Articles (page 6)

Welcome to the New Site!

photo of an HTML book, laptop and notepad
photo of an HTML book, laptop and notepadWe’re excited to bring you this new and updated website, and even more excited for what is to come as this is just the start. This new site offers a series of significant improvements over our previous site which performed extraordinarily well over many years but was ready for retirement. Through this site we can bring you upgraded security, flexibility, much clearer structure and a broadly modern approach to content. There is much more planned for the site in the coming months, so you’ll want to visit regularly. Many features from the previous site have been integrated and enhanced here, and if you were familiar with a feature which you don’t currently see there is likely to be a new and improved version just around the corner. As with any new site, pushing the button to make it “go live” is just the start. We’re actively monitoring how people access the site and refining the experience for all users. There are a handful of things which we’re working to address so you can expect a series of small changes over the coming weeks as we offer the best possible experience. To help answer some immediate questions we have developed the following series of short questions and answers:

Q. Where is…?

Some things have moved around on this site to provide a richer structure for logical navigation. The Main menu is typically the best entry point to drill down and find the content you’re looking for, and the Search tool is available on every page for a quick route to the content.
  • Technologies, Projects and Services houses our current Software development, Standards, Services and Projects.
  • Information and Help contains all our Guidance and Training materials, Frequently Asked Questions, Archived Projects and our Glossary of Terms.
  • About Us provides details of the DAISY Consortium, our Member organisations, how we function and how you can get involved.

Q. But what about that feature I used to use…?

DAISYPedia – our old wiki site content is now housed in the Training and Guidance area which contains a range of information which we’re adding to regularly. Forums – Our discussion forums are returning in a few months as part of our new area for Members. Tools and Services – You’ll be pleased to hear our new system for discovering reading systems, conversion tools and content services will be added to the site soon.

Q. Are you aware of this problem?

With any significant site change there are bound to be a few minor issues to resolve, so we’re actively monitoring and testing the site to fix things as they arise, but we can only fix the issues we know about. If you have identified a problem which we should be aware of please Contact Us with the details so we can get it resolved.     Read More

30 Years of Accessible Educational Resources at the Open University

photograph of a volunteer reader recording using the Dream system

This year marks the 50th anniversary of the Open University, delivering flexible, innovative teaching and world-leading research in the United Kingdom and in 157 countries worldwide. It’s also the 30th anniversary of the department which creates accessible learning resources, and in the last 30 years that process has evolved significantly.

Audio for students with disabilities was originally recorded and distributed on audio cassettes. Initially, volunteer readers would use cassette machines in their own homes, with all the inherent problems of variable recording conditions and external noise. In 1989, the Open University, in collaboration with the Royal National Institute for the Blind (RNIB), opened the C.J. Smith Audio Recording Centre (on the main OU Campus), which allowed audio to be recorded in a much more controlled environment. Tone indexing was added to aid navigation by chapter, section, sub-section when the cassette was spooled at high speed. However, even with the tones, navigating content on cassettes could be frustrating. A large book might need to be presented as twenty individual cassettes and even when the correct cassette was selected, getting to the required section of the document could be a very time-consuming process.

The Open University started to provide digital audio to students with disabilities in 1998, with a system developed in house called Readout. A software package called Dream allowed audio to be recorded onto a computer. When the recording was completed, a final software package called “Readout” was created which could be despatched to students. The Readout system provided higher quality digital audio recording and allowed students to navigate directly to individual headings or pages in a document. However, the Dream-Readout system had a number of limitations. Recordings could only be created from properly formatted .html files which weren’t always available at that time, consequently it wasn’t possible to create Readout packages of all course material. The system also wasn’t capable of handling images, so the student using Readout would not be able to see pictures, diagrams, graphs etc., that were in the original document. The finished Readout package sent to the student could only be played from a CD-ROM (it couldn’t be copied) and the audio could only be played in the Readout software. Consequently, for all Readout packages, an audio cassette was simultaneously created to allow students who were unable to use the software to still be able to listen to the audio.

photograph of a volunteer reader recording using the Dream system

In 2008, the Audio Recording Centre began to create audio versions of Open University module material in the DAISY format, allowing additional features such as a navigational structure that makes it easy to move or skip to different parts of the document. The DAISY Talking Books offered the flexibility to be played on computers using specialist software packages, on bespoke mobile DAISY Players, or the audio could simply be played in standard .mp3 players.

The DAISY system is highly flexible and continues to allow Open University course materials to be created in a number of ways. The Open University’s first DAISY Talking Books were recorded with volunteers reading from the actual paper document and the headings and page numbers of the document were navigable. The actual text associated with the document was not visible on the computer screen.  This type of “audio only” DAISY Talking Book is now only used for recording examinations, where electronic versions of the text are not available.

The majority of DAISY Talking Books created now have all of the text, pictures, tables etc., associated with the source material displayed on the screen and the volunteer reads the text directly from the screen. Documents in PDF, EPUB or Word format are sourced from the module websites and converted into a correctly formatted HTML file which is used to set up a recording project using Dolphin Publisher software.

