by Mark Layman
|NLS patron Oral Miller gets a lesson in using BARD from Rose Asuquo in the Center for Accessibility at the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library in downtown Washington, D.C.|
NLS quietly marked a major milestone this fall: the tenth anniversary of the first pilot test of its Braille and Audio Reading Download (BARD) service.
Just past noon on Friday, October 13, 2006, 100 tech-savvy testers received user IDs and passwords via email so they could log on to what was then called simply the NLS Download. They could choose from among 1,200 books and ten magazines. “I feel as though I am in a library for the first time in my life,” one said.
A decade later, more than 80,000 braille and talking books and 13,000 magazine issues are available on BARD, the site has nearly 50,000 active users, and BARD Mobile apps are available for iOS, Android, and Kindle Fire devices.
One of those first testers was the director of the Iowa Library for the Blind and Physically Handicapped, Karen Keninger—now the director of NLS. “There was such a pent-up demand for a digital download service, and it was clear from the first day that this was a giant leap ahead for the program,” Keninger recalled. “It was so exciting to be able to select and download a book whenever you wanted one.”
By 2006, NLS had begun making digital master recordings of books, but it was not yet producing books on flash-memory cartridges or the machines needed to play them. So the agency provided the testers with Victor Reader Classics that had been modified to play books downloaded from BARD. Testers were required to complete a ten-question survey for each book they read, rating the ease of downloading, the usefulness of the navigation, and the audio quality, among other things.
Only three months after the pilot began, the site had logged more than 1,900 downloads. “It didn’t take us long to know we were on the right track,” said Neil Bernstein, NLS research and development officer.
The driving forces behind the site’s design were simplicity, usability, and accessibility. During that first year, upgrades were made to improve download speed and to offer patrons technical support and the option to set personal preferences. The pilot also expanded to include any patron with a compatible digital book player, an email address, and a high-speed network.
In the fall of 2007, the site was officially named BARD. An announcement to network libraries explained that “the name is both unique and practical for describing the current and future state of the download project. Bards were scholars and musicians who transmitted a variety of verbal wisdom and knowledge and were renowned for being storehouses of the recorded wealth of their respective cultures and people.”
After the rollout of the NLS digital talking-book machine, the permanent BARD site launched on April 30, 2009.
More improvements are on the way for BARD. BARD Express—software that makes it easier for users to download and track their books and magazines using a Windows PC—was introduced in December. NLS is enhancing the BARD search system and adding a feature to alert readers when new books in popular series are added to the collection. And behind the scenes, BARD will be moving to the cloud, which will result in faster and more reliable service to patrons.
“Improvements like these will help us keep meeting our readers’ expectations for an easy, reliable, and accessible download service,” Bernstein said.
BARD Then and Now
100 Patrons who participated in the pilot test
1,200 Talking book titles available
10 Audio magazine issues available
48,977 Active patron BARD accounts
82,350 Braille and talking book titles available
13,640 Braille and audio magazine issues available
Key dates in BARD’s history
October 13, 2006 100 registered users begin the NLS Download pilot test
September 2007 Open pilot begins for any patrons with a compatible player
October 4, 2007 Site is officially named BARD, the Braille and Audio Reading Download
April 30, 2009 Full BARD site launches after the introduction of the digital talking-book machine
November 2012 Web-Braille merges with BARD
September 19, 2013 BARD Mobile app for iOS devices launches
April 2014 Washington Talking Book & Braille Library in Seattle posts first network-produced talking book to BARD (The Alpine Journey by Cynthia Ellis)
June 10, 2015 BARD Mobile app for Android devices launches
by Claire Rojstaczer
The Illinois State Library Talking Book and Braille Service has created a listserv to give network library staff involved with in-house recording studios a chance to share talking-book production tips.
Early discussions on the list, which can be joined at http://islemail.org/mailman/listinfo/studiotalk, have ranged from the technical details of analog-to-digital conversion to discussions about a local television program’s coverage of the Indiana Talking Book & Braille Library’s recording studio. To date, 58 individuals from 21 states have joined the listserv.
“Over the years that I’ve visited libraries, I’ve noted a wide diversity of knowledge and experience within the network,” said NLS audiobook production specialist Phillip Carbo. “There’s a lot of information that could be shared. I hope new studio directors and volunteer coordinators in particular aren’t afraid to ask questions.”
Nearly 40 NLS network libraries now have recording studios. Interest in local recording has been spurred by advances in audio recording technology and the NLS decision to accept locally produced materials for distribution via the Braille and Audio Reading Download (BARD) service.
NLS staff have helped spread best practices in audiobook recording. For several years Carbo has taught workshops on using the Hindenburg Audio Book Creator, a software package for creating digital talking books. While no in-person workshops are planned for 2017, his YouTube video “How to Make a Digital Talking Book,” available at https://youtu.be/gGepwdBNVuQ, offers step-by-step instructions.
