CCB Newsletters: Latest Report from NNELS on Library Services Project

In late July 2017, NNELS was among a number of organizations invited to apply for a grant from the Government of Canada through the Social Development Partnerships Program – Disability Component (SDPP-D) to develop partnerships and produce alternate formats for Canadians with print disabilities. In mid-December we were notified that the BC Libraries Co-op would receive $1 million to carry out the activities in a revised NNELS proposal. Work began in January and a public announcement about the project was made on February 15th. The deadline for the completion of the work was originally set to March 31st but was revised on March 19th to May 31st, 2018.


Most of the projects are nearing completion and final reports on each of them will be distributed before the end of May. This interim update is for members of our partner organizations.



  1. E-text Production


We hired six people with vision impairments to learn how to produce ebooks and help improve both book quality and the NNELS workflow. This work was complete as of March 31. During the project, weekly activities related to book analysis and production were led by our team of Production Assistants in Alberta. Through email and discussion forums (, the new production assistants analyzed EPUB files, explored the functionality of reading and editing tools, and learned by working on books of their own choosing, some of which are complete and available in NNELS. Some projects are continuing, thanks to momentum: in particular, a team from the Ontario College of Art and Design is working with one of our now-former production assistants to explore how a university-level physics textbook could be accessible through audio, tactile, and visual modalities.


We loved this experiment. We have ideas for next steps for involving readers of accessible formats in book production and hope to work again with the outstanding people who helped us so much. Our thanks to Karoline Bourdeau, Daniella Levy-Pinto, Ka Li, Richard Marion, Steve Murgaski, and Ryan Ollis. Thanks also to the production assistants in Alberta: Leah Brochu, Jenn Lortie, and Rachel Osolen.



  1. Accessible Publishing


We organized seven workshops with EPUB accessibility expert Laura Brady of Brady Typesetting. These workshops took place in Victoria, Vancouver, Calgary, Winnipeg, Montreal, Halifax, and Toronto. A total of 73 publishers, editors, and alternate format producers attended, with about ten more requesting access to a video recording. Special thanks to provincial publishers’ associations who helped with promotion, and to Alternative Education Resources for Ontario (AERO), and Bob Minnery there, for organizing and sponsoring local arrangements for the Toronto workshop.


Laura Brady also analyzed EPUB files for 21 Canadian publishers, creating comprehensive three to five-page reports for each publisher, full of accessibility and coding suggestions.


The workshops and audits both contained a lot of information and were overwhelming for many people. We learned that most publishers are still producing EPUB 2 files, probably out of habit, and very few publishers know much about accessibility. Also, many publishers outsource their ebook production to overseas companies. Many ebooks, whether outsourced or produced in-house, are missing basic accessibility functionality such as headings for navigation and descriptive text for images.


Our collective goal is for books to be published accessibly so that they do not require further intervention to be read with assistive technology. We are a long way from reaching that goal. There is a lot of pressure on publishers to learn and implement accessibility changes, and they are nervous about the cost and time required to implement everything being recommended to them. Many publishers do not know a lot about HTML and CSS, let alone standards such as ARIA. We need to chunk lessons into short, prioritized, and digestible lists, and find ways to support publishers in making changes. We have some ideas for what to do next.


Coincidentally, this project was supported by our purchasing work: while we were prescribing a standard for accessible publishing, we were offering to pay publishers for any EPUB 2 or 3 files that they had already published. This was a good approach and we suspect it encouraged publishers to work with and sell files to us.


These projects also gave us some recognition in advance of our presentation to publishers and editors at the ebookcraft conference in Toronto in late March, organized by BookNet Canada. Laura Brady opened many doors for us: she was a conference co-organizer, she presented alongside us, and she initiated a number of conversations which we expect will be fruitful for years to come.



  1. Print-Braille Children’s Books


This project benefited from the extended deadline: these 15 print-braille children’s books are still in production and we’re looking forward to seeing the results. We’ve chosen great books, and the team at the Vision Impaired Resource Network in Winnipeg is using an innovative approach to create a fully accessible reading experience: stay tuned.



