or, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to Fear and Loathing at a Public Library Reference Desk



Reference Question of the Week – 6/21/15

   June 27th, 2015

there was a little girl coverThis question actually happened in February - I had forgotten about it, but I think it's still interesting:

A patron called in and asked for the large print edition of There Was a Little Girl: The Real Story of My Mother and Me. We didn't have that in our catalog, so I checked Amazon, which said it was being published on March 11th (over a month away at the time).

I told him we'd be happy to order the large print edition for him, but then he asked something surprising:

Patron: I've noticed that different publishers have different size large print, and sometimes it's not that much larger than regular print. If it's not going to be much bigger than regular print, then I don't want to wait a whole moth for it. Can you see how big the type will be in that book?

Uhh... that is something I've never been asked before. I have noticed over the years that some "large print" books definitely have larger type than others, but never thought much about it. And certainly have never considered trying to find out how large the print will be before a book is published.

However, being Amazon, they do have the "Look Inside" feature - unfortunately in this case, a message said, "This view is of the Kindle book. A preview of the print book (Hardcover edition) is currently not available."

Well, since size varies by publisher, I offered to go to our large print room and grab some other books also published by Thorndike Press Large Print, and try to describe to him how large the type was. Or pull those as well as a book he'd read recently and relate the size of the two, but the patron felt it wasn't worth it. He said to put him on hold for the regular print copy, and when it came in if it was too small, he'd call back.

He never did, at least not to me, so hopefully he enjoyed the regular print edition comfortably.

After we hung up, I looked a little further and did find some large print publishing standards listed conveniently on Wikipedia:

The National Association for Visually Handicapped (NAVH) provides the NAVH Seal of Approval to commercial publishers for books that meet their large print standards.[3] (Lighthouse International acquired NAVH in 2010).[4]

The standards[5] call for:

  • Maximum limits on size, thickness, and weight
  • Minimum limits on margins
  • Type size at least 16 point, preferably 18 point
  • Sans serif or modified serif font recommended
  • Adequate letter and word spacing
  • Flexible binding recommended to allow open book to lie flat

It's remarkable that I've worked in libraries for almost 15 years now and don't think I've ever seen these standards. I suppose I always knew there must be some, but never went beyond that. And I know the publishers want a balance between the comfort of low-vision readers and keeping printing costs low, but even 16pt seems a little small to me.

However, I suppose this is the single greatest advantage of ereaders - sure they can hold a lot of books, but being able to adjust the type size depending on your reading conditions is something print book just can't do. Large Print audiobooks, though, are a different story.




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7 Responses to “Reference Question of the Week – 6/21/15”

  1. Billy Larlad Says:

    Thanks for this post! I didn’t know about large print standards either.

  2. JoshR Says:

    A large print audiobook is just one where the person reading it is semi-shouting everything slowly and distinctly, just like you end up doing when you have a very hard of hearing patron at the desk. 🙂

  3. Brian Herzog Says:

    @Billy: You are welcome – I had a feeling more people than just me would be interested in that.

    @JoshR: Ha – my friend Lichen would cite that as another great resource for an inside-a-bar library service desk. After all, you have to go where the patrons are.

  4. Angi Says:

    This isn’t much help if you don’t have the book in hand, but large print books will typically list the font size and font name on the copyright page (right above the Library of Congress cataloging information).

  5. Brian Herzog Says:

    @Angi: I had noticed font information occasionally, but didn’t realize it was consistently included. That is helpful, to get an idea what people are comfortable with. Thanks!

  6. Debbie H. Says:

    Thanks for the information! It makes sense that there would be standards but I never thought about it. I just figured large print was large print.

  7. Brian Herzog Says:

    @Debbie: you are welcome. And finding out randomly about things like this always makes me wonder how many other unknown unknowns are out there. A lot, I hope.