In addition to being able to record human readers, the Dolphin Publisher software can also generate synthetic speech. This is an extremely useful option for speeding up the production of DAISY Talking Books. Entire documents can be created using synthetic voice, or “hybrid” versions can be created using a mixture of human voice and synthetic voice. However, synthetic voice can currently only be used for straightforward text. It is very difficult to use with texts that contain scientific terms and notation and is not used at all for anything but the most basic of mathematical texts. While synthetic voice is an extremely useful tool to speed up the production of audio versions of Open University course material, the overwhelming feedback from students is that their preference would always be for a human voice.

Audio was originally delivered to students on audiocassette, which could entail literally dozens of cassettes for a single book being despatched by post. This transitioned to CD-ROMs for, initially the ReadOut system, then DAISY Talking Books. However, only one DAISY Talking Book could be copied onto a CD-ROM. Consequently, at one point up to 60,000 CD-ROMs were being produced and despatched to students each year. Subsequently, the number of discs was reduced to around 6000, when module material was despatched on DVD-ROMs. This allowed an entire module with multiple DAISY Talking Books to be distributed using a single disc.

DAISY Talking Books are still being despatched on CD-ROMs, USB sticks or SD cards for students who are accessing them using specialised DAISY Players, but since 2015 the majority of students have downloaded their DAISY Talking Books directly from their module website. This means that they can have their module material as soon as it becomes available without having to wait for them to be copied to disc and posted to them. It also means that for the first time, DAISY Talking Books are available as a learning aid not only to students with disabilities, but to non-disabled students as well.

In May 2019, 24,000 Open University students currently studying declared a disability, 7,255 students have requested DAISY content in the previous 12 months. DAISY course material is now available for 120 modules, which cover topics being studied by 81% of all Open University students, approximately 100,000 people.

A total of 86 volunteer readers contribute to the recordings, producing 170 hours of reading a month on average, or 2,044 hours per year. Around 800 new DAISY Talking Books are produced each year, around a third of which are produced by human readers and two thirds using synthetic speech.

DAISY Talking Books will continue to be the default audio format for the immediate future, however EPUB formats are now becoming available which will offer the same features as DAISY Talking Books. These EPUB formats will be more “mainstream” meaning that far more material will be accessible than is currently available in the DAISY format and players such as Dolphin’s EasyReader will be capable of playing not just material specially created by the Audio Recording Centre, but will be able to play material that has not gone through special processing and formatting.

This article was adapted from an exhibition held at the Open University to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the Open University Recording Centre. With thanks to Alan Marlow for sharing this technological voyage.

 

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New DAISY Consortium President and Treasurer

Photograph of Jesper Klein handing the symbolic DAISY tie to Maarten Verboom

As defined in the DAISY Consortium Articles of Association, the roles of DAISY President and Treasurer are elected by DAISY Board members every 4 years. The recent DAISY Board Meeting in Geneva marked the time to elect a new President after Jesper Klein has generously served in the role since 2015. Following the election process conducted by Board Members, Maarten Verboom from Dedicon in the Netherlands was elected the new President and Chair of the Board. Because Maarten would be vacating the role of DAISY Treasurer, elections for a new Treasurer also took place in Geneva with Michael Katzmann from the Library of Congress in the United States was elected as Treasurer. Both Maarten and Michael started their new roles at the beginning of July 2019.

Jesper Klein shared the following message:

It has been a true joy to see this organization succeed the way it has in achieving its goals and reaching substantially closer to realizing its vision that people have equal access to information and knowledge regardless of disability. The purpose of the DAISY Consortium represents something fundamentally good and is also easily translated and communicated – which attracts great people. With such wonderful people in the leadership and in the organization as a whole, my four years as president of the DAISY Consortium have with very few exceptions been easy, joyful and a superb learning experience. Accessible reading has gone through such an exciting journey the last decade, and is a wonderful case of digital transformation of a whole industry – happening right now, on global level!

Maarten Verboom, it is with great trust that I will hand over Presidency to you. With your long experience in governance and management, with such a great knowledge and network in the field of accessible reading – I’m certain you’ll take it to the next level.

Thank you, and keep the faith in the best way to read and publish! 

Photograph of Jesper Klein handing the symbolic DAISY tie to Maarten Verboom

Maarten Verboom has extensive experience when it comes to accessibility of information. In his role as managing director of Dedicon, the leading organization in The Netherlands in developing and producing solutions for accessible information, he has been responsible for providing accessible books, newspapers, magazines and images since 2006. Under his supervision innovations have been developed such as ‘karaoke books’ for children who experience difficulties in reading and the possibility of supplying special digital files of educational books for dyslexic learners. But also the development of apps that make the reading of talking books easier. In recent years Dedicon has been working closely together with educational and general publishers in The Netherlands to make accessible publishing possible.

Maarten has expressed his gratitude to the members of the DAISY Consortium who have chosen him as the next president of the Consortium.  With his presidency Verboom plans to take further steps in making information accessible worldwide.

