Tuesday, December 17, 2013

UC Santa Cruz Students Volunteering for Impact with Bookshare

I’m delighted to share with you today a wonderful success story from our Volunteer Program. UC Santa Cruz students who participated in our volunteer pilot project—proofreading textbooks for our Bookshare collection—have done a fantastic job proofreading over a short period of time three entire textbooks! This means more than 2,300 pages of text and an amazing gift for the 250,000+ Bookshare student members we serve.

Our Volunteer Program Manager Brenda Hendricksen and Volunteer Program Coordinator Madeleine Linares have been working on this pilot project with UC Santa Cruz Professor of Computer Engineering Roberto Manduchi. Professor Manduchi, whose research focuses on assistive technology for persons with visual impairments, is an old friend of mine. Several months ago, he approached me and offered to involve his entire class in proofreading Bookshare textbooks. I’m delighted this idea has turned into a successful project with such a splendid outcome!

A group of over 40 of Roberto’s students worked in three teams, each focused on completing a different textbook. Student Team Captains were responsible for assigning specific chapters to each team member, fielding questions and driving project completion. It’s the first time we have engaged volunteers in this way, and our hope is to refine and replicate this pilot project.

Photo of an unbound ("chopped") book in a scanner next to a pile of additional books ready for scanning and whose spines have been removed.
Books are "chopped," scanned and
run through OCR software
Why and when is proofreading Bookshare titles necessary? It’s required whenever we make accessible versions of print books. Every year, we receive over 3,500 direct requests from students with print disabilities (like blindness or dyslexia) who do not have the textbooks they need in a form they can read and in time for the start of class. When digital files of those books aren’t available, we have to convert the physical print books into an accessible form, like braille, large print or synthetic speech output.

This means scanning each book into a computer, using equipment similar to a photocopy machine, and then running it through optical character recognition (OCR) software that converts the scanned images into a digital text file. Unfortunately, since even the best scanner and best OCR software make mistakes, proofreading is essential for quality assurance. It involves finding and fixing the OCR mistakes before the accessible versions of the books are added to the collection and made available to our members.

The time required for proofreading varies based on the length and type of book. To better understand the achievement of our UC Santa Cruz volunteers, it’s important to take into account that textbooks are longer and more complicated than the average literature book, and therefore require more proofreading time. Creating an accessible version of a single textbook can take us 90 days or longer and costs $600 or more.

The effort of Roberto’s students has a powerful multiplier effect, as the textbooks they proofed will be available to our Bookshare members all over the country for years to come. Since Roberto’s students saved us over a thousand dollars in proofreading costs through their volunteerism, we’ll also be able to create even more accessible books for other members (we always have more demand for books than we have funding for paid proofreaders). Moreover, the students’ feedback on this pilot project will be instrumental in helping us make an even bigger impact with future volunteers.

We’re grateful to Roberto and his students for their wonderful work. The idea of incorporating textbook proofing into classrooms as a service-learning opportunity is one that we only recently began exploring and we’re delighted to see it put into action so quickly and well.

Many thanks also to Brenda and Madeleine of our Volunteer Program and to our Collection Development staff, without whom none of this would have happened.

Congratulations on such great work and Happy Holidays!

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