The literacy needs of children--an integral part of 21st century library services--were not a top priority in the early days of the CNIB Library. However, even early on, the collection contained classics for young readers. Acquisition lists from the late 1920s and the 1930s show titles in Braille and Moon type such as "Biography Stories for Boys," "Older Girls Stories," "Anne of Green Gables," "Anne of Avonlea," "National Velvet," and "Peter Pan."
As well as recreational reading, the Library contained resources for older students. A 1928 letter by Chief Librarian Sherman Swift claimed many students as library patrons, who derived “incalculable benefits.” He wrote, “we have many letters on file wherein it is stated that the courses undertaken could not have been carried through to a successful issue without the help of our catalogue…this branch of our work will steadily increase in importance, for the number of blind students in our institutions of higher learning is constantly increasing. There is at this moment scarcely a university of first class rank in Canada which has not at least one blind student among its undergraduates." Concerns about meeting the needs of students for texts was met in the 1950s with the development of the transcription services.
The publishing work of the Library department also provided benefits to blind students. A 1928 letter from a teacher at the Halifax School for the Blind credited CNIB’s braille magazine "Courier" with helping his students improve their grades in history and English when writing provincial examinations. “I often select from yours and other braille periodicals for my morning talks with our students, and would be greatly at a loss without them,” he wrote.
The literacy needs of very young children were not targeted by the CNIB Library until much later in the 20th century. In 1961 MP John Pallet was asked by a constituent about the lack of books “for very young children with raised lettering or fabric to describe the story." His query to CNIB was answered by Jean Whitelaw, of the Pre-School Department, who wrote "We do not have any illustrated books for small children. We find that every year or so, someone becomes very enthusiastic regarding making books for blind children, and puts tremendous effort into this. Some of them submitted to us have been beautifully done and have been tried out with our pre-school children and with the younger grades at the Ontario School for the Blind, with no success. These flattened illustrations, no matter how cleverly they are done, appear to have no meaning to the children. They have to be told what these flattened pictures represent and so, get very little pleasure from it."
A notable event in child-friendly reading options appeared some years later with the development of “Spinoza,” a cuddly teddy bear with an internal high quality tape deck for playing talking books on tape. (A DAISY player replaced the tape player in more contemporary versions of Spinoza.) CNIB and partner organizations distributed Spinoza bears to hundreds of children.
The launch of the Children’s Discovery Portal in 2003 as part of the CNIB Digital Library showed a new focus on the literacy needs of children with vision loss or blindness. CNIB Library clients up to age 14 could use the Portal to search the Library catalogue, listen to audio books, access e-text books, and place holds. And it offered other ways to have fun and build a sense of community, including online games and polls, homework help, and a chat room. Now these and other services for kids and teens are accessed through the site AltLit.ca.
Programs for children’s literacy continue to evolve. In 1956 a report on summer programs for children showed that parents then, as now, wanted their kids to keep up reading skills during summer holidays. Along with swimming and day camp, parents wanted information about braille and talking books for children. Today, CNIB promotes the opportunity for children with vision loss to maintain their reading skills over the summer break by participating in the national TD Summer Reading Club using books in audio, e-text or braille. Other activities promoting literacy and the love of reading include the annual national braille creative writing contest, and “Readasaurus Kit" with tips and tools to help children from birth to age six with vision loss to develop literacy skills.