2010 Conference: Beyond Books: Beyond Barriers – Creating A "Self Serve" Library by David Vosnacos

This paper was presented at the 2010 conference of the Round Table on Information Access for People with Print Disabilities. You can read the full paper below, download the Word version, flip through the slides or listen to an audio recording of the presentation.

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Word version of full paper

Audio recording of David Vosnacos’ presentation (MP3, 50.6 MB)

Presenter’s bio

David Vosnacos has worked as an Occupational Therapist at the Association for the Blind of Western Australia from 1994 in the area of adult services.

In 2004 David was appointed the role of Program Manager: Information Systems which encompasses assistive technology and library services at the Association. This role has seen the development of many aspects of both services including investigating mainstream and specialised equipment for the playback of talking books.


The Association for the Blind of WA, through its Braille and Talking Book Library, has been providing Braille and talking books to blind and vision impaired Western Australians for over 30 years. The service involves the transcription to Braille and audio of not only books, but special requests including technical manuals, reference materials and study related literature.

In 2007 the Association developed the tools to continue recording audio materials, but changing to a digital format. This has involved the introduction of digital recording hardware and software and the retrospective conversion of existing analogue recordings. Beyond Books: Beyond Barriers is the name of the Association’s exciting new forward-looking project. Its aim is to deliver audio books in a range of downloadable file formats, for playback on different media devices, to the broadest possible group of people throughout Western Australia.

This presentation will provide a general overview of the Beyond Books: Beyond Barriers project and how the Association adopted the DAISY standard. An outline will also be provided of the current phase of the Beyond Books: Beyond Barriers in terms of creating a “self-serve” library model.


Slide 1

Beyond Books, Beyond Barriers
Creating a Self-Serve Library

Carol Solosy
Director: Training, Employment and Information Services

David Vosnacos
Program Manager: Information Systems

Association for the Blind of Western Australia (Inc.)

Slide 2

Photo of The Perron Centre building.

Slide 3


  • The Right to Read
  • A long standing history
  • Changing times
  • What are we trying to achieve?

Slide 4

Environmental Scan

  • Vision Australia
  • Royal National Institute for the Blind (UK)
  • Royal New Zealand Foundation for the Blind
  • South African Library for the Blind
  • Library of Congress (USA)
  • Canadian National Institute for the Blind

Slide 5

Environmental Scan

  • Fundamental principles
    • Emerging information technology proficiency
    • Willingness to embrace IT
  • Digital format options

Slide 6

Building Digital Content

  • In-house production
  • Convert existing productions
  • Purchase other productions
  • Public domain materials

Slide 7

Delivery Trials

  • Audio-Read (Books in the Sky) – Version 1
  • iPod Shufflers
  • Audio-Read (Books in the Sky) – Version 2

Slide 8

Development of a self-serve model

Key questions:

  1. Current library management system
  2. Delivery methods
  3. Playback devices supported and maintained

Slide 9

Library Management System

  • Viable alternatives
  • Open source option/s

Slide 10

Playback Options

  • Current library borrowers
  • DAISY format
  • Hardware and software alternatives
  • Cartridge-style USB

Slide 11

Online Delivery

  • Download issues:
    • Speed
    • File size
  • Delivery trial feedback
  • Internet Service Provider

Slide 12


  • Elements:
    • Customisable web portal – font size, colour contrasting
    • Built in screen reading software
    • Simple interface
  • Apple Mac Mini
  • Trial locations

Slide 13


  • Broadband access limitations
  • USB cartridge
  • Delivery mechanism

Slide 14

Project Outcomes

  • Beta-testing online delivery
  • Self-serve kiosk roll out
  • Feedback

Slide 15


  • Worldwide trends
  • Mainstream libraries
  • Emerging technologies
  • Current and future needs

Slide 16

Further Information

David Vosnacos
Program Manager: Information Systems
Telephone: +61 8 9311 8202
Facsimile: +61 8 9361 8696
Email: david.vosnacos@guidedogswa.com.au

[end of slides]

Full paper:Beyond Books: Beyond Barriers – Creating A “Self Serve” Library


The Association for the Blind of WA, through its Braille and Talking Book Library, has been providing Braille and talking books to Western Australians with vision impairment for over 30 years. This service involves the transcription to Braille and audio of not only books, but special requests including technical manuals, reference materials and study related literature.