For those looking for artistic rather than technological advice, NLS Studio director Celeste Lawson has produced “The Art of Audiobook Narration,” available on YouTube at https://youtu.be/xxbXlwsMj1s, and the NLS Studio section continues to maintain its online pronunciation guides Say How? and The ABC Book.
by Mark Schwartz
|Patrons of the Iowa Library for the Blind and Iowa Library for the Blind and Physically Handicapped director Sarah Willeford said the new model has benefited both patrons and library staff.|
Physically Handicapped now access more books digitally and enjoy more personal time with staff since the launch of two software programs that essentially create a “books on demand” model.
“There are many benefits of this new system,” said Richard Smith, NLS Network Division chief. “It makes all the titles in the collection available,” and it also allows new titles to be available sooner.
“Patrons do not have to wait for a physical copy of a new or popular title to become available,” library director Sarah Willeford said. “Patrons can place a hold on books, add them to their request list, or choose them through their profile.” The titles are then added to their book list when they are ready for download. Iowa is no longer adding physical copies of digital books to its collection through copy allotment and has begun to return physical copies of digital books to NLS, she said.
Working in conjunction with Iowa’s existing circulation system, the two new software programs download and store books for patrons. “One program uses a patron’s requests and profile to create a book list to be placed onto the cartridge for the patron,” said Willeford. The second program takes the books on the list and automatically downloads them onto the cartridge. “We use ‘toasters’ that download up to five cartridges, so we are able to do multiple downloads at a time,” Willeford said.
“Innovation and creative thinking are key to the success of any library service,” Smith said. “Iowa’s willingness and ability to think ‘outside the box’ to come up with new procedures and practices for distributing talking books to readers demonstrates the sort of innovative spirit that we hope to welcome and foster here at NLS.”
According to Willeford, the new circulation software has increased digital book circulation by 86 percent and significantly decreased cartridge handling. Time is saved as staff members no longer need to stock, inventory, or shift stacks because the physical collection of digital cartridges no longer needs to be maintained.
Iowa has used the change as an opportunity to discuss with patrons ways to pick books and manage their profiles. The library can now be even more responsive, providing patrons with the books that they want faster. “Our patrons also enjoy having ten books per cartridge,” Willeford said, “and they appreciate the convenience of only having one cartridge to handle and having a wide array of book choices on one cartridge.”
NLS director Karen Keninger travelled to Geneva, Switzerland, November 14–18 to address the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) Standing Committee on Copyright and Related Rights. As chair of the Libraries Serving Persons with Print Disabilities section of the International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions (IFLA), Keninger explained the importance of the Marrakesh Treaty to Facilitate Access to Published Works for Persons Who Are Blind, Visually Impaired, or Otherwise Print Disabled.
The treaty, which was adopted in 2013, has been ratified by 25 countries and is seen as a milestone in eliminating barriers to information access. It has been referred to the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations committee.
“The promises of the treaty will be fulfilled when anybody with a legitimate print disability can get and read a book or any published work in accessible format, anywhere in the world,” Keninger said.
Treaty signatories agree to create provisions for making accessible copies of published works and for sharing them within and across national borders without the need to seek permission from copyright holders. It gives a specific role to “authorized entities,” often libraries or organizations that serve blind people, in copying and sharing works.
Keninger co-authored an overview of the Marrakesh Treaty for the journal World Libraries. It is available online at http://worldlibraries.dom.edu/index.php/worldlib/article/view/564/496.
Patrons of the North Carolina Library for the Blind & Physically Handicapped got a cooking lesson on November 30 from Christine Ha, winner of TV’s MasterChef.
Ha, who is visually impaired, was interviewed via video by James Benton of the Division of Services for the Blind (DSB). The program also featured cooking demonstrations by library patrons and others—including Phillip Savage, shown at right making chili mac and cheese as Jessica Caswell, a DSB independent living rehabilitation counselor, describes the scene for participants. (Also shown are Janie Garlin and Matthew Bazemore.)
Carl R. Keehn, regional librarian, said the program had 108 onsite participants and another 65 who streamed it live. The recording is available online at https://youtu.be/zMuYONKXznU.
Keehn presented a braille copy of Ha’s cookbook, Recipes from My Home Kitchen: Asian and American Comfort Food (DB76676, BR20085), to Barbria Bacon, the superintendent of the Residential Schools for the Blind and Deaf, to be placed in the Governor Morehead School.
The program was co-sponsored by the Library for the Blind & Physically Handicapped, DSB, Governor Morehead School, and Triangle Radio Reading Service.
Inside NLS: Building the collection of the future: Digitizing the world’s largest braille music collection
by Lina Dutky
Since 2003, the NLS Music Section has been building a digital bridge between the paper and thermoform braille music collection of the past to the ebraille music collection of the future.