  1. National Braille Study


Mary Ellen Gabias, President of the Canadian Federation of the Blind, has been volunteer-leading a team of five writers: Michelle Creedy, Danny Faris, Holly Hoffmann, Kerry Kijewski, and Marcia Yale, and one research assistant, Lilith Lee, to propose a sustainable long-term strategy for making braille accessible to all Canadians in print and digital forms. The report will discuss how to manage decisions about storing and mailing braille material, and the comparative costs and benefits of building library collections, supporting digital collections, and printing on demand. The extended deadline has allowed for extra writing and editing. When complete, the report will be available in both French and English.



  1. Recording Kits for Libraries


Thanks to support from the Canadian Council of the Blind (CCB), we’ve had a really great team for the past few months: two people with audio recording experience and two librarians have created a plan and instructions for volunteers to record audiobooks in Canadian public libraries. We have ten recording kits complete with good quality headset-microphones, USB keys, quick instructions, and a bright red shipping case. These kits are in the final stages of assembly and are about to be sent to the first libraries that have expressed interest so far. They can be sent to any library in Canada that wants to record an audio version of a children’s picture book. Working with this team, and with CCB, has been an immense pleasure.




  1. Purchasing EPUB & Audiobooks


Thank you to members of the Alliance for Equality for Blind Canadians (AEBC) and the Canadian Federation of the Blind (CFB) for their help with making purchasing suggestions, and encouraging members to request books.


To date, we have purchased 17,767 EPUB files (we committed to 14,000) and 3,435 audiobooks (we committed to 3,000) and we are currently adding these files to the NNELS repository. With the weight of the Co-op behind us, we were able to get favourable pricing from vendors, and work with eBOUND and Demarque to purchase a large amount of Canadian ebooks in both English and French. We’ve also been able to work directly with a number of Canadian publishers, many of whom were probably able to sell files to us because the accessible publishing work that was happening alongside this project.


We also commissioned 30 narrated audiobooks, some of which were requested by AEBC and CFB members. We have notified some of the requestors that their books are now available, and there are more to come.


Finally, the extended deadline gives us more time to work with the Camp Bowen Society for the Visually Impaired. Their team is using machine learning tools to help us improve our production workflow, and we are supporting them to develop that technology. They are also producing 50 books in accessible formats, contributing a number of narrated titles, and making much-needed improvements to the NNELS website, particularly our catalogue searching.


If you have comments or questions about any of these projects, please get in touch with us: <>, or 1-888-848-9250, option 5. Thank you so much for your time.


Accessible Library Services: Announcing 455 Books from BC Publishers Added to NNELS

Announcing 455 Books from BC Publishers Added to NNELS


It’s Canadian Library Month! To celebrate, and with the help of the Association of Book Publishers of British Columbia (ABPBC), we’ve just released 455 titles in EPUB format. The BC eBook Collection includes 91 titles from Greystone Books, 18 from New Star Books, 233 titles from Orca Books, 61 from Heritage Group (including 9 from Heritage House, 11 from TouchWood Editions, 6 from Brindle and Glass Publishing, and 35 from Rocky Mountain Books), 23 from Tradewind Books, and 27 from UBC Press. Our sincere thanks to these publishers for working with us. New Star and Tradewind even sent us books at a discount or for free, and offered to send us their future publications.


Our goal with this project is to create reading options and choice for readers who need accessible formats. Most public libraries already offer access to digital content but it is often inaccessible to readers with print disabilities due to problems with the lending platform, digital rights management (DRM), or with the formats and technology themselves.


We wanted to purchase books specifically in EPUB format because they are more accessible than other digital book formats, and because we typically have to do less work to convert them to other formats for readers who request them. Furthermore, the absence of DRM means NNELS users are more likely to have a straightforward reading experience.


We first approached the ABPBC in the spring of 2017 to find out if they would be willing to help us work with BC publishers and coordinate purchasing a batch of eBooks. We are so glad they agreed to help!