In 2007 the Association developed the tools to continue recording audio materials, but changing to a digital format. This involved the introduction of digital recording hardware and software and the retrospective conversion of existing analogue recordings. Beyond Books, Beyond Barriers is the name of the Association’s new forward-looking project. Its aim is to deliver audio books in a range of formats, for playback on different media devices, to the broadest possible group of people throughout Western Australia.  One aspect of this new delivery method is the development of a self-serve library model.

Fully sighted members of the WA community enjoy one of the world’s best library systems and we think the rest of our community should, too.


The Right to Read

Without accessible information, people with vision impairment are denied the opportunity to fully and actively participate in society. As has always been the case, any member of public can purchase reading material from book shops and now the internet.

The general population can access well established, mainstream public library services. Whilst these libraries offer some resources accessible to people who have a vision impairment, it is generally the case that many people who want to enjoy an ongoing library lending service, need supplementary material.

Specialist libraries, including the Dr Geoff Gallop Braille and Talking Book Library at the Association for the Blind of WA, exist for this reason. These libraries have provided much-needed services for many years because they recognise the particular needs of people with vision impairment and have developed service models and lending collections to meet these needs. One of their distinguishing features is their involvement in actually producing accessible reading materials, this is because of all the printed material published, it is generally estimated that only 10% of it is available in an alternative format.

A long standing history

For several decades, the Association for the Blind of WA has been providing State-wide library services to the rapidly increasing number of Western Australians with vision impairment. The Dr Geoff Gallop Braille and Talking Book Library lends up to 800 talking books a day, making it one of the State’s best used and most cost-effective libraries, especially considering the particular needs of its borrowers.

Our long-standing delivery service, designed for maximum convenience, involves the postage of talking books (in cassette format) across the State to the homes of our borrowers. More recently, those of our clients who can personally visit our premises can use our new Library Resource Centre and make over the counter loans.

With the development of the Association’s new premises, the Perron Centre, in Victoria Park came the introduction of digital recording.  For our borrowers this meant an improvement in quality of sound recording and ability to preserve recordings for a much longer period than standard cassette masters.

Changing times

The Association is using its new, world-class recording studios to digitally record its audio material. This now provides the opportunity to explore future options for the physical format of this material, and potential delivery mechanisms.

Talking book libraries for people who are blind or vision impaired are the last bastion of the cassette. The Association’s suppliers have advised that they are struggling to source blank cassettes for our audio production needs. Where most cars and homes once had cassette players, CD / MP3 players have replaced them. The range of new cassette players available for our borrowers to purchase is fast diminishing.

As a consequence, other specialised libraries in the world have changed or are changing their resources from cassette to alternative formats. How should the Association respond in a way that best benefits the more than 35 000 people in WA living with blindness or severe vision loss?

What are we trying to achieve?

Our project aims to use digital audio technology to achieve a new way of offering Western Australians access to the Association’s library collection.

How can our library continue to make available its resources to its borrowers in a manner that: broadens the range; improves the efficiency of dissemination and increases the participation of the individuals to make selections that meet their own needs and preferences?

Essential to the solution is the Association’s long-held commitment to the concept of open and accessible systems that promote inclusion, rather than closed systems that are purpose-designed solely for use by people with vision impairment.

One small example from the Association for the Blind’s recent past illustrates its commitment to choosing open formats over closed ones.  Almost 20 years ago, when most blindness organisations were delivering their talking books on a 4-track recording system, the Association made the initially more difficult decision to changeover its talking book resources from the 4-track to 2-track cassette format. This paid off in the long run because the mainstream 2-track system proved more versatile, flexible and cost-effective. It also fostered independence because users of this system were not dependent on the Association to support their technology devices and allowed our library the opportunity to participate more fully with mainstream public library via inter-library loan services.

Environmental Scan

The Association first explored the future directions taken by other specialist libraries in Australia and overseas. (Schnackenberg, 2008) These included – Vision Australia, Royal National Institute for the Blind (UK), Royal New Zealand Foundation of the Blind, South African Library for the Blind, Library of Congress (US), and the Canadian National Institute for the Blind. Information gathered shows that the various organisations are winding up their supply of books on cassette and moving to alternative, physical formats i.e. disks or flash drives. However, they are continuing to provide their books produced in a “closed system” that require special, non-mainstream, non-standard playback devices.

