[Athen] Great news, for Bookshare.

Robert Martinengo accessible.text at gmail.com
Wed Oct 3 09:02:19 PDT 2007

The $32 million given to Bookshare certainly speaks well about their
ability to score big grants, but I remain skeptical about the
substance of this award. I'm waiting to get a copy of the proposal
from the DoE, but I'd like to offer a few cautionary observations.

Bookshare doesn't have much experience with textbooks. Their
collection is primarily novels, mysteries, sci-fi, and romance. They
are going to need serious upgrades to their infrastructure, and much
better relations with educational publishers, both of which money can

They rely heavily on volunteers, as does RFB&D, but volunteers don't
really enjoy textbooks (As a former studio director for RFB&D, I
should know). Bookshare will have to hire staff with educational
publishing experience.

Saying they "expect to add over 100,000 new educational titles in high
quality DAISY and Braille formats over the next five years", is a
dubious claim, for several reasons.

First, its not the size of the collection that's important (RFB&D had
100,000+ titles before they went digital), it's speed and specificity
- having the right book at the right time.

Second, textbooks present challenges to Braille production that
require skilled human transcribers, not just automatic translation,
and the issue of tactile graphics must be addressed.

Third, DAISY/NIMAS textbooks also have plenty of challenges that have
yet to be dealt with, and students are going to need major amounts of
training and support to make effective use of them. Math, and other
symbolic texts, remain a huge challenge.

The point is, to succeed with this grant, Bookshare will have to
transform itself from a cozy, volunteer community in to a professional
provider of professional services. They will try to have it both ways,
but it wont work.

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