I’m not sure what it says about the social web that I’m writing a blog post about an exchange I had on Twitter. It feels a bit self-indulgent but that aside I wanted to expand briefly on some comments I made around accessibility of printed books.
I’ve written here previously about Bookshare.
Basically the organization takes advantage of a 1996 change in U.S. copyright law to make accessible copies of books available to people with print disabilities. The simplified explanation is that I can scan a book, upload it to Bookshare and other people who are blind can read the book without having to invest the hours it takes to scan the same book. This makes sense to me because it seems incredibly wasteful to have multiple people converting the same printed pages to an accessible format.
Yet this 50,000 number falls far short of the 300,000 books Amazon currently touts as being available for the Kindle. The point here isn’t to talk specifically about Kindle accessibility (the device isn’t accessible today) but rather to say that current best efforts at book accessibility fall far short of what the marketplace is doing when it comes to the number of books being made available in electronic formats.
I’ve not done all the research yet but one thing I frequently (You have a lot of time to think when turning pages to scan a book.) wonder about is what would happen if all the libraries and other book buyers spending public tax dollars told the publishing industry the checkbook was closed until the book accessibility problem was solved. For example, suppose no public money could be spent on books unless an accessible copy of the book being purchased was made available through Bookshare or the National Library Service. I know some of this has happened for some educational categories of books in theory.
Today across the U.S. we spend hundreds of millions, if not billions, supporting the publishing industry through public purchases of books. I know when I looked into what my own property tax dollars to the King County library help support, it was something around $10 million annually spent on material acquisitions. Sure, not all of this buys printed books but I’m sure even today the vast majority goes for books on the printed page. What changes in accessibility are we getting with all this public spending? Little to none from what I experience.
These books bought with public money are the same books that I or someone else still has to spend countless hours turning page by page on a scanner to make accessible. I say close the public checkbook until this isn’t needed. My guess is that the public dollar isn’t a dollar the publishing industry wants to lose and they’ll take book accessibility much more seriously.