Delivering Bestsellers to the Bookshare Community

An Insider Reveals How the Latest Hot Books Are Added to Bookshare’s Collection of Accessible Titles

A Guest Beneblog by Liz Halperin

After working for many years as a volunteer for Bookshare, I became a paid proofreader for the collection about two years ago. I now review books that are scanned and uploaded in formats that can be read using different forms of assistive technology such as text-to-speech, digital Braille or enlarged fonts. Most of the books I work with are books requested by students and titles from the New York Times (NYT) bestsellers list.
Liz Halperin with white cane, shades, and spectacular socks
Last spring, I had a chance to visit “The Mother Ship,” Bookshare’s main office at the Palo Alto, California headquarters of Benetech, Bookshare’s parent nonprofit. While I was there, I discovered how the NYT bestsellers make it into the collection. I used to think that publishers just sent electronic copies to Bookshare. Wrong. While publishers do donate thousands of digital texts to Bookshare, the NYT bestsellers are added to the collection through a "people process." Since I was there to witness it, I want to tell you how it happens.

The Big Day is Friday, when we eagerly await email from Carrie Karnos about new book assignments. Carrie, who manages the scanning and proofing of books for Bookshare, has worked out a procedure.

First, Carrie and I waited impatiently for the week's books to be announced on the NYT website, always on Fridays, but at various times of day. Next, she checked the collection to see if any of the bestsellers were already there. Then we headed off to an independent bookseller who lets Bookshare buy new books at a discount and order others. We also picked up books Carrie had previously ordered - including special requests from students who need specific texts for their classes.

After returning to the Bookshare office, we collected more requested books that arrived from other sources Then Carrie examined various aspects of each book to determine the difficulty of proofreading it and recorded this information on The Master List.

Next, Carrie "chopped" the books in a special big scary sharp machine to remove the bindings and the spine. This freed up the pages which were placed in a fast scanner. The machine uses OCR (optical character recognition) technology to convert the text to a digital exact image file and to a second file format that we use for direct editing.

During this process, Carrie tells the three of us proofreaders (I’m one of them) which books are available for review - and helps negotiate who will take which book. The books we can’t proof immediately are outsourced to readers in other countries who take a little longer to proofread the texts. Once we sort out who is proofreading what, Carrie transfers the books to the main server where the files are kept forevermore. Copies of the files are sent to each individual proofreader and Carrie also proofs a few books herself each week.

This entire process is completed by Friday afternoon so bestsellers can be proofed and uploaded to Bookshare as soon as possible. If we see an error in a book, we can't break the copyright by correcting our digital version. This drives us crazy. If you see typos, a few will be ours in oversight, but most are in the original printed text. When Bookshare scans a book, the OCR program removes all accent marks from non-English languages. The proofreaders track down every accent mark and put them back. One book I worked on included more than eight languages, including Polish and Hungarian, with some unusual accent marks. Italics often come through with errors so they must also be carefully checked.

Of all I saw and participated in during my whirlwind week at Bookshare, this process for getting the bestsellers into the collection affected me most directly. When I returned home on Friday night, my new books were sitting there in my Bookshare folder waiting for me to download and proofread. Kudos to Carrie Karnos who keeps the books moving every Friday!!!

A note about Bookshare

Bookshare, the world’s largest accessible online library, serves more than 100,000 readers with visual impairments, and physical or learning disabilities. Bookshare’s collection of more than 80,000 books, newspapers and magazines, is free to qualified U.S. students thanks to support from the U.S. Department of Education, Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP). Bookshare members in the U.S. who are not students pay a $50 annual fee.


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