Monday, November 10, 2014

The Gift of Reading, a Circle of Life

“Frank” (who anonymously shared his story with us) has always been an avid reader, but the progression of his neuromuscular disease to his arms made reading difficult. Eventually he had to ask others to turn pages for him. It became a burden to his family and caregivers to constantly drop what they were doing to turn a page, so he began seeking out ebooks. Few were available, and he had trouble with the ones that were: they’d often be in a format that didn’t work well with his voice recognition software.

This reality changed when Frank found out about Benetech’s Bookshare accessible digital library for people with print disabilities. “Suddenly I had thousands upon thousands of books available to me,” he says, “at a price I could afford, in a format I could read independently. And the best part? I could request books not already in the collection, and sometimes my wish would be granted. I began a reading binge. Many of the books were ones I already had on my shelves, gathering dust because I couldn’t pick them up.”

A pile of unbound books on a desk, adjacent to a scanner, with a chopped book being scanned.Frank’s story exemplifies the life-changing power of access to information and reading. It also demonstrates how each ebook that is added to the Bookshare collection is a brick in our members’ foundation of independence and inclusion. That’s why a group of Benetech supporters recently came together to give the gift of reading in honor of our long-time board member Jim Kleckner. Jim recently lost his father, retired ophthalmologist James Franklin Kleckner.

We decided to create the James Franklin In Memoriam collection, with a focus on science and technology books written for the lay audience. First we identified the titles we wanted to add—all requested by Bookshare non-student members, including some of the best science books of 2013 as reported by NPR’s Science Friday show. Then, with help from our Director of Content Acquisition Robin Seaman, we were grateful to receive nearly half of the books on our initial list directly from some of our publisher partners:
We could therefore use the donated funds to scan a dozen more books, so they can be converted into accessible formats:
It was a rewarding project that took us to many wonderful recommendation sources. I’d like to extend thanks to Jim Kleckner for everything he has done for Benetech over the years; to our generous donors, who have made this collection in honor of Jim’s late father possible; and to Carol James, our Digital Collection Development Manager, and the entire Collection Development team for their great work ensuring the donated books are processed and now creating more of the “read now” experience for our Bookshare members. They are the one who understand best what it means to have any one of these books available to them on the library’s virtual shelves, anytime, anywhere.

Today the majority of Bookshare’s ebooks come straight in the form of digital files from our socially minded publisher partners, but each year we expand the library by scanning and proofreading thousands of titles not made digitally available to us, as well as books of personal interest requested by our members. Without this service, Bookshare would not be the resource it is today. To continue this work, we depend on the support of generous donors.

A child holding a marker and writing on a whiteboard, set as background. On the front, the words "Today you can make a difference!" appear (the word "you" in bold), with the Skoll Foundation's logo and the URL a gift of just $50, we can add a new ebook to the Bookshare collection, making that book available to hundreds of thousands of Bookshare members with disabilities. As a nonprofit, Benetech builds the impact of our programs and initiatives dollar-by-dollar, which is why a gift of any amount will make a difference towards ensuring that people with print disabilities have the books they need for their education, employment, and inclusion in society.

You can now give the gift of reading by joining Benetech’s fundraiser campaign as part of the Skoll Foundation’s second annual Skoll Social Entrepreneurs Challenge—a fundraising campaign committed to strengthening the capacity of organizations like ours to accelerate impact on some of the most critical issues of our time.

To help now, please visit Benetech’s Challenge campaign and give whatever you can. With the Skoll Foundation’s support, your gift will have far more impact on our users around the world.

Thanks so much for your help!

This post originally appeared on the Benetech Blog.

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