Blind Bargains

Quick Take: Open Library Brings More Accessible Books to the Blind and Print-Disabled

We read with excitement of a new service from which aims to offer accessible DAISY titles to the blind, low-vision, and print-disabled communities. While services like Bookshare have provided a library of thousands of titles in electronic format for the past decade, the new offering has the potential to put the necessity for accessible books in the forefront of many who may not have realized the need previously. While the site has potential, it will need to expand greatly to become relevant. Luckily, a donation drive is helping to jumpstart the collection.

The goal of bridging the accessible book divide is lofty, but one which may have more hope than ever before with the announcement and launch of several new services in the past year. Apple's iPad offers fully-accessible titles for those willing to spend at least $500 on a hardware device with built-in speech. Blio has promised hundreds of thousands of titles as well, but the release date continues to be pushed back. But Open Library is here now and free to those with an NLS-capable device, or at least it is in theory.

First, let's be up-front about the collection. Most of the currently-included DAISY titles are public domain books which can be found for free from dozens of other sources. Naturally, this is a good way to built up your number of books in the collection, but doesn't help those who are looking for current works. For instance, a search for New Moon, the second title in Stephenie Meyer's Twilight series, returned a book listing but no accessible DAISY version. One can check a box to search for only titles with protected DAISY versions, though this setting is not always retained when performing additional searches.

Open Library has partnered with the National Library Service to utilize their NLS BARD service for certification of its users. So instead of needing to obtain cipro, you can download and use the protected DAISY titles on the site if you are an NLS BARD member. This certainly helps cut down on administrative costs and will allow Open Library to concentrate on books. With funding from many sources, they have been able to launch a book drive to collect 10,000 titles to be scanned. According to the donation request page, the first 10,000 books received will be scanned and added to the collection.

There are still some hurdles to climb, however, to make Open Library a truly useful service. First, the collection is quite lacking in comparison with Bookshare, NLS, or RFB&D. This initial book drive will help, but with Bookshare adding new titles at a rate of over 1,000 a month now, Open Library has a long way to go. Also, the format for the books isn't immediately playable on all of the accessible DAISY players as of yet. We're unsure if this is the fault of Open Library or the player manufacturers, but some cooperation will be required to ensure compatibility. Furthermore, many of the searches return duplicate or irrelevant listings, and some improvements could be made in this area to make it easier to find the desired titles.

That being said, any effort which creates more accessible books should be commended, and a new source for accessible materials is a welcome addition for those who require electronic books for business or pleasure. This is truly shaping up to be the year of the eBook, and Open Library is now a part of the revolution.


Category: Articles
Displaying 2 comments.
jcast Friday, 14-May-2010 10:42 AM ET:

A quick way to get right to the accessible books area (gotten from some e-mail publication) is: Hope this helps.

fastfinge Monday, 17-May-2010 11:11 AM ET:

Unfortunately, using NLS means it will never become an international service. What with bookshare still failing to get international distribution for over eighty percent of the collection, the ibooks app only launching in a small number of countries, and the difficulties experienced by organizations like the CNIB, this could more accurately be described as the year of the American Ebook. While we heard a good deal about the signing of international copyright treaties to allow for international exchange of accessible books, they haven't helped in the slightest. In fact, things have gotten significantly worse for international readers over the past year.

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J.J. Meddaugh is an experienced technology writer and computer enthusiast. He is a graduate of Western Michigan University with a major in telecommunications management and a minor in business. When not writing for Blind Bargains, he enjoys travel, playing the keyboard, and meeting new people.

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