September 28, 2012

They read it for the articles …


Photo and caption by Brian Sack

Since 1970, the National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped (NLS) has produced Braille editions of Playboy magazine.

Service was briefly interrupted in December, 1985, after thirteen-term, Ohio congressman Chalmers Wylie (also, a heavily-decorated combat veteran of Patton’s 30th Infantry Division) introduced an amendment reducing funding to the Library of Congress:

I do not think the public should be left with the impression that the Federal Government sanctions the promotion of sex-oriented magazines such as Playboy…. I have asked the Library of Congress to stop using money to reproduce Playboy in braille. They have not stopped using the money for this purpose, and so I am offering this amendment today.

One irony: the periodicals selected for the NLS program had been recommended by a committee that had included the Blinded Veterans Association, which joined the American Library Association and Playboy Enterprises Inc. as plaintiffs in the suit to restore Playboy’s publication in Braille. And, of course, the irony that even a blind man could see:

Pictures and cartoons were not included in the program’s editions due to the difficulty of reproducing them in braille. Playboy was one of the most popular magazines in the program. … Noting that in 1980 Playboy ‘surpassed Good Housekeeping and Ladies Home Journal in circulation …’

In AMERICAN COUNCIL OF THE BLIND v. BOORSTIN, district judge Thomas F. Hogan ordered: “Defendant is directed to take all steps necessary to resume production and distribution by the Library of Congress of braille editions of Playboy Magazine,” noting that “courts have held that Playboy magazine is not obscene under the Supreme Court’s obscenity test,” and:

The Supreme Court has consistently held that under the First Amendment the government may not discriminate against or proscribe constitutionally protected speech based on its content or viewpoint….The Supreme Court emphasizes that “above all else, the First Amendment means that government has no power to restrict expression because of its message, its ideas, its subject matter or its content.”

Just something to keep in mind during Banned Books Week.

Something else I didn’t know: Since 2001, Playboy has been available as Web-Braille, through the NLS.

As a result of new computer technology, braille readers may now access Web-Braille digital braille book files with a computer and a refreshable braille display (electronic device that raises or lowers an array of pins to create a line of braille characters) or a braille embosser.

The redoubtable Internet Archive ( has scanned one part of a braille edition ( Playboy: Braille Edition, February 1992, Part 3 of 4, Volume 39 Number 2), downloadable as a PDF, here.

Or, buy your own on eBay, here.



Dan O'Connor is the Managing Editor of Melville House.