Fundamental Principles

The Association determined that it would adopt a forward-looking approach and seek a future solution that has long-term relevance and applicability. Given anecdotal feedback from its clients and the results of a previous, online pilot trial the Association recognised that within its current and future client base, there is an emerging information technology (IT) proficiency and a willingness to embrace these options.

In response to this, the Association made the fundamental decision to find a solution that eradicates the need to replace one physical format for another and to adopt a contemporary online approach to the delivery of its talking books. In addition, true to its philosophical position of openness and accessibility, the online availability of its talking books must continue to be accessible via mainstream equipment and playback devices.

Digital Format Options

Digital talking books can be produced in a variety of formats. Some commercial publishers are producing books on CD. They are either in compressed or uncompressed format – the latter resulting in less disks for one title or, more commonly, in a form known as MP3. These compress the files onto fewer disks, but require an CD player with MP3 playback.

DAISY (Digital Accessible Information System) uses MP3 audio in a way that has been developed specifically for people who are blind or vision impaired – the majority of specialist libraries in the world are producing their books in this format. Provided they are played on DAISY players, these books offer superior functionality; they can be indexed to a very detailed level allowing specific navigation and searching within the text of a book i.e. by chapter, section, page, or word.

A number of bookmarks can also be inserted into the book so that listeners can quickly find and return to particular points within the text. DAISY production requires significant additional processing; mainstream, commercial publishers do not record in this format.

Building Digital Content

In order to offer an online lending service of talking books, the Association first needed to establish a start-up collection of library resources in digital format. It has undertaken this in the following three ways:

Undertake in-house production

The library continues its ongoing audio production operations in its current studios. To date it has produced over 100 new titles in the DAISY format. However, recording talking books is an immensely time-consuming activity; the Association relies on volunteers to undertake this task and it can take many months to record one book.

In order to develop a start-up collection of digital material, within a realistic timeframe, additional means were required to more quickly supplement the collection.

Convert existing productions

The Association has been producing library books in its recording studios over many years and has amassed a sizeable collection of masters in cassette format. In order to maximise these resources and to enable their longevity within our lending collection, we intend to convert a selection from analogue cassette to digital audio file.

This outcome can be achieved in a number of ways including sending material overseas for conversion. After some consideration, the Association determined a preference for undertaking this task in-house. It builds expertise within the Association and the State; provides local employment opportunities, allows more immediate control over each item, does not require our collection to be shipped overseas and will be appreciably cheaper. After researching the appropriate equipment, the Association has purchased six high speed cassette digitisation units and set up a retrospective conversion hub.

Ideal titles for conversion were selected; they needed to be of relevant content, in good physical condition and have appropriate copyright permission. The conversion process continues with the ongoing addition of new titles as requested by our borrowers.

Purchase other productions

Another means by which the Association can quickly inject into its collection new audio digital books was to purchase titles that have already been recorded by other Australian and overseas specialist agencies.

The Association engaged the services of a consultant (Schnackenberg, 2008), with many years experience of working in library services within the Blindness and Vision Impairment Sector, to identify potential sources of content elsewhere in the world.  In an effort to source new content for purchase, the Association has made direct contact with the following organisations –

  • Vision Australia
  • Queensland Narrating Service
  • Royal National Institute for the Blind (UK)
  • Canadian National Institute for the Blind
  • Royal New Zealand Foundation of the Blind
  • South African Library for the Blind
  • National Council for the Blind (Malaysia)
  • Daisy Lanka Foundation (Sri Lanka)
  • Hong Kong Society for the Blind
  • Singapore Association of the Visually Handicapped
  • National Association for the Blind (India)

It has been successful in reaching purchasing agreements with a number of these agencies and is now buying a selection of their digital titles to add to its collection.

Public Domain Materials

In collaboration with a Curtin University representative, an innovative system was developed to make public domain materials accessible to people who are blind or vision impaired.

Through an accessible web-based catalogue, people with vision impairment can search for a specific title and if it is available via Librivox or Project Gutenburg, submit a request for it. Librivox items are preferred, because they are recorded by human voice, these are converted into audio format, added to the Association’s library collection and made available to the requestor. A similar process applies to titles only available via Project Gutenburg in text format; these are converted into full text/ full audio format using synthesised speech. An added benefit of this system is that it not only converts text to audio but it offers the requestor an opportunity to specify the type of audio file e. g. DAISY, iPod Audiobook etc. Further, the use of electronic text material easily enables the reader to locate individual pages in the book when navigating it.

