June 29, 2016
Topic: Arts & Culture
More than 14 million digital books will soon be made available to blind and print-disabled users, thanks to a new collaboration involving the National Federation of the Blind and the HathiTrust Digital Library, a digital repository hosted at the University of Michigan.
When launched, the program will dramatically increase the availability of books for users who are blind or print-disabled. According to the NFB, less than 5 percent of all published works are estimated to be available to the blind, most of which are popular titles.
NFB President Mark Riccobono says the effort will be an important advancement that will specifically benefit print-disabled students and scholars within the academic community.
"While most barriers that blind people face are artificial ones created by low expectations, access to the printed word has historically been a great challenge," he said.
"This collaboration will, for the first time, make millions of books available to blind readers across the nation, giving us access to more books in a single repository than we have ever had. The significance of this development cannot be overstated, and we are delighted to work with HathiTrust to transform this dream into reality."
Founded in 2008, HathiTrust is a digital preservation repository housed at U-M. It has more than 100 institutional academic and research partners. Its online archive, a major portion of which was scanned by Google, currently contains millions of digitized titles in different languages from libraries around the world. Users can search not only by title, author or subject matter, but also via page-by-page content within a book.
"Supporting print-disabled users has been a focus of HathiTrust since the very beginning, and we have long provided students at HathiTrust member schools with access to our collection," said Mike Furlough, executive director of HathiTrust. "The collaboration with NFB is an important turning point, because we are now striving to help non-academic print-disabled users for the first time."
During the coming year, NFB and HathiTrust will plan and implement these services. User eligibility will be determined by criteria used by the National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped and similar services authorized under U.S. law.
According to Furlough, HathiTrust currently provides a similar service to qualified print-disabled students at its member schools. The new program will expand the service to allow similarly qualified users not affiliated with HathiTrust schools access to full-text works in the HathiTrust collection.
NFB and HathiTrust, like the federally operated National Library Service, will lawfully and securely make books available to qualified people in the U.S. who have print disabilities.