A free service to those unable to read regular-print music, NLS holds the world’s largest braille music collection, with more than 30,000 transcriptions and scores and new additions arriving regularly. The NLS collection of braille and large-print music scores, instructional materials, and music appreciation materials covers every area of music from Motown and musical theater show tunes to Jimi Hendrix, Ravel, and Django Reinhardt. But many of the historical braille files are fragile—at risk of crumbling in your hands—or are already damaged with smashed-in dots.
So the NLS Music Section has, for more than a decade, labored to digitize the paper and thermoform collections using cutting- edge scanners and braille-music editing software. The staff is scanning approximately 15,000 pages of braille music per year. The scan-and-edit process requires multiple steps.
A scanner with optical braille recognition software scans one or both sides of a double-sided (interpoint) braille page. An editing screen displays both an image of the original page and the braille dots recognized in the digital scan. Staff compare the dots in the image of the original page with the digital scan. Scanning errors are corrected in the simulated braille window.
Staff may also use this process to correct errors or damaged dots on the original braille scores. The new digital files may then be embossed for patrons upon request.
NLS prioritizes which paper or thermoform scores are digitized based on patron demand and then on whether a piece of music is part of the NLS master braille collection—hundreds of scores that were transcribed and produced by hand under the sponsorship of NLS.
Most new braille music transcriptions are acquired as digital files, so they do not require scanning and can immediately be placed on the Braille and Audio Reading Download (BARD) site for patrons to access. But the scanning and digitization process in the Music Section ensures that the collection of the future will be fuller, richer, and broader than the collection of the past.
|NLS Music Section librarian Donna Koh converts a paper braille score to ebraille. First she scans the paper score.|
|Then she compares the braille dots in the scan with the orginal score.|
by Yvonne French
|Eileen Vasquez nets fish in her outside tank to move them inside for the Minnesota winter|
When she was a nuclear mechanic in the U.S. Navy at the age of 23, Eileen Vasquez never dreamed she’d be raising fish in her garage to fertilize hydroponic lettuce and herbs served on high-end tables in the Twin Cities.
But that, she said, was before she lost her sight as a result of radiation damage, and before she took free online business training at the Forsythe Center for Employment and Entrepreneurship, the business school of one of NLS’s partners, the Hadley Institute for the Blind and Visually Impaired in Winnetka, Illinois.
Each year more than 200,000 working-age people who are blind or visually impaired seek jobs, according to U. S. Census figures. Cornell University reports that only 40 percent of visually disabled adults ages 21 to 64 were employed outside of institutions in 2014.
Vasquez won a $12,500 grant from Hadley’s New Venture Competition that enabled her to buy tanks and grow lights, the most expensive part of her operation. (Heating her St. Paul, Minnesota, garage in winter comes in a close second.)
Through the Forsythe Center, Vasquez learned to calculate when her company, Locavore Thyme, would break even and estimate when she could rent a better space and supply more restaurants.
“The Forsythe Center helped me keep it small and manageable so it can expand,” she explained.
Vasquez is one of more than 2,500 people who have enrolled in the Forsythe Center since it opened in 2011 in response to the high unemployment rate among people who are blind or visually impaired. Students participate in online courses on how to get a job or start a business.
“It is a free way to find out if your business is marketable,” said Hadley president Julie S. Tye.
The distance-learning modules are fully accessible and include 30 online courses and 40 webinars, as well as interactive discussion groups. Older seminars are available on Hadley’s website at www.hadley.edu/FCE-SeminarsRecordings.asp.
The most popular courses are finding employment, self-employment with a minimum investment, personal financial management, Microsoft Excel, and business ethics, Forsythe Center Director Colleen Wunderlich said. Also covered are market research and the creation of marketing, financial, and business plans.
Other classes educate the would-be entrepreneur on how a small business owner can obtain financing to start or expand a business.
“It is designed for a person who does not have a business background but who has a product or service idea that they want to bring to market,” Wunderlich said. “We use the modules to figure out if their ideas are marketable and can be brought into a sustainable business.”
November 10–13, 2016 National Association for Music Education, Grapevine, TX
December 2–4, 2016 Abilities Expo: DC Metro Area, Dulles, VA
January 20–24, 2017 American Library Association Midwinter, Atlanta, GA
March 2–4, 2017 American Foundation for the Blind, Arlington, VA
March 8–10, 2017 American Nurses Association, Tampa, FL
March 20–24, 2017 American Society on Aging, Chicago, IL
March 24–26, 2017 Abilities Expo: Los Angeles, Los Angeles, CA
April 2–8, 2017 National Association of Activity Professionals, Denver, CO
June 21–25, 2017 American Optometric Association, Washington, DC
June 22–27, 2017 American Library Association National. Chicago, IL
July 19–22, 2017 Association for Education and Rehabilitation of the Blind and Visually Impaired, Pittsburgh, PA
July 24–27, 2017 National Council on Independent Living, Washington, DC
July TBD American Council of the Blind, TBD
July TBD National Federation of the Blind, TBD
August 4–7, 2017 American Association of Diabetes Educators, Indianapolis, IN
August TBD Blinded Veterans Association, TBD