With the project complete, we asked Heidi Waechtler, Executive Director at the ABPBC, about her experience with working with us:


It was eye-opening for me personally to learn that less than 5% of published works are available in accessible formats. The Association of Book Publishers of British Columbia is proud to have worked with the BC Libraries Cooperative to help make an additional 455 BC-published titles available to NNELS users. We wanted to do our part to ensure that BC books were better represented in the NNELS collection, so that all readers have easy access to books that reflect their local perspectives and experiences. What’s more, many of our publishers are now highly motivated to examine their print and ebook production processes to take readers with print disabilities into account, and to begin exploring audiobook production. As an association, we’ll hope to support our publishers in exploring best practices through professional development workshops.


These BC eBooks are for children, teens, and adults, and include fiction, non-fiction, and poetry. There are books for deepening our understanding of reality, and books for escaping from it. They join collections from Atlantic Canadian publishers, as well as titles from Alberta publishers. Adding these 455 books to NNELS moves us closer to our goal of Canadians with print disabilities borrowing Canadian books from their local public library, just like everyone else.


About EPUB

The EPUB file format is still new to many people, but here are some of its benefits from our perspective as librarians:

  • They have potential for rich navigation.For example, EPUB can include navigation lists of tables, figures, illustrations, maps, and so on. It can also support video and audio, so text can be synchronized with an audio file, just like DAISY. This means that books in EPUB format that use EPUB’s accessibility features can be read by people who read with their eyes, ears, or fingertips (Braille).
  • They’re flexible. Typically, books in EPUB format work with a variety of electronic reading devices, including DAISY players, computers and laptops, reading apps for iOS and Android devices (including Voice Dream Reader).
  • Anyone can use this format. EPUB is a non-proprietary, open standard, which means anyone can create an EPUB book based on the specifications. Furthermore, anyone can design the machines to read this format; no special license is required. Consequently, there are many tools, both open source and proprietary, which can be used to read books in EPUB format. Assistive technology, such as a screenreaders, Text-To-Speech (TTS) and refreshable braille can be supported.
  • EPUB 3 is superseding DAISY as the preferred format for accessible publications and documents, and books that include EPUB accessibility elements can be read with modern DAISY programs and players. Older DAISY players can’t play EPUB files, so if someone is looking for a DAISY book, we can still convert the file to DAISY upon user or library request.



NNELS is a repository of content owned and sustained by Canadian public libraries, working with international partners, libraries, readers, and publishers to make copies of books in accessible formats available to readers in Canada who have print disabilities. If you’re new to accessible formats, you may find our tutorials useful and you can contact any public library for more information about accessible formats and services.


BC May 9th Election and CELA/NNELS Library Funding Talking Points

Dear CCB/GTT participants,

Here are the “Talking Points” circulated by CNIB following a conference call with their CEO, John Rafferty on Wednesday, May 3, 2017 where blind, deaf-blind and partially sighted Canadians were invited to learn more about the state of CELA Library funding in BC specifically, and in other parts of Canada. Please use these talking points if you intend to contact candidates running for office in your community, and if you live in other parts of Canada, use them when you meet with your elected Provincial representative.

Quoted text:
Key Messages – Accessible BC Library Services

Access to alternate format materials has been a long-standing barrier for Canadians with print disabilities. Today, Canada’s answer to this challenge has manifested through two very different models of service – CELA (Centre for Equitable Library Access) and NNELS (National Network for Equitable Library Services).

Accessible alternate format materials include many different medium given an individuals reading or literary preferences. This could include high quality natural voice audio books, literary or braille books or braille music and access to current electronic and news papers/magazines. This content, as with that provided through Canada’s public libraries must be easy to access, either through a library service point, through Canada Post delivery or via direct to player download.

For a system to be considered truly equitable and accessible, the unique needs and individual preferences of patrons must be at the forefront of the delivery model. A one-size fits all approach, will further marginalize those who do not fit into a uniform service delivery model.

In order for access to CELA services to continue, we are asking that you contact candidates running in next weeks’ election and ask them to commit to fully funding CELA as your library service provider. Currently, the Government of BC has fully funded NNELS and CELA receives very limited financial support. This is both wrong and cannot be sustained.

To continue CELA services, $135,000 is required. This will ensure that the residents of British Columbia who have downloaded or received over 38,000 items via Canada Post last year can continue to do so in the future.
End of quoted text.

Thx, Albert Ruel, GTT Coordinator
The Canadian Council of the Blind
Western Canada