RLI 281 19
DECEMBER 2012 RESEARCH LIBRARY ISSUES: A QUARTERLY REPORT FROM ARL, CNI, AND SPARC
Research Libraries and Individuals with
Print Disabilities
R
esearch libraries acquire materials in many formats and aspire to make all of them discoverable
and accessible to their many diverse constituents. Doing so is consistent with our professional
values and legal requirements. To the extent that libraries have provided reformatting services
(or partnered with other entities to do so) for large retrospective print collections “without undue burden”
and/or “undue hardship” under the ADA for more than two decades, they should continue to optimize
those processes and services. Research libraries are challenged to continue that access while expanding
access to digital information resources in increasingly diverse formats. Ensuring that both print and
digital versions are accessible to patrons with print disabilities requires different strategies for each
format.
Technology considerations play a key role in making library collections and services accessible.
The technology issues surrounding library services for patrons with print disabilities are diverse and
evolving. Despite the challenges, library professionals need to stay well informed about the issues,
monitor trends, and respond to opportunities for improving library services for this user group. This
section of the report provides research library administrators and interested library professionals with an
introduction to the major technology considerations involved in making library collections and services
more accessible for patrons with print disabilities.
Retrospective Print Collections
The most common method for making retrospective print collections accessible to patrons with print
disabilities is to combine digital scanning and optical character recognition (OCR) technology to reformat
print source materials into electronic formats that can be “read” by user-facing adaptive technology
tools. Many ARL member libraries currently provide “scan and reformat” services for patrons with
documented print disabilities. The most common approach is to digitally scan the print material
and covert it to PDF with embedded text for text-to-speech delivery on the user’s preferred adaptive
technology tool. Other output formats may include specialized electronic files (such as DAISY book
format), braille documents, or tactile diagrams.
The typical reformatting workflow to convert printed work into an accessible digital format involves a
sequence of technology-enabled and human-mediated steps. Below is an example workflow:
1. Capture a digital still image of a page using a digital photocopier, flatbed scanner, or specialized
book scanner.
2. Run OCR software on the page image to automatically extract electronic text.
3. Repeat step 1 if the OCR process yields too many errors due to a poor-quality scan.
4. Repeat steps 1–3 for each page of text to be reformatted.
5. Ensure that the reading order is proper (if there are columns, footnotes, sidebars, etc.).
6. Edit the digital copy for OCR errors and add additional description, if needed.
7. Convert pages containing mathematical symbols to MathML using one of a number of open source
or inexpensive programs.
8. Deliver a final digital copy of the text in the requested accessible format.
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