Institutional Archives, and several smaller collections. 

The most significant single resource of the tenBroek Library is the personal and professional papers of Jacobus tenBroek, founder of the NFB. Dr. tenBroek (1911-1968) was a towering figure in many areas. The NFB as he built it in the 1940s and 1950s adumbrated many of the features of today’s disability rights movement, most importantly by asserting that blind must speak for themselves as consumers and as a demographic minority that experiences discrimination. A graduate of the University of California School of Law (Boalt Hall), tenBroek earned additional graduate degrees in both law and political science. His scholarly interests centered around constitutional notions of “rights” and he is credited with helping to refine the idea of rights in the post-World War II era, one of the most famous examples being his 1966 California Law Review article, "The Right to Live in the World: The Disabled in the Law of Torts." In addition to disability rights, his writings have proved central to civil rights law and welfare rights law. His 1958 book, Prejudice, War, and the Constitution is regarded as the definitive critique of the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to allow the federal government to relocate Japanese Americans during the World War II. 

TenBroek served on the faculty of the University of California from 1942 until his death. As a university professor, he stood strongly in favor of academic freedom, opposing the loyalty oath during the 1950s, and supporting the student Free Speech Movement in 1964. Simultaneously with his social activism and scholarly work tenBroek was a member and, for a period, chairman of the California Social Welfare Board. 

The Jacobus tenBroek Personal Papers—consisting largely of typed and printed documents, but with a significant portion in grade 3 Braille—is a major primary resource for research on any of his personal and professional interests.

The Jernigan Institute looks after the history of blind people in many ways, including collecting NFB literature, maintaining the Federation's archives, and building the tenBroek Library. We also recognize that much of the history of the blind resides in the lived experience of the blind, and we are committed to recording that history.

National Historical Publications and Records Commission logo

Thanks to a grant from the National Historical Publications and Records Commission (a division of the United States National Archives), we have completed the basic processing of the tenBroek Papers and the NFB Archives (ink-print and Braille). In addition to access through THE CANE TIP, finding aids for these two collections are available in the following formats: 

We are soliciting the personal and professional papers of other blind leaders, of blind and sighted inventors who have contributed to the blind, and of blind people in any walk of life. These are key sources on the history of blind people and the organized blind movement in the United States. 

NFB Archival Exhibits Hosted by Digital Maryland

The tenBroek Library is pleased to partner with Digital Maryland in the creation of online exhibits that highlight significant events and figures in the history of the organized blind movement using materials preserved in the Federation’s archives. Digital Maryland is a collaborative, statewide digitization program that provides free access to historical and cultural artifacts held by Maryland institutions and individuals. The program is headquartered at the Enoch Pratt Free Library / State Library Resource Center in Baltimore. Two exhibits are available now, with plans for more currently in the works. 

  • The Founding of the National Federation of the Blind – This exhibit explores the events immediately before, during, and after the founding meeting of the NFB at the Hotel Redington in Wilkes Barre, Pennsylvania, on November 16, 1940. Includes correspondence between organizers and attendees, who would go on to become the first Federation leaders, and the minutes of the founding meeting, which took place at the Pennsylvania Federation of the Blind annual state convention. Also includes correspondence between NFB founder Jacobus tenBroek and his mentor, Newel Perry, discussing the need for a national organization of the blind, the results of the meeting, and the early tasks pursued by the Federation.  
  • Jacobus tenBroek – Known to Federationists everywhere as the founder and first president of the NFB, this exhibit mainly focuses upon Dr. tenBroek’s life outside of his work with the NFB and the organized blind movement, including his post-secondary education, initial struggles to find work as a college professor, teaching career, family life, and research projects. 
  • Leonard A. Robinson - Correspondence, photographs, and documents related to the professional career of Leonard A. Robinson, a blind lawyer and government employee who was involved in the passage of the Randolph-Sheppard Act and the development of Blind Services in the Department of Vocational Rehabilitation for the Federal Government and Washington, D.C. 

Published Materials 

THE BLIND CAT is the online public catalog of our published materials (textual and musical). Established in 2004, the Jacobus tenBroek Library is currently engaged in a large scale acquisitions program (both retrospective and current). The scope of its published materials—largely  in print, but also in talking book, Braille, and digital formats—extends to all facets (except the medical) of blindness and the lives of blind people. We encourage users of THE BLIND CAT to let us know of books or other publications that are within our scope, that we do not yet own.

Other Resources 

The tenBroek Library also holds—and makes available to researchers—extensive collections of archival photographs, sound recordings, and audiovisual material. At this time there is no public catalog or finding aid of this material. We will, however, happily respond to inquiries by mail, phone, or e-mail. 

On-site access 

We welcome walk-in readers, but to maximize the benefit of visiting the tenBroek Library, we urge you to request an appointment, or read our reading room policies for researchers.

Statistics and Facts about Blindness in the United States 

What do we really know about the prevalence of blindness in the U.S. and the educational, health, and employment status of blind people? Find out the latest statistics on the prevalence and demographics of blindness in the US on our statistics page.

The Jernigan Institute Oral History Program 

The tenBroek Library serves as a repository of the history of the organized blind by collecting NFB literature and maintaining the Federation's archives. The Jernigan Institute also recognizes that much of the history of the blind resides in the lived experience of the blind, and we are committed to recording that history.

From time to time Federationists have tapped the memories of their friends and colleagues by conducting interviews. The tenBroek Library is now formalizing this activity through the Jernigan Institute Oral History Program. We are organizing the existing recordings of oral history interviews, and we are encouraging Federationists to create more such recordings. To help get you started we have prepared a Guide to Oral History Interviewing, a release form, and a sample oral history transcript.

