2010 Conference: Beginning is easy, continuing is hard: Establishing an alternative format service in a multi-campus, nationally dispersed university by Elizabeth Hayward

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.

Download this presentation

Word version of full paper

Audio recording of Elizabeth Hayward’s presentation (MP3, 50.2 MB)

Presenter’s bio

Liz is a Senior Librarian at Australian Catholic University and was assigned a project brief to develop and trail an alternative format service for Australian Catholic University in February of 2008. The service is now a permanent feature of ACU library services and delivers a variety of alternative format resources to over 40 students via personal web pages.

Liz has worked in academic libraries for 15 years initially in Information Services focussing on Information Literacy, prior to that she worked in public libraries and held a number of roles including Children’s Librarian and Reference Services Librarian. A curiosity about the potential of software technology has proved to be very useful in developing the service.

Outside work Liz tries to promote brown food groups as an essential part of a healthy diet, is a keen bike rider with a tour of France planned later this year and enjoys daily walks in a beautiful park with her black Labrador, Gordon. Liz’s perspective on life has been greatly enhanced and influenced by two, now adult, daughters.

Abstract

As with all universities Australian Catholic University (ACU) operates within a legal framework that seeks to provide equitable access to tertiary education, our Mission Statement and published Graduate Attributes reinforce a commitment to ensuring we meet or even exceed our obligations. Reliable provision of text books and reading materials in accessible formats to students with print disabilities was haphazard and identified as a barrier to achieving these aims.

At the start of the 2008 academic year I was given the brief to investigate establishing a method of delivering required texts books and reading materials in accessible formats to students identified as having a print disability. To this end I attended the Alternative Format conference at Latrobe University early in the same year and was inspired. (Yes! This was possible and I could do it!)

The Director of Library Services at ACU responded positively to my enthusiasm and gave me the go ahead and allocated a generous budget. This encompasses the easy beginning in a nutshell; the continuing has indeed been hard but not impossible nor lacking in launching me on to a steep learning trajectory.

The Australian Catholic University Library Disability Service unit has now established a service in cooperation with the Equity and Disability Unit and has 2 fulltime staff, plus contract hours during our busy period. During semester 2 2009 we have assisted 39 students nationally (we are a 6 campus university), delivering 84 text books and over 200 articles or individual chapters via personal web pages.

Feedback from students and disability advisers has been positive, our service is consolidating and now that it is established we are looking at ways to ensure continuous service improvement.

Slides

Slide 1

Australian Catholic University

Elizabeth Hayward – Senior Librarian – Library Disability Services

Beginning is easy, continuing is hard. (Japanese saying).

Slide 2

Photo of a stack of books, with an alarm clock on top.

Slide 3

Photo of a book cover with the title “next great idea” cut out in a stencil style.

Slide 4

Photo of a network of complicated pipes.

Slide 5

Photo of a tool belt containing a range of tools.

Slide 6

Picture of a box attached to a parachute, falling from the sky.

Slide 7

Picture of a small electronic device plugged into a laptop computer.

Slide 8

Screen shot of a sample access page, showing a timetable of study courses.

Slide 9

Screenshot of a webpage linking to a list of textbooks.

Slide 10

Screenshot of the beginning of an electronic text file, containing the following copyright notice:

Copyright notice.

COMMONWEALTH OF AUSTRALIA.

Copyright Regulations 1969.

WARNING.

This material has been reproduced and communicated to you by or on behalf of Australian Catholic University Ltd. pursuant to Part VB of the Copyright Act 1968 (the Act).

The material in this communication may be subject to copyright under the Act. Any further reproduction or communication of this material by you may be the subject of copyright protection under the Act.

Do not remove this notice.

Slide 11

Photo of a crystal ball.

[end of slides]

Full paper: 3B – Beginning is easy, continuing is hard: Establishing an alternative format service in a multi-campus, nationally dispersed university

Elizabeth Hayward.

Australian Catholic University.

Abstract/Introduction.

As with all universities Australian Catholic University (ACU) operates within a legal framework that seeks to provide equitable access to tertiary education, our Mission Statement and published Graduate Attributes reinforce a commitment to ensuring we meet or even exceed our obligations. Reliable provision of text books and reading materials in accessible formats to students with print disabilities was haphazard and identified as a barrier to achieving these aims.

At the start of the 2008 academic year I was given the brief to investigate establishing a method of delivering required texts books and reading materials in accessible formats to students identified as having a print disability. To this end I attended the Alternative Format conference at Latrobe University early in the same year and was inspired. (Yes! This was possible and I could do it!)

