Show number 79- Bookshare Revisted

Listen to Show 79

An interview I have been trying to get for some time -- an update on the new offerings by Bookshare! Please excuse the bad quality of my recording, I was having some microphone issues. But Betsy Burgess sounds good, and she's the one you really want to hear, anyway!

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You're listening to the Disability411 Podcast, show number 79.
Beth Case: I'm very fortunate to have on the phone with me today, Betsy Burgess from Benetech. She's going to be talking to us about Bookshare and I am really excited about this interview because I have been trying to get a follow-up interview with Bookshare for awhile. Long time listeners will know that back in show thirty, which was in June 2008 I did an interview with Bookshare and they have grown and expanded and they were wonderful back then and they're even more wonderful now. So Betsy, thank you so much for doing this interview with me.

Betsy Burgess: Well thank you very much, Beth for catching up with us and scheduling it. We are really, really glad to be able to talk to you and to your listeners.

BETH: So why don't we just start out with you telling us a little bit about yourself and what you do there.

BETSY: Okay thanks Beth. So I am the director of marketing which means for the literacy programs at Benetech. Benetech is the parent non-profit for Bookshare and many of you may have heard of Bookshare but if not I'm sure over the course of this podcast you'll find out a little bit about it. But Benetech now has other literacy programs and so... Anyway we... So Benetech is the parent non-profit for literacy programs and as director of marketing, I work on all of the Outreach programs. Such as reaching new members for Bookshare people who might want to read our books and then working with them. My team and I work with them right through training and helping them learn how to download and read books until they become proficient readers with digital books.

BETH: Well in case there's someone out there who hasn't heard of Bookshare, can you just give a brief summary of what Bookshare in general is?

BETSY: Sure, absolutely. Bookshare is an online library of digital, accessible books and we have the world's largest collection of copyrighted content in digital formats for individuals who qualify and those who qualify means someone with a visual impairment or someone with a physical disability and perhaps they cannot hold a book or turn the pages of a book or someone with a severe learning disability like dyslexia. And we currently have over a 100,000 titles in Bookshare. So when I say world's largest library that's a lot of books.

BETH: That is a lot of books. And it's not just books right?

BETSY: Books and newspapers and periodicals, yes thank you very much. We have a couple of hundred daily newspapers and periodicals that we get on a feed from NFB Newsline and so we're beyond just books but also some newspapers and periodicals.

BETH: So who are your members?

BETSY: So we now... That has grown also tremendously since you've last interviewed anyone here. We probably had 3,000 or 4,000 members then maybe. I know there were 5,000 members when I joined and we now have over 135,000 members.

BETH: Oh my goodness!

BETSY: It's huge, it's just grown tremendously. And these are individuals from around the world; many of them are students here in the US who qualify. Because we received an award from the US Department of Education, the Office of Special Education Programs for $32 million to make Bookshare free to qualified US Students. And so that award may have come just after your last podcast, I'm not sure.

BETH: I know it was after. So you said, worldwide? I had no idea that you were available to people outside the United States.

BETSY: Yes we are. We now have partnerships in a number of countries around the world and have readers in those countries. In addition, we have started... We have some foreign language books. We have books in Spanish which we have had but we also do books... We have a collection of books in Hindi and Tamil for our readers in India. By far though, the largest number of students are the US students -- I will point out -- just because we are, have been working hard now for three and a half years to reach them and to help their teachers learn about Bookshare and to get the teachers involved and to get the students involved in reading digital accessible books.

BETH: So when you say students, are you talking about K through 12, college; what level of students are your materials available to?

BETSY: All of those. K-12, college, post-secondary, and students who are in adult educational programs can have access to Bookshare books for free. That's from the funding from OSEP but anyone who qualifies as having a print disability can also have a membership in Bookshare and that just costs $75 for the first year and then $50 for every year after, there's a $25 set up fee.

BETH: So and then there's sort of limits on how many books or which books they can have access to?

BETSY: There is no limit on the number of books that they can download per month; it's like an unlimited library card. We do... There's a system limit which if somebody starts to hit it they can just email us and we increase their system limit but it's pretty hard to hit that system limit.

BETH: Okay. And you said it's like a library, so do students then return the books after they've read them?

BETSY: No they don't. We call it a library because it's a collection of books that's searchable and browsable but they don't have to return them. Once they download the book, they can keep that book on their device or their computer for reading for as long as they want to.

BETH: That's pretty nice. So what kind of devices are required in order to read your books?

BETSY: Well you can read our books on a computer. We do offer two free software applications, that when someone joins they can download to their computer. Those are Read OutLoud and Victor Reader Soft but in addition there a number of commercial vendors who offer software to read our books. The books are either in DAISY or BRF formats. And then there are a number of assisted technology devices like a refreshable Braille displays that will read in Braille, or some of the devices like the Victor Reader Stream, and the PLEXTALK Pocket that will read our books in audio. And the ClassMate Reader is another one that will read our books. So there are a variety of different devices to use to read our books. Don't let me forget to tell you about the new app we're coming out with that will read our books on iPads, iPods, and iPhones. I don't know whether you want me to...

BETH: Yeah, please go ahead now and tell us about it.