Maarten Verboom shared the following message in a recent Dedicon press release:

Currently, information is often made accessible after the fact in audio, braille, large print, tactile or as DRM protected files. The real solution to create an inclusive society is to publish born accessible books and magazines in which text and images can be read by everyone. This not only requires publishers to adjust their production workflow, but certainly also a change in awareness, knowledge and attitude of government agencies, companies and institutions. Solutions for this are being developed by the members of the DAISY Consortium.

The use of the EPUB3 standard plays a major role in this. The DAISY Consortium has made a very important contribution to this standard. EPUB3 makes it possible to produce publications that are easy to read for everyone, including people with a reading impairment. Creating awareness, implementing accessible standards and supporting publishers worldwide are main themes I want to focus on together with all members of the DAISY Consortium in the forthcoming years.

Thank you once again to Jesper Klein for your incredibly valuable contribution over the last 4 years, and a very warm welcome to Maarten Verboom and Michael Katzmann in their new roles.

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Using Artificial Intelligence for Image Descriptions

Gregorio Pellegrino

Among the various requirements of the specifications for the creation of accessible digital content (WCAG and EPUB Accessibility Guidelines), the alternative description of images is probably the most difficult for publishers as it requires a very specific knowledge and an adequate time to be done with accuracy. Many content producers do not yet have the adequate knowledge (and time) to produce them, thus limiting the level of accessibility of content, especially when they want to create the accessible version of backlist titles, not initially designed to be accessible.

In Fondazione LIA we work side by side with publishers to support them in the production of born accessible publications.

photograph of Gregorio Pellegrino presenting at DPUB Summit

 

Fondazione LIA is an Italian no profit organization focusing its activities on the promotion and support  of accessibility of digital publishing content; it is a quite special one because its members are on the one hand content producers (publishers and AIE, the Italian Publishers Association) and on the other hand,  organization representing the visual impaired readers (UICI, the Italian Blind and Visually Impaired Union);  we are thus able to act as a bridge between the two worlds, trying to reconcile the mainstream publishing production processes with the needs of accessibility.

While collaborating with an educational publisher wishing to create a pilot project of a textbook, we had the opportunity to face this challenging issue in order to create a fully accessible publication of a complex layout book. This is how we began to question how we might simplify and possibly automate the process of describing images.

The pilot project on the automatic generation of alternative descriptions of images through the use of Artificial Intelligence technologies, presented during the Digital Publishing Summit 2019 in Paris falls within the scope of the research and development activities the Foundation carries out, often in collaboration with Italian Universities or Research centers.

As Chief Accessibility Officer of Fondazione LIA, software engineer and for sure, as technology enthusiast, I am very fascinated by the approach to machine learning and artificial intelligence that is increasingly characterizing scientific research, an area I have been trained on and informed in recent years.

Thus I asked myself how to use Artificial Intelligence to automate the alternative description of images in the publishing world, also taking in account that large technological operators (Microsoft, Google, Amazon, Facebook, etc.) have begun to offer services based on artificial neural networks and machine learning to add the automatic description of the photographs published in their platforms. Compared to the use in other industries, we have realized that the complexity of the images in the publishing world is high and, therefore, the normal solutions available on the market are not enough on their own.

Starting from these considerations, we developed a research project working in collaboration with Tommaso Dringoli, a graduate student of University of Siena, to test the use of some artificial intelligence algorithms available on the market in order to automatically generate the alternative description of images in the digital publishing field.

Starting point was the definition of a template for the creation of alternative descriptions of the images structured in two complementary elements:

  1. image category: a taxonomy of categories of images (for example: art, comic, drawing, logo, photograph, etc.) to be used to classify the different kinds of images;
  2. description of the image: representing the description of the figure’s content.

For the first element of the description – the image category – we tried different approaches which led us to the use the Cloud AutoML Vision tool by Google. This service – available online and accessible through a web interface – allows to train a machine learning algorithm from an initial dataset of manually catalogued images.

We trained the algorithm by uploading 1,000 images for each of the 12 different categories (12,000 image dataset): 80% of them were used for training, 10% to optimize the model’s hyperparameters (validation set), the remaining 10% to evaluate the model (test set).

Once trained, it was possible to use the service to upload new images and for each of them it returns an identified category.

For the second element, the description of the image, we evaluated different services available on the market by analyzing the strengths, costs and effectiveness. We realized that at the moment there is not such a strong service capable to create appropriate descriptions for all categories of images we identified, consequently we selected two services:

  • Microsoft Computer Vision for the description of the photographs;
  • Google Cloud Vision API to identify known entities such as logos, flags, works of art, etc. or to use Optical Character Recognition of the images that are text based.

For some categories of images such as comic strips, complex map and signatures we decided not to consider the image description, because the outputs obtained, while testing the service, were too imprecise or random.

Following up the choice of the services, we have developed a command line tool that receives in input a file EPUB, extracts all the images available in it, and automatically creates the full alternative description including the two elements: image category and image description.

Finally, we tested the prototype on some EPUB flies provided by the publishers, obtaining the following results:

  • automatically generated image category: 42% accuracy;
  • automatically generated image description: 50% accuracy.