Please take a look at these documents, try your hand at oral history, and let us know of your results, including any problems and, of course, any gems you may unearth!

Descriptions and interview logs for many of the recordings in the NFB Oral History Program are now available in the Cane Tip. Access to the recordings is available by request.Please visit the Cane Tip for more details.  

NFB Affiliate Guide for Submitting to the Archives

The NFB Institutional Archives is dedicated to preserving the history of the Federation and the organized blind movement. Without the hard work and passion of Federation leaders at all levels, the NFB would not be the effective national organization that it is today. To ensure the preservation of a complete and accurate historical record which documents the NFB at all levels, the Jacobus tenBroek Library has created an FAQ page for state and division leaders in the Federation. This guide is meant to serve as a resource on how to evaluate, prepare, and transfer the important records generated at the state affiliate and division level. Find the answers to your questions and learn how to contribute to the history of the NFB in this useful guide to affiliate records management.

The First Publication of the Braille Code

In 1829 the twenty-year-old Louis Braille first published his idea of using dots as the basis of a tactile alphabet. Braille, who had been blind from the age of three, had recently finished his schooling at the Institute for Blind Youth in Paris and was earning his living as a part-time teacher and church organist.

The Jernigan Institute was fortunate in being able to borrow a rare copy of Procédé pour Écrire les Paroles, la Musique et le Plain-Chant au Moyen de Points à l'Usage des Aveugles et Disposé pour Eux in time for the celebration of Braille's 200th birthday in 2009. Our staff took photos of the each page of this embossed book, transcribed the French original, and translated the text into English.

Now, for the first time on the Web, we are pleased to present the book that first made true literacy possible for the blind.

Full-text Digital Files

We are in the process of providing links from records in our catalog to full-text digital editions of all items that are either in the public domain, or for which we have permission. Since the Jernigan Institute is an "authorized entity" under the Chafee Amendment, we are able to provide eligible readers with accessible digital files of copyrighted material. Please contact us if you have questions about this program.

We are planning to provide online access to portions of our archive collections. Many NFB publications are already available in full-text.


The Library offers exhibits highlighting technological and personal achievements by the blind. Currently on display:

  • The Architecture of Identity: Celebrating History and a Shared Vision for Peace, Presented by the Institute for Digital Archeology - Explore the key architectural and decorative features of the Monumental Arch of Palmyra, Syria. This tactile exhibition is currently traveling across the United States in parallel with a sister exhibition in the United Kingdom. It represents a bigger project in collaboration with the UK’s Royal National Institute for the Blind, the New York Public Library, and the National Federation of the Blind to develop and deploy 3D printing technology to help to make architectural cultural heritage more accessible to the blind.

  • Blind Driver Challenge Dune Buggy: The first vehicle used in the NFB’s innovative project, the Blind Driver Challenge, which created the first car a blind person could drive independently. Developed in partnership with the Robotics and Mechanisms Laboratory at the Virginia Polytechnic Institute, and driven by NFB President Mark Riccobono on the Daytona International Raceway in 2011, the Blind Driver Challenge created ground-breaking new technology and shattered misconceptions about the capabilities of blind people.
  • Everest Expedition: The tactile exhibit dedicated to the NFB-sponsored Everest Expedition featuring Erik Weihenmayer's 2001 ascent of Mount Everest. The installation was created by tactile artist, Ann Cunningham, and unveiled at the opening of the Jernigan Institute in 2004.
  • From the Earth to the Universe Exhibit: A tactile/visual exhibit on radio astronomy which was presented by NASA to the Jernigan Institute in 2010.
  • Jacobus tenBroek Bas Relief Sculpture: Created by tactile artist Ann Cunningham in 2011, this sculpture pays tribute to the founder of the NFB and our library’s namesake.
  • Jernigan Institute Display: Scale models and tactile floor plans of the Jernigan Institute (available for visual or tactual inspection).
  • Louis Braille Commemorative Silver Dollar: The two coins sent into space on a 2009 shuttle mission. These are proof coins and cannot be inspected tactually, but a copy of the NASA certificate in Braille, to which are affixed two Louis Braille coins, may be touched.
  • Louis Braille Mural: A twenty-five-square-foot tactile mural honoring the Louis Braille bicentennial, the commemorative coin, and the coins’ trip into space.
  • NFB Awards Display: A plaque display honoring the winners of the NFB’s most prestigious and longest running awards: the Newel Perry Award (1955-2016), the Jacobus tenBroek Award (established 1976), and the Kenneth Jernigan Award (established 2011).
  • NFB STEM Displays: Highlighting the many STEM programs that the NFB has undertaken since the Jernigan Institute opened in 2004, the tenBroek Library is home to two strange contraptions: a space capsule and a canoe.
  • Rocket Launch: A replica of the first ever NASA rocket launched by blind students during the first NFB Science Academy in 2004.
  • tenBroek Cane Display: The crooked white cane Jacobus tenBroek used before he was introduced to the (straight) long white cane.

Plans for the Future of the tenBroek Library

Collection Development Policy Statement
Jacobus tenBroek Library Strategic Plan

For More Information

Jacobus tenBroek Library
Jernigan Institute
200 East Wells Street
     at Jernigan Place
Baltimore, MD 21230
Phone: (410) 659-9314
Fax: (410) 685-2340
Email: [email protected]