The Director of Library Services at ACU responded positively to my enthusiasm, gave me the go ahead and allocated a generous budget. This encompasses the easy beginning in a nutshell; the continuing has indeed been hard but not impossible nor lacking in launching me on to a steep learning trajectory.

The Australian Catholic University Library Disability Services unit has now established a service in cooperation with the Equity and Disability Unit and has 2 fulltime staff, plus contract hours during our busy period. During semester 2 2009 we have assisted 39 students nationally (we are a 6 campus university), delivering 84 text books and over 200 articles or individual chapters via personal web pages. During semester 1 2010 we are now assisting 40 students, have requests for 97 text books and have delivered or are in the process of delivering in excess of 350 individual articles or chapters from ‘reading bricks’.

Feedback from students and disability advisers has been positive, our service is consolidating and now that it is established we are looking at ways to ensure continuous service improvement.

Environment.

ACU is a publicly funded university with a current enrolment of 18,500 students spread across 6 campuses, Brisbane, Strathfield NSW, North Sydney, Canberra, Melbourne and Ballarat. The dispersed geographic spread of the campuses requires unique solutions to communications and service delivery.

A germ of an idea.

After attending the Alternative Format Conference at Latrobe University early in 2008 I felt inspired enough to report back to the Director of Libraries at ACU that I could see a way to establish and deliver an alternative format service. I was given the go ahead along with a generous budget to pilot a service during 1st semester 2008.

The Manager of Equity and Disability Services was consulted to flesh out my ideas and to get a more accurate picture of the scale of service that was required, to discuss ways resources could be delivered to students and to map out communication channels and transfer of student profiles for those who would require our assistance. The then Disability Adviser,  at our busiest campus, was also consulted in terms of student numbers registered as having a print disability, about how she could see the service being implemented and delivered, web page delivery was discussed as the preferred method.

Concurrently I also contacted the Resources Officer,  within the Equity and Disability Unit (RO-EDU) to talk about the information that she obtains from the Student Management System (Banner) as well as lecturers. The RO-EDU had transferred from the library service to Equity during the previous year, so we were on familiar terms.

The RO-EDU is notified by the Disability Advisers when a student is assessed as having a disability warranting an Education Inclusion Plan and specifically if they have a print disability.

The raw beginnings/Setting up workflows.

The first flurry of student profiles and required texts soon made obvious that a database would be needed to manage requests; Microsoft Access was pulled into service. The Resource Officer and my part-time staff member, based at our Melbourne campus, would need to be able to use the database so a shared folder was created on a network drive.

The Access database was a useful exercise in that it modeled the inter-relationships between all of the information that we needed to pull together. Its downfall was that although the information could be viewed simultaneously by multiple users only the first person to open the database could actually update or add any information.

It was too easy to open the database and the forget to close it resulting in numerous emails and phone calls.

As often happens seemingly unrelated events happen across the university that provide solutions. ACU had purchased Microsoft SharePoint (SP) as a tool for sharing information and creating workflows across nationally dispersed teams and were looking for a pilot project to trial the software and to iron out any idiosyncrasies before it was rolled out to the wider university community. The alternative format project lent itself to this environment, the Electronic Services Unit within the Library had an excellent IT person on hand, who took the Access database as a model and turned it into a SharePoint database. SharePoint operates across the internet, can be accessed simultaneously by multiple users and as it is a Microsoft package it can ‘talk’ to other MS software such as Outlook and Access. The information is secure as access to each workgroup is only provided to designated staff, in this case only the Resources Officer and Disability Services staff can open tables within our workgroup space, access is authorized to specific tables on an as needs basis. This is an important consideration as confidentiality concerning the identity of registered students is paramount.

SharePoint is also an ideal tool for the reporting process at the end of each semester, tables can be exported into Access then filters applied to draw out the relevant information for DEEWR claims.

A system is now in place where the Resources Officers from Equity and Disability is notified by a Disability Adviser when a student is assessed as having a print disability, she accesses the student management system to obtain their enrolment information each semester, she contacts Lecturers in Charge of the various subjects to obtain lists of required text books and readings. The bibliographic details for the textbooks are added by the Resource Officer to SP along with the student’s preferred format. Each time a text book is added an email alert is generated and a ‘new’ button appears next to each entry until the request is activated.

Readings lists are sent directly to Library Disability Services via email preferably with a schedule of the weeks in which they will be required. These readings are then scheduled for production across the semester with the aim being to provide them to students 2 weeks prior to the due date. This has proved to be an ambitious target and as yet we have only got close to achieving this towards the end of each semester.

