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    The National Library of Jamaica is developing Digital Audio Books for visually impaired Jamaicans.
    The new format will assist visually impaired persons who are unable to access research or recreational material, other than by Braille, because of the unavailability of Digital Audio Books and material.
    Executive Director of the National Library, Winsome Hudson, made the disclosure on Tuesday (April 28) at a JIS Think Tank session at the head office of the Jamaica Information Service in Kingston.
    Digital Audio Books, she explained, are quite different from regular audio books which operate similar to an audio tape and do not allow the user to navigate through the material easily. The digital version allows the user greater interaction.
    “They allow a blind person to handle the book, as if he or she was sighted. They can listen to it and where they stop, they can come back to it and they can pick up from there. So, it’s a navigable audio tape” she said.
    Pointing out that the books were being developed in partnership with the Radio Education Unit of the University of the West Indies(UWI), and that, currently, the National Library was on a drive to create a database of voices for narrating the texts, Mrs. Hudson said that the CHASE Fund has been contacted for funding for the project to enable persons to read the texts for conversion.
    The aim is to initially target books for students in high schools and universities, so it would be supportive of their studies.
    Mrs. Hudson also explained that Digital Audio Books are usually created using two methods: by scanning the text which would be read by an artificial voice, which is not always pleasant to listen to; and by human narration, which is easier on the ear and is the method being actively considered, depending on the CHASE Fund giving the go ahead to hire narrators.
    “We’re modelling this on a programme in Canada, the Canadian National Institute for the Blind (CNIB), which are the experts in providing library services for the blind. So, we are learning from CNIB and we have some assistance from them in how to develop this volunteer narrator’s programme,” she noted.
    Mrs. Hudson said that there has been no private sector support, and has appealed to the private sector, not only for financial support but also for volunteer support, as well.
    Copyright also is a major hurdle in the conversion of books for the visually impaired. Currently, the statute restricts the conversion of current books, and so the library can only convert books that are ‘out of copyright’, or 50 years after first publication.
    The National Library has been lobbying the Jamaica Intellectual Property Office (JIPO) to make amendments to the copyright law, to enable the conversion of books for the visually impaired and the blind without infringement.
    “As it stands, we’re limited to converting books out of copyright. Therefore, there is nothing contemporary. (But) there’s a middle option where, through JAMCOPY, permission could be given to reformat books for the blind,” she explained.
    “What is happening in first world countries is that publishers, because of copyright permission, would give automatic permission to an entity like the National Library to make these materials available to persons who are legally registered as blind. Yes, we need to protect person’s intellectual property, but why should the blind person have to wait 50 years until the material is out of copyright, before they can have access to it?” She asked.
    The library is celebrating 30 years’ existence as a National Library, under the theme ‘Living History, Shaping lives’.

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