BETSY: Sure, sure. Well so we hope soon to be able to release an app that's called Read To Go that will read Bookshare books on an iPad and iPhone or an iPod Touch.

BETH: That's really exciting. Any plans for Android?

BETSY: So yes, we are working on the Android app. It's an open source app and so it's under development right now. It's not available yet. But it is in the works and then on the... For the iOS app Read To Go, it's a really, really seamless reading experience for students or individuals with one of those devices. From the device you can connect to Bookshare; search, download, extract, and begin to read all from within the application. It's really seamless and all of the backend work about decompressing the book happens without you having to get involved in an extra step; it's really, really easy to use.

BETH: That is so nice.

BETSY: We're waiting and waiting for it to be approved. We don't know when.

BETH: Are you waiting for Apple to approve it?

BETSY: That's right.

BETH: Oh yeah, that could take a while [chuckle] But now, it sounds fabulous.

BETSY: Yeah.

BETH: So if there's a book a student needs that you don't have available? I know it's hard to believe with all those books that you have but it's possible. Can they request that it be made available?

BETSY: So yes, absolutely. Teachers can request textbooks for their students, students can request textbooks. We get hundreds and hundreds of requests every year for books. And we will chop them, scan them, have them proofread, and put them into Bookshare. The easiest way to request a book is to go to, and then put your request in that form. That's the easiest way and we really encourage folks to give us two or three months advance notice because many textbooks can be quite complex to scan and proofread and to convert to a DAISY format. But we will also take requests other than textbooks. And again the way to request one is to just go to that "Contact Us" form and tell us the pertinent information so we can go get it. We encourage people to send us books as well.

BETH: We send you books that are already digital or just send you a paperback that I thought you might like?

BETSY: Well send us a physical copy of a book. And it might not be just one that you felt we might like because we encourage you to check to see if we already have it. But yes, if you have checked and have books that you don't want or the textbooks, we encourage people to send us the physical copies because it reduces our costs of adding them to Bookshare and it also reduces our time because we don't have to go seek it out.

BETH: Right, right. Now you mentioned that the school could request a book or the student could request a book. Do you have institutional memberships that a school would need to belong to, to get books for their students or do you really work just directly with the students?

BETSY: Great question, we work both ways. We encourage schools to take out a membership and sign up their students who qualify. This helps the students get started and through... In K-12 in particular, the textbooks have to be downloaded from the school, through the school. And so, that's a great way to introduce Bookshare to students. But then we really encourage students to, and schools... We encourage students to have an individual membership and we encourage schools to help them get those. It's a very, very easy process. There's a button on our site. You press the button and it populates a form and out pops this... A form for students to sign or the parents to sign if the student is under 18. When a student has an individual membership, they are then able to explore Bookshare and download as many books as they want and we really... They tell us. We're hearing from them that Boookshare's opening up the world of books to them and they are reading more than they ever thought they would and it's real. It's very, very exciting.

BETH: That's so fabulous because as a booklover myself, everyone should have that pleasure of reading.

BETSY: Yes, yes. They are.

BETH: Now back in 2008 when I did the previous interview, I actually did some volunteer work for Bookshare. I was scanning books and doing some proofreading. Do you still use volunteers or have you grown to the point you don't need us anymore?

BETSY: Oh no, volunteers are absolutely are very important part of our program. And they scan and proofread thousands of books for us, but they are now one source of books. We have an active publisher program now, where we have a 100 publishers in the US and 30 publishers internationally giving us books in digital file format. So, these pour into Bookshare really quickly and easily as you can imagine. And we omit that step of chopping and scanning. We also have a university partnership program, whereby universities that have chopped and scanned textbooks for their students on their local campuses can share those with each other nationally through Bookshare. They simply upload them to us and we will put them in Bookshare. And then, we're trying to reduce the work across the country of preparing college textbooks for students. And so, those are some of the primary ways where we get books.

BETH: It never made a lot of sense for one school to have to convert a book. And then, maybe another school across the State that uses the same book had to do it themselves too. So it's nice to know that there's someone trying to pull those together into one place so that you don't have to reinvent the wheel every time.

BETSY: Right. So we've gotten thousands of books from university partners now and that program continues to grow. We have over... We have 30 university partners now who are contributing their scans to Bookshare.

BETH: Well, I'm so glad we had a chance to talk. Like I said I was so impressed with Bookshare back when I talked with them a few years ago. And then right after I talked to them, like you said they got they got the grant, they expanded, they've grown, they're offering so much more now. So, I'm glad we had the chance to let everyone know in case they didn't know how much more that you're offering now. Where can they go to find out more information?

BETSY: So, they can go to our website. We have lots and lots of information on our website. There's so much there that it can be daunting but if you look, you'll find that. There's information about membership, about reading books, about the tools. There is a wonderful support centre where if you have a question, you can just enter it directly. And you can sign up there and be guided through the sign up process. And the URL is simply

BETH: Well Betsy, thanks again for taking time and I hope you'll all go check it out. If you don't qualify for it yourself, you may know someone who does or you may work at a place that can get an institutional membership and help share the love of reading.

BETSY: Thank you very, very much Beth for this opportunity and your assistance in helping us tell everyone about Bookshare.

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