Books of readings are produced in-house while entire text books are sent off-shore for conversion to .doc format.

Choosing software.

There are lots of software packages claiming to be the ultimate tools for converting printed pages and image PDF files, to alternative formats. Experience has taught that this is only true if the original is absolutely perfect, clean white paper, a sans serif font, no tables, graphics or text boxes and even more crucially no hand writing or underlining. Ultimately the formats required by students at ACU are: .doc, .rtf, MP3, accessible PDF, DAISY and some Braille.

A number of software packages were trialled and a mixed bag to select from is the end result, the choice being governed by the state of the original copy that is to be converted and format required at the end of the process. Broadly speaking the best alternative format documents are created from text based files (.doc or .rtf) that have been fully proof read and edited.

Each software package also has its own quirks which can be more or less pronounced, again depending on the original document.

The standard university setup is:

Windows XP professional operating system

MicroSoft Office 2007 – Word is used at an advanced level incorporating in-house macros and formatting features.

The specialist software packages that have been installed in order of preference are as follows:

OmniPage Professional 17 – very accurate OCR conversion, handles columns well and the reading order is reliably accurate.

WYNN – very good at stripping out images and tables, accurate OCR.

PaperPort – excellent to clean up ‘dirty images’ to remove underlining and to straighten crooked scans

Adobe Acrobat 9 Professional – the quality of the scans varies but very good from nice clean originals. A useful tool for reordering or deleting single pages within multi-page files, also used to split text books received as one continuous file into separate chapters .

dSpeech from within AccessApps – to create MP3 files.

Easy Producer – to create DAISY files, operates as an ‘add-in’ toolbar to Word

PDF creator – again an add-in to Word, converts .doc and .rtf files into accessible PDF

FrontPage – a web authoring tool, now considered out of date but it produces the ‘vanilla’ web pages that we require very well.

Choosing hardware.

Computers are standard university models on a 3 yearly replacement rotation and consist of (in brief):

Dual-core processors with 2.97 GB RAM

One computer has a 22 inch monitor which allows 2 files to be opened simultaneously for proof reading.

A second computer has a dual video card with 2 monitors, one 22 inch and another 19inch screen. File conversions that take some time can be dragged onto and progress monitored on the second screen.

Fujitsu desktop scanners – model fi-5110C – excellent workhorses that manage up to 50 double sided pages. Small units that sit easily on any desktop.

(we do occasionally use networked Xerox document centres but find the results unsatisfactory compared to our desktop models).

SpotDot emprint Braille embosser – Tiger software – very easy to use.

We experimented briefly and disastrously with a quad core processor thinking that this would give us more speed especially when running multiple applications. Ultimately this computer was abandoned, after a couple of months of system failure and consequently massive time delays in our workflows. It seems that much of our software conflicted with the quad core and just could not perform.

Ancillary network features.

The Library Disability Services unit has dedicated network space on the university wide network as well as space on a dedicated library server. As the service grows it is becoming obvious that we consume a lot of network space and this will need to be addressed in the near future.

Delivering resources to students.

Prior to, and in the early days of this project resources were transferred to CD ROMs and sent to the Disability Advisers for students to collect. This proved time consuming and cumbersome especially as we deliver to six geographically dispersed campuses. The University of Technology Sydney presented their Web page delivery system at the Latrobe conference and this seemed a possible solution for us.

Each of the students that we assist now has a personal web page that sits on the library server. Each web page lists in chronological order the years of enrolment and semesters and then a link to the each subject that the student is enrolled in.  Each subject has an individual web page providing links to required text books and the list of readings presented week by week as set out in the unit outline. Text books are accessed via a table of contents allowing navigation and small file downloads if working off-campus.

Students receive an email each time a text book is added to their web page but are expected to check and refresh their web pages regularly in order to access their readings.

As much as possible resources are provided in the format as recommended by the Disability Adviser, if this cannot be achieved in a useful timeframe Accessible PDF files are provided and students are lent a version of Natural Reader provided by the Equity and Disability Unit.

While students are on-campus they can access their web pages seamlessly however when off-campus they need to login in order to be able to access any of their resources. We add the EZproxy prefix to all links including individual chapters to ensure compliance with publisher licences. EZproxy is an authentication tool that allows off-campus access, via a login, to restricted access resources.

A standard copyright notice is added to each reading and text book to ensure compliance with copyright regulations.

Each web page URL is devised using a unique code for each student once again ensuring access is limited to the intended student.

Getting the resources.