We think that the accuracy of the image category could be improved by refining the initial training dataset of Cloud AutoML Vision, while the image description requires the evolution of the algorithms currently available on the market.

However, taking into account the speed of this technological development, we plan to do new tests within six months or a year to explore if the accuracy has improved.

One of the most interesting result of the work done in this pilot is that we realized the image recognition algorithms available on the market are optimized for photographs, while they are not able to describe other images (drawings, works of art, logos, etc..).

This is something that is very important to consider as most of the graphic content and of the images available in complex layout books (schoolbooks, academic, scientific and professional publications), are not photographs but drawing or illustrations such as graphics, infographics, complex images, diagrams, scientific schemas, etc.; for these types of images a new generation of algorithms shall be the required.

A crucial point for us is to create more awareness on the relevance of producing correct image description: that’s why, in the context of the activities Fondazione LIA will carry out in the autumn we will organize a meet-up inviting illustrators, graphic designers, publishers and experts of specialist organizations producing accessible publications to discuss this topic and to share their experience within a project called MICA– Milano per la cultura dell’accessibilità (Milan for the culture of accessibility) realized thanks to the collaboration of Fondazione Cariplo.

The use of AI technology to improve the accessibility of images is not currently a viable solution for the publishing industry, so building in description authoring to contracts and workflows is currently the only practical approach. Yet, the potential of this technology is clear, and through the use of improved algorithms, enlarged data sets and perhaps analyzing the image within the context of any surrounding text, the accuracy and quality of automatically generated images has the potential to improve significantly and offers promise for the future.

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Article by Gregorio Pellegrino, Chief Accessibility Officer, LIA

Adapted from a presentation given at the 2019 DPUB Summit which is available to watch on YouTube:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XZpgGNoBQoo

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New Zealand’s Journey Towards Born Accessible Publishing

Photograph of Geraldine Lewis presenting at the workshop

Written by Geraldine Lewis, Library and Studios Manager, Blind Foundation, New Zealand. Thanks to Tom Smith and Joshua Nathan, Blind Foundation, for contributing to this article.

Introduction

For the past 12 months in New Zealand, a core group of ‘Born Accessible’ key leads have been working towards the goal of improving access to e-books for people with a print disability so they can more easily participate in reading, both for pleasure and in formal education. Key leads come from Blind Foundation, Blind Citizens NZ, and Auckland Libraries with support from Blind and Low Vision Education Network NZ, Publishers Association NZ and Copyright New Zealand.

We are undertaking a two-pronged approach of:

  1. Working with publishers towards the goal that all material should be produced in a ‘born accessible’ format, which is currently EPUB3 (supply side). In order to persuade publishers to take action on the right to read, we need to show them firstly that this makes a real difference to people, but also to work with them to ensure that this benefits them.
    Many New Zealand publishers are small businesses and any changes to the publishing ecosystem can potentially affect their revenue. It is important that in this campaign, they are not going to be financially impacted; otherwise, this campaign is never going to progress.
  2. Engaging with Government towards the goal of introducing accessibility standards and requirements that all published educational content be provided in a ‘born accessible format’, currently EPUB3, and ensure that all devices are EPUB3 compatible, to promote accessible and inclusive education for all (demand side).

Publishers Workshop

On 26 June, we held a Publishers Workshop in Auckland to introduce and outline our campaign to them. There were over 20 attendees, mainly from the publishing industry but also a few authors. As well as this a few more attendees joined remotely over Zoom video conferencing from other parts of the country.

We had five speakers:

Geraldine Lewis, Library and Studios Manager at the Blind Foundation

I spoke about the worldwide picture; outlining the work other countries are doing in this area. In particular, I outlined:

  • In both Europe and USA there are now legal requirements to produce published content in Born Accessible formats and that in USA there has been a series of court cases taken against education establishments for not providing these formats.
  • In May, the Australian Publishers Association launched two publications ‘Making Content Accessible’ and ‘Inclusive Publishing in Australia’ as part of the Australian publishing initiative.
  • The many international organisations already working with EPUB3.
  • New Zealand’s commitment to the UN Convention on the rights of persons with disabilities.
  • The work we have been doing with New Zealand Government to date.

We recently had a meeting with Hon Tracey Martin: Minister for Children and Associate Minister of Education, and with Hon Minister Sepuloni: Minister for Disabilities.

I outlined exactly what we are asking for from Government. We have asked Minister Martin to make all New Zealand digital content available to children in schools in a ‘Born Accessible’ format, namely EPUB3. We also requested that devices required by these students to read digital files such as braille readers, support this content.

  • Lastly, I highlighted the work of the DAISY Consortium in this area.

Photograph of Geraldine Lewis presenting at the workshop

Tom Smith, Client Training and Engagement Advisor, Blind Foundation

Tom’s presentation covered an introduction to creating an accessible EPUB3 file using Adobe InDesign. In the session, he covered fonts, images, layout, tables and headings.

While some subjects are relevant to any publishing or document creation software, Adobe have included some unique accessibility features in InDesign. For example, using image XMP data for alternate text, creating an automated table of contents and export tagging paragraph styles.

