van der togt

The many faces of e-book accessibility and how to deal with these in digital libraries. 

Where in the past there was a clear separation between public libraries and special libraries (serving people with print disabilities), we see a convergence, especially around e-books. Now that new legislation demands that e-book services are required to be fully accessible by 2025, the question rises how mainstream services and special services relate in future. If publishers would make all their publications fully accessible, will there still be a demand for conversion to special formats and for special services?

The KB, National Library of the Netherlands is currently investigating on how to make their Online Bibliotheek (public e-book lending service) accessible. Given the many questions that the new EU regulations left open, it is quite difficult to start. At the moment there are hardly any fully accessible e-books on the Dutch market and e-book software still has to be adapted to make proper use of all accessibility features. Given the short timeframe the KB decided to work together with Dutch publishers, e-book designers and Fondazione LIA to make a first set of hundred accessible e-books. Users with different types of print disabilities, will then test these new titles to understand how accessible these are in practise and how the reading experience compares to what these users are used to now.

Based on the outcome of that research, further steps will be planned. In many cases it is not the library alone but the whole publishing chain that has to agree who has to make what changes and which standards to use. Based on that, library catalogues and e-book software (apps) will be adapted too. To work as efficient as possible, libraries cannot wait what other stakeholders in the publisher process come up with, they have to be involved in the standardization process.

To work as efficient as possible, libraries cannot wait what other stakeholders in the publisher process come up with, they have to be involved in the standardization process.

A very interesting topic is when library collections will become accessible enough to be of practical use for people with a print disability. If only a small percentage of a collection is usable, borrowing e-books from a mainstream service can become very frustrating. For a collection of 40.000 e-books in which 3.000 are replaced every year, it will take at least seven years to reach a point where half of the collection is accessible. So if existing titles will not get a new accessible version, the accessibility of mainstream digital collections will remain limited for many years. In the European research project ABE lab, European Digital Reading Lab, Fondazione LIA and KB are investigating the practical efforts and costs of making existing e-books accessible. How reasonable it is to expect that older titles get a new accessible version, strongly depends on the work and costs that takes. If publishers are required by law to take the costs for making everything fully accessible, many e-books will disappear from the market, which will be a loss for everyone.  

An other interesting research topic the KB is working on, is about how to make digitized books more accessible. Over the last 225 years, KB has collected over 121 kilometres of printed books, newspapers and magazines, many of which are now freely available online via services like Delpher and DBNL. In some cases also in an e-book format. To get more national cultural heritage accessible for people with a print disability, the KB is investigating new techniques. Converting everything using existing methods would be way too expensive, so more efficient and affordable processes are needed. Cooperations, like with Delft University of Technology in Future Library Lab, enable the KB to experiment with new techniques like AI to be used with future versions of our services.