This system is extremely exciting because it offers people who are blind or vision impaired the opportunity to quickly access the same publicly available information and reading materials as the rest of the population. It also opens up opportunities for the library to source community-based information available in electronic text format on a range of organisational websites, and convert it into digital audio format.

Delivery Trials

Having made the decision to phase out its current practice of supplying talking books, not only on cassette but ultimately, in any physical format, and replace them as downloadable files, the Association has been trialling a number of delivery methods and systems. These will help the organisation build a body of knowledge about technical feasibility and efficiencies as well as monitoring the responses and competencies of our library borrowers.

Audio Read (Books in the Sky) Version 1

In 2006 the Association’s library was involved in a national trial. One of its purposes was to demonstrate the use of digital compression and transfer of a range of reading materials, which were downloaded by staff in public libraries onto each participant’s portable MP3 player. Participants in the trial were mainly older clients who were not technically proficient. However, their acceptance of and swift enthusiasm for storing and playing their books on these players was surprisingly strong. With the right support and training, each person successfully used the MP3 player, appreciating its compactness and portability. At the conclusion of the trial, they communicated their strong desire to continue accessing their books in this manner, rather than on cassette.

iPod Shuffles

This project was funded by the Non-Government Centre Support Program and involved a group of the Association’s child clients. Each child was provided with an iPod Shuffle (1st generation model) on a rotating basis, each of which has been pre-loaded with a digital audio book of his/her choice. The purpose of this trial was to ascertain whether the reading experience of children with vision impairment would be enhanced by the use of technology that is accessible from an operational point of view but also contemporary and mainstream.

Audio Read (Books in the Sky) Version 2

The Association entered into a contract with Audio Read to conduct a second trial of its digital audio system. The focus of this trial was to ascertain how well participants will be able to independently select digital audio resources and download them onto their portable players in their own homes, without intervention of library staff. A catalogue of a few thousand books and all the major daily newspapers was made available.

Trial results demonstrated significant support from participants for this means of independently accessing library materials. The compact, portable playback device was also very well received.

Development of a self-serve library model

Many mainstream library services have implemented some form of a self-serve model.  An example of this, the Overdrive system, is in place in 15 libraries across Australia and allows library borrowers to not only make their own selections but download the digital talking books.  In 2010 this was expanded to also include an iPhone application for direct download to a mobile phone.

In reviewing the delivery trials it was evident a self-serve library model would also benefit the Association’s current library borrowers.  This system would incorporate elements from all delivery methods to provide a system that would enable our borrowers a new, more efficient way of accessing the content from our Library service.

For a self-serve model to be successfully integrated a number of factors would need to be addressed:

  • How could the current system accommodate a change in service delivery model?
  • What range of delivery methods could be considered?
  • What suitable playback device could be recommended and supported?

The self-serve library model being considered by the Association consists of three distinct but integrated parts where borrowers, can access content via different modes, yet all achieve the same outcome.

Library Management System

In conjunction with the development of this model was our analysis of how it might be accommodated within our current Library Management System. We were unaware of the existence of any other suitable Library Management System so considered adapting either our current system or sourcing an alternative. The development of our current system has significant financial implications hence our exploration of a range of open source alternatives.

Open source software provides the opportunity to develop a system that will meet the needs of the self-serve library model; background code is easily accessible and can be modified to meet our specific requirements.  With the expertise of Association staff and the selective contracting of outside parties, through the generous support of Lotterywest, the Association has been working with an open source application namely, OpenBiblio.  In conjunction, with this the Association is also exploring complementary, open source alternatives to support library cataloguing and other operational requirements for the implementation of its model.

In parallel with development of this system the Association has also developed processes to actively respond to borrower’s requests.  Whilst the base collection of DAISY downloadable titles exceeds 1 000 the non-digitised titles can also be accessed on demand.  The processes developed and implemented allow a 24 hour turn-around from request of an analogue title to its delivery in DAISY format.

Playback options

Presently the Association’s 2000+ library borrowers are accessing content on audio cassette.  To facilitate the transfer of our current borrowers to this new system a suitable playback device needs to be identified.

The Association has operated a popular library circulation model where talking books are delivered directly to our borrowers and returned via the postal system.  The DAISY playback devices being considered will allow the insertion of a USB drive in a customised casing designed for ease of use.  This will make possible, the provision of multiple books on one easy to use cartridge. The same cartridge can be connected to any computer or MP3 compatible device via a standard USB cable.