To finish off, Tom demonstrated the Ace by DAISY accessibility checking tool as a plugin for Sigil, to show its effectiveness in helping fix accessibility issues with EPUB files.

He said it was extremely important to reassure publishers that this was the start of a conversation that incorporates them.

Joshua Nathan, Audio Post-production Technician, Blind Foundation

The purpose of Joshua’s presentation was to provide publishers and the Publishers Association NZ with an end user perspective as to why receiving EPUB3 formatted material would be beneficial to people with print disabilities.

Accessible EPUB3 publications enable users to access the content in a timely fashion, and in the method they need (with eyes, ears or fingers). The additional functionality associated with an EPUB3 title would also be welcomed in most academic circles.

Educational content would benefit most from EPUB3 as it facilitates a more user-focused experience.

Content that is heavily technical (such as graphs, schematics, diagrams and technical documentation) would be readily accessible which is important for academic pursuit in technical fields. The content would also be more engaging for users with print disabilities, as they would not have to go to extra lengths to access the material.

Such persons currently have to use unconventional methods, as they may need the information right ‘there and then’.

To finish off, Joshua emphasized that he thought EPUB3 Audio will see little change unless a universal standard is decided upon regarding audio file format.

Speakers from the publishing industry

We then heard from three speakers from the Publishing and Design Industry. When I was organising this meeting with the Publishers Association NZ and Copyright NZ, they had requested this as publishers would want to hear from members of their industry currently working with EPUB.

The three speakers from the publishing and design industry were:

  • Craig Wilson, Chief Technology Officer, Booktrack. Craig gave an overview of how EPUB3 is working for publishers internationally.
  • Kevin Chapman, Publisher, Upstart Press. Kevin produces his content in EPUB3.
  • Craig Violich, Designer, CVD Ltd who contracts to Upstart Press.

Craig, Kevin and Craig discussed issues and benefits of EPUB3 production.

A major concern raised was the fear that sending out digital files will increase illegal copying of their work, especially at a time when changes to the NZ Copyright Act are currently before Parliament. They are worried that the latter will make it easier for unauthorised users to copy their work and ultimately reduce publisher’s revenue. The other point of concern was that it would be difficult to protect these documents once they were out in the public domain.

Recently at the Select Committee reading of the amendment to the NZ Copyright Act, the ‘commercial availability’ test was removed. Kevin Chapman said that the removal of commercial availability along with the massive increase of uncontrolled authorised entities able to convert books looked like making it worse for publishers.  He said commercial availability alone would not be as much of a concern if just the Blind Foundation was the organisation they were dealing with.

It was acknowledged by all that, the worldwide publishing climate is heading towards inclusive publishing and that if publishers want to be involved in the international market then it is highly beneficial for them to adopt inclusive publishing practices.

Discussion

The final part of the workshop was a discussion from the floor. The issues raised by the Craig Wilson, Craig Violich and Kevin Chapman above were reiterated by the attendees.

In addition, publishers spoke about the technical difficulty of creating EPUB3 files.

Tom and Geraldine responded saying:

For this to work, we need Government support. If Government agreed that schools acquired accessible digital publications directly from publishers or authorised entities in the first instance then publishers would be paid to create this work. This would also mean schools would have ‘born accessible’ material from the start, eliminating the need for it to be made accessible later.

‘Born accessible’ publishing is actually a solution to their concern of mass illegal copying of their publications, because if it were created in this format from the beginning then there is no need to copy it to make it accessible and the Blind Foundation is there to work with New Zealand publishers in the creation of EPUB3.

We agreed to start a monthly newsletter that would go out to publishers updating them on work that is underway both here and internationally in this area.

The Publishers Association NZ reiterated their support for born accessible publishing. They said they would like a similar workshop to be held in another main centre in the near future.

Conclusion

We still have a long way to go in this campaign. We have to not only get the relevant MP’s support but also concrete plans in place for how to make this a reality in schools and educational establishments.

We also have to support publishers in their journeys to creating their material in accessible formats.

However, it was positive to see that despite the issues and concerns raised there was a willingness on behalf of publishers to get behind this campaign. It was heartening to see that there is the desire to change for the greater good and to have their support, because without it this change will not happen.

Creating a framework to ensure born accessible publications are available for the people who need them throughout New Zealand will take time, but having taken the first steps in this journey we are optimistic that our goal is achievable and will ultimately prove to be beneficial to everyone involved.

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The Role of Public Libraries in a World of Digital Reading

Photo of books shelves at a library

I’m looking out at the world from Sweden, a 10 million country in the wealthy north Europe, where ebook and audio book retail has had an increase of 50 % of sales per year 2015-2018. The Swedes’ digital book consumption has now reached similar levels as the early adopter markets, USA and UK, where digital reading for a while now has represented 30-60 % of all book consumption, depending on which metric you prefer.

Photo of books shelves at a library

In many markets monthly subscription (rental) is a growing model for trade books – meaning that the consumer pays 20 EUR or so for an “all you can eat” offer. This model first became dominant in music and video services like Spotify and Netflix, and is now spreading to other media.