During the 2 years that this service has been running there has been a great improvement in provision of textbook files from publishers. Most of the publishers have on-line forms and provide files within 2 weeks, frequently overnight. Most of these files arrive as accessible PDF’s via email or a web link. It has proven to be more expedient to phone the smaller publishers and obtain a direct email address to the relevant staff member. The best tool for determining publisher details is Global Books in Print an online database that most libraries subscribe to.

All publishers require that a print copy of each title has been purchased or will invoice accordingly, in order to expedite provision to our students the Library Disability Services unit orders a copy on their behalf this is in addition to any copies the library may already have ordered, the fate of these hard copies is yet to be decided.

Conversion of text book files to .doc format is contracted to a service in India, files are reliably turned around in 2 weeks, the cost and timeframes involved compare more than favourably with in-house production.

Books of readings are produced in-house and are time consuming, wherever possible e original copies are sourced, as those provided by academics tend to be multi-generation copies and of poor quality resulting in bad conversion to alternative formats. Chapters or journal articles are scanned and converted using our software tools. Students are employed on a casual basis to proof read converted files. Our over-riding mantra is ‘good quality and early is better than perfect and late’.

Records of what has been provided including text books are added to the CAL database at the end of each semester. Text book files are only provided once proof of permission from the relevant publisher is sought by the requesting university and received by this unit.

Problems and frustrations.

Timelines are the biggest issue, text book details and reading lists need to be in hand well before the commencement of each semester if students are to be able to access them within a useful timeframe. However the use of sessional staff, the workload of academics and general communication issues make timely service provision an aspiration in many cases. First semester is always problematic for new students, some do not present until semester is well underway and may not be referred until mid-semester, however continuing students are easier to track. Some students change their enrolments and neglect to let their Disability Adviser know; sometimes this is only discovered by the Resource Officer as a result of routine checks on the Student Management System, processes may already be in train to provide resources that are no longer required. Resource provision appears seamless to students receiving this service and may contribute to this oversight.

Required staffing levels are hard to estimate until all readings lists have been received, this semester had a veneer of manageability about it until week 2 then reading bricks started flooding in, fortunately one student was already trained and on board as a proof reader– an extension of her hours was requested and granted, since then 2 more staff have been employed for smaller time fractions. Fortunately there is a bit of flex in the library budget enabling the contracting of increased hours.

The aim is to provide readings 2 weeks ahead of their due date, realistically this has been near impossible, the best that can be achieved so far is just-in-time provision almost until the closing weeks of semester.

Computer problems have been a major hindrance this semester, the need to update hardware has resulted in software conflicts that have been hard to diagnose and solve despite the best efforts of our IT staff, resulting in frustrating time delays even though the new equipment was installed over the long semester break.

Quality control.

As previously stated our mantra is ‘good quality and early is better than perfect and late’. Our present workflow is to source and/or create electronic copies of required readings, perform a conversion using the software judged to be the most suitable, this is then passed to one of our proof readers who corrects spelling mistakes and formats the documents. By necessity we rely on Word identifying spelling errors and providing visual cues to errors, time permits only one proof read. Greek text or foreign language text that uses diacritics is not translated, rather it is suggested that the student seek assistance, if tables are not too complex they are converted to text otherwise a note is made that a table has been removed; all page numbers are added manually; chapter or journal article titles are formatted with heading levels.

As mentioned text books are sent to India for processing, they are separated into chapters prior to sending and a standard naming convention has been devised.

It would be good to build in another checking phase to improve quality but at present this would add to our already tight timelines, it is slated for future incorporation.

Ambition versus reality.

Inevitably the Library Disability Services unit sets the bar pretty high it would be ideal if all students could have their required resources loaded to their web pages as of day one each semester. Realistically such lofty ambitions cannot be achieved due to the reasons outlined under ‘Problems and frustrations’.  A good exercise is to generate the reports at the end of each semester and ‘marvel‘ at the output that has been achieved. It is also encouraging to revisit earlier efforts and realize just how much progress has been made in terms of quality and production speed.

Fortunately Library management is very supportive and pleased with what has been achieved. Ways to improve workflows and ways of utilizing SharePoint features to achieve this will be investigated over the next semester break, in particular making more use of the automatic generation of emails as tasks are assigned.

Conclusion.

The Library Disability Services Unit will continue to evolve, as technology improves and publishers develop new formats service provision will improve. Alongside this the service will be reviewed and consideration will be given to a different approach for handling the volume of readings required. The best learning tool has been to speak to other service providers and share experiences. The freedom to experiment and trial the various software packages has also been invaluable.

Advertisements


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s