Electronic, or online, options appear straightforward however we need to source appropriate software playback options for our library borrowers.  Several DAISY software playback options already exist for a variety of computer and mobile device platforms: FS Reader, Easy Reader, AMIS, Emerson, Olearia.

One aim of the Association’s Beyond Books, Beyond Barriers project is to extend the availability of titles beyond our traditional client base. This has prompted our production of “enhanced” recordings.  Whilst available in DAISY 2.02 format, additional elements have been added to our recordings, including an appropriately formatted and readable playlist, to ensure that they can be played in most media software and MP3 players. In practice, titles can be played on any MP3 compatible device, including generic MP3 players, personal digital assistants (PDA), mobile phones, global positioning systems (GPS) or augmentative alternative communication (AAC) devices.

However, we recognise that a variety of technological options are not viable for many of our current library borrowers who will require a physical DAISY playback device. As part of our environment scan, we reviewed a wide variety of DAISY playback devices. We decided to identify a couple of preferred players that support a cartridge-style USB, for which staff can provide over the phone operational support. One unit has been determined and the second is still being negotiated.


The Association has now established a self-service, online interface that allows access to over 40 000 public domain and 1 000 copyright restricted titles.  Access to the copyright restricted titles is dependent on authentication of the library borrower’s print disability status.

A significant issue that has arose in our previous delivery trial was the size and speed of downloads.  On average, the size of a downloadable audio book is around 150MB. The majority of library borrowers indicated that this was a barrier considering their type of broadband plan (usually metered) and the time it would take to download.

In response to this feedback the Association has approached a major internet service provider (ISP) regarding the viability of accessing its server for storage and delivery of titles.  The outcome being that library borrowers who subscribe to that ISP could obtain their titles without impacting on their plan’s download limit.


Whilst aiming, ultimately, to be able to deliver digital talking books online, the nature of broadband access across WA will limit our project’s viability.

One approach to help mitigate this difficulty is the development of a digital talking book kiosk. This has been achieved with the generosity of Lotterywest.  The focus of this project is to provide a secure, self serve environment for library borrowers to access digital talking books from the Association’s collection.  Elements of this kiosk will include a customizable web portal (i.e. to adjust font size and colour contrasting) with a built in screen reader and a simple physical interface to allow the download of digital talking books to the borrowers preferred device or storage medium. These kiosks have as their base an Apple Mac Mini.  The decision to pursue this option was strengthened by the high quality screen reader software built into the operating system and the configurability of the system particularly with reference to security.

At present five trial Kiosks are to be commissioned: four for the metropolitan area and one in a regional centre.  Should the Kiosk concept prove successful our vision is to be able provide Kiosks across the state; in prominent community centres which could include, for example; public libraries, Post Offices and Telecentres.

The Association has purchased a small collection of playback devices, which it will provide to each participant for the purposes of the kiosk trial. Each playback device is designed to accept the identified USB cartridge.


The third delivery option planned by the Association will be required for those of its borrowers who have no prospect of accessing their library materials online; either independently from their homes or via a kiosk. For these people the library will continue to post books to their home but the books will be in a digital form, downloaded by library staff onto a USB cartridge for use in a compatible playback device. Once the borrower has finished with the books, the cartridge will be returned to the library and replaced with an outgoing cartridge loaded with another personalised selection of digital books. It is expected that this form of delivery will be necessary for some years yet to come, until a time when all library clients are able to independently access their materials online.

Project outcomes

Around twenty of the Association’s library borrowers are already accessing digital talking books from the online collection.

The majority of this group, who were pre-existing library borrowers, commenced beta-testing in December 2009.  General, anecdotal feedback suggests that this model of delivery provides benefits far greater than those realised by our current postal system.

The proposed roll out of the self-serve kiosk trial is expected within the next few months.


The delivery of digital talking books online appears to be the most effective option for most libraries worldwide including speciality libraries such as that offered by the Association for the Blind of WA.  Also, providing a self-serve library model brings the delivery of digital talking books into the realm of mainstream libraries and emerging technologies.

However, in reviewing options for the current day scenario, careful consideration needs to be given to the availability of broadband access for library borrowers.  By providing three methods of delivering content to its library borrowers, the Association aims to achieve the best possible outcome to meet current and future needs.


Schnackenberg, M. (2008). Sources of English Language Digital Audio Book Content. Perth: Association for the Blind of WA (Inc.).


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