At the same time as retail of digital books has grown rapidly in my country, the digital ebook and audio book services provided by public libraries haven’t been able to keep up. It seems this is true also in many other markets.

Charts showing drastic increase in digital book sales in Sweden 2014-2017, with no significant change in physical book sales or loans over the same period.
Are we headed for a point where public libraries become irrelevant as providers of books?

I think we need to look at the core purposes of libraries to answer this question:

A core purpose of public libraries is to support reading and create equal conditions for access to information, reading materials. This is to help people learn, work, conduct research on various levels and to enjoy stories told by masters of the written word. The activity of reading helps building cultural identity and gives strength to citizens of the democratic society – dictators don’t like public libraries. Therefore, lending out books in a way that is relevant to people is an important tool for public libraries to fulfill their purpose. Slipping out of digital reading therefore seems risky.

Libraries have prioritized target groups. These are all relevant in the conversation about digital books and library services to promote reading:

  • Children and young people. This group is increasingly online on a daily basis, but there are signs that reading skills and book reading habits decline in some places. Book reading is under heavy competition from other digital sources of entertainment such as games and video. Can we make reading great again?
  • People with disabilities – For this group who are traditionally served by specialized libraries run by the blindness movement, digital availability and accessibility of content and services in the mainstream is a game changer. If that is true for retail, it should also be true for public library services.
  • Immigrants, refugees and Minorities – Often low resourced people and in risk of marginalization. Limited access to books in a first language and weak reading traditions creates an especially challenging mix. Access to physical collections in libraries depends on geographic location and the right to first language reading is hard to live up to using local council run physical libraries.
  • Socio-economically challenged – Investing in digital books is low priority for people who struggle to make ends meet. For this group free to use public library services are evidently important.

Lending digital books is not like physical and libraries are now regarded as retail channels by publishers. The copyright legislation makes conditions around digital books different from those of physical books – and in reality most library lending of popular fiction is based on libraries renting books from commercial aggregator companies rather than buying and owning copies for lending. The shift of model from owning copies to renting has waved the power balance. In the digital domain the publishing companies exercise much more control of what ends up in libraries. If a publisher sense that library lending is not good for business, they can easily remove their books from the library’s digital book shelves by for instance rising the price per loan above a pain level, public libraries can thereby not afford high service levels on best seller titles. Since content is king, the attraction power of the library offer in terms of content may thereby have paled a bit in comparison to what was possible with physical books.

On the other hand libraries can now – like online retail – be open 24-7, with a free to use service for everyone with a device and a library card. There seems to be very little evidence that library lending reduces commercial sales, but this is a much debated topic. Publishing companies have tried out embargos against library lending of important titles to test what the impact is, but without clear results it seems.

“There is a lack of appreciation of the great value that authors, agents and publishers receive by having their ebooks, digital audio books, and books available for discovery and potential use in public libraries” – Overdrive CEO Steve Potash Library Journal Sept 06, 2018

Public library collections are about breadth, depth and memory. Big city libraries or consortias of many small libraries have millions of unique physical titles, with great coverage of the backlist and out of retail books. They typically have substantial collections of books in different languages. The lack of top 100 best sellers in public libraries doesn’t have to be a great problem. One strength of libraries is their active curation and ability to provide many alternative titles, possibly lift titles that have cooled down in retail.

During research work conducted in 2018 I benchmarked some international examples of digital library services that support reading and serve ebooks and audio books to large populations. What I found was truly inspiring to me.

The three most successful major services I could find were Denmarks eReolen, Onlinebibliotheek.nl covering the Netherlands and New York public library’s SimplyE. All three serve millions of people, use library owned infrastructure and develop their service using small multifunctional teams with user orientation and open source development in their DNA. Most successful is eReolen Denmark. Astonishing 6% of Denmarks population have checked out a book through them during the past 12 months.

eReolen, Onlinebibliotheek and SimplyE seem to have come far in reinventing what a digital public library can be – and have found a position where they can co-exist alongside digital publishing rather than fighting them. The scale that they have, serving whole nations or a large city as in NYPL’s case, enables them to approach negotiations with content providers with their head held high.

To scale up public libraries will in many instances require political awareness and leadership,  since public libraries are often small local independent actors with no nation-wide governance. It sounds boring, but my major conclusion is that organization of public libraries or rather the lack thereof is the core problem and where it typically fails.

So why do I think innovative public library services are so important? Well, for one, universally designed library services have a great potential to also be inclusive and welcoming to people with disabilities. In the long run, copyright exception based services such as the classic “library for the blind” have the potential to be supported or even replaced by inclusive mainstream retail and library services, in the process opening up a much more diverse range of content to an audience who have historically faced limited reading options.


