Braille Monitor                                                 April 2012

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Introducing the Commonwealth Braille and Talking Book Cooperative

by Greg Kearney

Greg KearneyFrom the Editor: Although getting accessible books today is easier than ever before, the need to have many of them transcribed into Braille, transcribed or reformatted for large print, or recorded by a person for audio readers still exists. This costly undertaking is often repeated because of the lack of sharing among the English-speaking countries of the world. Some organizations are attempting to change this deplorable situation, and Greg Kearney is actively involved in one of them. Here is what he has to say:

“Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive, and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.” This language is taken from Article 19 of the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

The Commonwealth of Nations is an international organization of nation states which have a connection to Great Britain. A number of nongovernmental organizations exist within the Commonwealth, the Commonwealth Braille and Talking Book Cooperative (CBTBC) being one. The CBTBC is intended to promote the collaboration and sharing of resources among the Braille and Talking Book libraries of the Commonwealth and other interested institutions. Central to this collaboration is the sharing of Braille and Talking Books between the institutions that benefit the blind, vision impaired, and print disabled of the Commonwealth. This project is not a replacement for the work on a wider Talking Book treaty or the work of the WIPO (World Intellectual Property Organization), which we fully support.

From time to time we are asked why this effort is focused on the Commonwealth of Nations. The answer is that the nations of the Commonwealth share common legal, cultural, historic, and linguistic traditions and ties to one another. We hope that these ties will make the exchange of resources more productive for all. Membership in the Cooperative is not limited to organizations within the Commonwealth. A number of schools and organizations in the United States are members because of the close historic and cultural ties between the United States and the Commonwealth. Ties to the Commonwealth give us a common structure under which to conduct our efforts, most of which are centered on work in the English language, but the Cooperative hopes to expand our membership regardless of geographical considerations.

We seek to achieve two goals: greater cooperation between Talking Book libraries in the Commonwealth and support for Talking Book libraries and users in developing nations within the Commonwealth. One of the aims of the Cooperative is to develop and put into place the methods by which accessible materials can be exchanged by member agencies. This is the practical side of the World Intellectual Property Organization and World Blind Union efforts.

Membership in the Cooperative is open to any library, agency, school, or other entity serving the blind, vision impaired, or print disabled, as long as the organization operates in the Commonwealth or such organizations reside in any British overseas territories, mandates, or former mandates, and Crown Dependencies. Also eligible are organizations from nations or states with an historic, cultural, or linguistic tie to the Commonwealth. This would include locations such as the United States and its constituent states, territories, or former territories--the Philippines being one example. Membership is also open to nations such as Ireland, Israel, Zimbabwe, and the Palestinian territories.

Membership is not limited to entities that have book collections but is intended for any interested organization, whether local or national. The degree of participation is determined by each member. Membership is at no cost. The members of the Cooperative have differing goals and will derive differing benefits. The library members will work to develop holdings and to exchange books between themselves. Agencies with limited holdings may be interested only in accessing the collection, while consumer agencies such as the National Federation of the Blind might want to share its extensive literature on blindness with a wider community while simultaneously offering expanded library service to its members. Each member organization sets its own policies and decides what its participation will be. The NFB may wish to make its literature available but not offer its members other services from the Commonwealth. Alternatively, since many materials can be borrowed in a digital format, requiring that nothing be sent or returned, it might wish to be a full participant.

One of the first tasks that the Cooperative has undertaken is the development of a federated search of Braille and Talking Books held by our members and other libraries. This, of course, is the first step in getting a book--knowing it is available and from whom. The Commonwealth Braille and Talking Book Cooperative federated search <> provides a method of searching several libraries at once when a title is desired.

The Commonwealth Braille and Talking Book Cooperative has also developed a range of support programs and utilities for its members and the public at large to assist in the production and distribution of materials. These include listing services, catalogs, and production aids and applications.

The work of the Commonwealth Braille and Talking Book Cooperative is centered on the practical, day-to-day issues that both producers and consumers of Braille and Talking Books face. In many cases the costly and time-consuming process of book production has been needlessly duplicated because there was no method for finding and sharing the works already available. Many smaller and less developed nations have yet to develop an infrastructure to deliver works in alternative formats. It is hoped that the print disabled of the Commonwealth and those nations closely tied to it will be able to see an expansion of the materials made worldwide through this effort.

For more information about this project, write to Greg Kearney, Manager of Accessible media, Association for the Blind of Western Australia, PO Box 101, Victoria Park WA 6979, 61 Kitchener Ave., Victoria Park WA 6100. Call him at (307) 224-4022, or email him by writing to <[email protected]>.

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