Many thanks to Jesper Klein for this article which is based on his presentation “Marrakesh treaty in action” at Oodi library Helsinki Finland March 2019

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Update from the CSUN Assistive Technology Conference 2019

CSUN Conference Logo

CSUN Assistive Technology Conference Logo

The CSUN Assistive Technology conference is said to be the largest annual conference on technology and accessibility. As usual the event was packed with informative sessions, interesting exhibits and the opportunity to meet with experts and collaborators from around the world. George Kerscher and Richard Orme were in attendance to represent the DAISY Consortium. It was also wonderful to see many DAISY members and friends participating in the conference.

The conference programme is complex, with many sessions happening at any time. As we have for many years, DAISY partnered with the organisers to produce the conference materials in DAISY, HTML and EPUB formats. These were available on the conference and DAISY websites, through the Dolphin Easyreader app and via the Redshelf platform. In particular the EPUB version was a great demonstration of the power of accessible, standards-based information publishing. It was very convenient to navigate the programme, to add bookmarks and notes, and to choose from mainstream and specialist apps and devices.

Many DAISY Friends were demonstrating their latest products in the exhibit hall and conference sessions. Several companies were showing their products with EPUB 3 support, including Humanware with the Braillenote Touch, Vinvision with the E10 audio player and Dolphin with their Easyreader apps. The developers of popular dyslexia software apps Texthelp and Kurzweil were also at the conference, and we had constructive discussions about further improving their support for EPUB.

Born accessible publications has been a growing theme in the conference programme over recent years, and several academic publishers attended to present, exhibit and meet with delegates. In one session PearsonMcGraw-Hill Education and Macmillan Learning described the accessibility initiatives of major academic publishers. In addition to digital textbooks, we met with Atypon and Mediawire to learn how they are bringing accessible EPUB to their publication services.

CELA and Bookshare presented on their collaboration to bringing a fully accessible public library catalogue experience to Canadians with print disabilities. And it was standing room only at our session “EPUB 101: An Essential Briefing for All Higher Education Professionals”. The progress of inclusive publishing in US higher education is wonderful to demonstrate, and the positive impact on students with reading disabilities impressive. We have made the EPUB 101 slides and associated resources are available to download. We also ran session reviewing the production of EPUB from popular word processors. We look forward to sharing news on this topic soon.

Amazon, Google and Microsoft all had a major presence at CSUN. Many DAISY library patrons are choosing to access services through these companies’ products and George and Richard met with their accessibility leaders in each organization to discuss developments in accessible publishing and reading.

Whilst many challenges still remain (we participated in several discussion on maths and chemistry), one session on Friday demonstrated how far we have come, when a blind author explained how he had independently written and published a book that he was now able to read through his voice controlled smart speaker. What will the next 12 months bring? Next year’s delegates will find out between March 9 to March 13, 2020. The Call for Papers opens on September 12.

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European Directive to Improve the Accessibility of Mainstream Ebooks

Flag of the European Union

New legislation in the EU which includes accessibility requirements for both reading systems and content, could have a positive and lasting impact on practices around the world. The following article from Fondazione LIA takes a closer look at the new European Directive.


Flag of the European Union
On March 13 2019, the European Parliament approved the so called European Accessibility Act, an EU Directive aimed at improving the market for accessible products and services,  removing barriers in the Member States through legislations with a range of accessibility requirements, bringing benefits to persons with disabilities and elderly people throughout the EU and with potential for global benefits.

The Directive was created to increase the availability of accessible products and services in the EU market, and to improve the accessibility of information.

It provides a definition of persons with disabilities in line with the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, adopted on 13 December 2006 (UN CRPD), to which the Union has been a Party since 21 January 2011 and which all Member States have ratified. As stated by UN CRPD, the Directive considers that persons with disabilities “include those who have long-term physical, mental, intellectual or sensory impairments which in interaction with various barriers may hinder their full and effective participation in society on an equal basis with others”. It promotes full and effective equal participation by improving access to mainstream products and services that, through their initial design or subsequent adaptation, address the particular needs of persons with disabilities.

The Directive applies to many products and services such as consumer general purpose computer hardware systems and operating systems for those hardware systems, self-service terminals (ie. payment or ticketing terminals), consumer banking services, but also e-books and dedicated reading software. Due the fact that e-books are considered a service, the concept of a service provider now includes publishers and all the other economic operators involved in their distribution.

The Directive requires publishers to produce their digital publications in an accessible format, and also requires the entire supply (retailers, e-commerce sites, hardware and software reading solutions, online platforms, DRM solutions, etc.) chain to make content available to users through accessible services.

The technical accessibility requirements are currently described at high level in the legislation, but the Commission shall demand EU standardization bodies to define EU harmonized standards for accessibility. Considering these standard should be, as stated in the Directive, market-driven. The standard organizations managing the publishing standards, like W3C and the DAISY Consortium along with other organizations working in the field of accessibility in the publishing industry, like Fondazione LIA and EDRLab, are now working in collaboration to ensure that the standards currently used in the sector may also become those adopted by the Directive.

In the legislation there are some exceptions, in particular for smaller organizations (microenterprises of less than 10 staff and a turnover or balance sheet of less than €2M) when producing an accessible version causes a disproportionate burden, or when a fundamental alteration of the content of the product would be required. “Market Surveillance Authorities” will be responsible for checking compliance of product and services to the requirements of the Directive. Fondazione LIA believes that, in some cases, publishers may find a solution to produce the accessible versions working in collaboration with the Authorized entities through the Marrakech Treaty. The European Accessibility Act also requires that detailed information on the accessibility of products and services are provided to end users in the distribution channels, allowing users with specific reading requirements to make informed purchasing decision. To achieve these results, it will be therefore necessary to adopt the available international standards for accessibility (from formats to metadata) and consistenty provide visibility to the accessibility related information on the retailers and publishers’ web sites. It will also be crucial to make information of commercially accessible titles available using the metadata standard like Schema.org and ONIX that are designed to record information on the accessibility features of a digital publication. Furthermore, while using search engines, the possibility for a print impaired user of retrieving accessible titles will become fundamental.

The new Directive should be implemented by EU Member States in their national legislation within three years from the approval (by March 2022). Once implemented, it will apply to new products and services that come on the market six years after the approval of the Directive (March 2025). It will be supplemented by harmonized European technical standards. Where harmonized standards are not yet developed, the Directive gives the Commission powers to adopt implementing acts establishing technical specifications to achieve the same aim.

More information on how the entire value chain may find solutions to implement the directive are available in the paper “E-books for all – Towards an accessible digital publishing ecosystem”, published by Fondazione LIA.

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Accessible Publishing Lessons from an Ironman

Photo of Diane and Kory at the Ironman finish line

Training for any sporting endeavour takes dedication, commitment—and most of all—motivation. Contrary to popular opinion, I do not roll out of bed in the morning, leap to my feet and run downstairs to the treadmill with a smile on my face yelling, “Woot, woot!”Photo of Diane and Kory at the Ironman finish line

In reality, it’s more like dragging myself out of bed and trying to figure out if I want to expend the energy to pry my eyes open (I mean, it isn’t like I’m using them). I am 53 years old and totally blind. I am also an Ironman.

You might be asking yourself what my experience of becoming an Ironman has to do with accessible publishing. Well there are more than a few similarities to the journey.

In 2009 I began challenging myself. I began with a skydive and then moved on in 2010 to driving a race car and finally, in 2011, I rappelled down the outside of a 29 storey building. In 2012 I was lost for what I could do next when a classmate from university sent me an article about a blind woman competing in triathlon events.

“Diane, you could do that,” said my friend, Cheryl.

Given that I was pretty much a couch potato, 47 and blind, I thought she had lost her mind. But, not one to turn down a challenge, I decided to get fit. Six months later I completed my first Olympic distance triathlon (1500 m swim, 40 km bike, and 10 km run). I crossed the finish line second to last but I crossed it upright and, for me, that was success!

“I bet you could do a half Ironman,” said Cheryl (1.9 km swim, 90 km bike ride and 21.1 km run).

I told her that she was crazy and that I didn’t want to talk to her for at least a month. She took me to my word and a month later we were signing up for a half iron distance.

Since then I have completed several Olympic distances and four half iron distances. In August of 2015, I attempted my first full Ironman (4km swim, 180km bike, and 42km run, all to be completed within 17 hours).

The day of the race was beautiful and sunny. I felt calm and ready to go the distance. The swim went well, and the first 90 km of the bike phase felt wonderful. The temperature rose to 40 degrees Celsius and I began to feel the heat.

I managed to reach kilometre 21 of the run when heatstroke took over and I decided that my health was more important than the finish line. I was disappointed but knew that I made the right decision. I told the organizers of the race that I would be back in two years to try again.

Two years later there I was standing at the start line of Ironman Mont Tremblant 2017 (in Quebec Province, Canada). I was wondering if maybe I had lost my mind when I lost my sight—I mean what was I thinking! None the less, the gun went off and the fireworks exploded. Before I knew it, there I was running across the beach and diving into the water for just one more shot at becoming an Ironman.

The day was beautiful, and my guide Kory and I felt wonderful. It was a long, but fun filled day and when we crossed the finish line I was exhausted and exhilarated all at the same time.

In some ways I still can’t believe that I managed this monumental achievement, but it has definitely taught me that anything is possible.

For those new to the topic, adopting accessible publishing can also seem quite daunting, for large, mainstream publishers as well as smaller concerns where a change to established business practices and adaptations to existing workflows can be necessary. In discussion with publishers around the world DAISY Members have heard feedback that what initially appears to be a path strewn with many barriers, over time becomes an organizational benefit with overwhelming positives.

It is somewhat rare that we perfect something of significance on the first attempt, and the same is true with inclusive publishing. Many have said that accessibility is a journey and not a destination, so we might reasonably expect a few bumps along the way. But, if we learn from those experiences and adjust our processes accordingly, it could still be considered a success. A small step in the right direction will still have an impact so it’s important not to give up and to keep motivated and focused.

So like athletic challenges, what may appear difficult at the start, can, with training, dedication and commitment be achievable. An increasing number of publishers are working towards this fantastic achievement every year.


Thanks to Diane Bergeron, a Vice-President at CNIB and member of the DAISY Consortium Board for contributing this article.

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