Tuesday, January 07, 2014


Wow!! The world of books for people with print disabilities is opening up as never before. What better place to notice the change than in the search for the books on the short list for CBC’s Canada Reads 2014? For the first time ever, and with the help of three libraries, I will have the opportunity to read all the 5 books on the finalists list for the Canada Reads contest. There is a chance, in fact, that I will have the opportunity to read all five books before the contest airs on CBC Radio. I have already read Annabel by Kathleen Winter. It came to me in DAISY format on CD from the CNIB Library. I read it in bed, an hour or so of reading pleasure each night before sleep—and a little extra, because the book was so compelling. Next I will read Half-Blood Blues by Esi Edugyan. I have borrowed a copy on commercial audio CD from the Edmonton Public Library. I searched for it on the Internet and placed it on hold. Now that it has found its way to me, I will read it as quickly as I can and return it for the next person on the holds list. On my next vacation, I will read Cockroach by Rawi Hage. I have downloaded it on a tiny card in DAISY format from the CNIB Library and it now rests on my pocket reader. On that same vacation I will also read The Year of the Flood by Margaret Atwood. Unlike the others, this book will be read to me in an electronic voice. I downloaded it onto my pocket reader from BookShare, a source where publishers can place electronic copies of their books for the use of people with print disabilities. I downloaded the book in audio format, but I could have chosen to get it in braille. The one book I do not yet have is The Orenda by Joseph Boyden. It was published in 2013 and is currently being recorded by volunteers at the CNIB Library. I will download it when it is available. The process of finding and getting books that blind people can read has undergone a revolution in the past few years. Public library collections have been greatly enhanced by the popularity of commercially available audio books. The Internet has made it possible to search for books and get them on demand. Recent changes in international copyright law have torn down the walls that used to limit cross-border access. The effect of the changes has been summed up by my friend Jim, a man who can read circles around me. Reflecting on how things were in the recent past he says: “Other people would be talking about information management and I would sit there wishing I had information to manage.” Reflecting on the future, I worry a little. Three of the five Canada reads books are provided by the CNIB Library, a reliable source of braille and audio books with a history stretching back more than 100 years. That library has been my rock. It is moving down a path toward integration with public libraries. Canadian books are not generally made available on commercial audio. As integration progresses, we have to hope that Canadian readers will continue to be supported in reading Canadian books to us in a timely fashion. Beyond the act of hoping, we will need to advocate for this. You can listen to an electronic book, but a human reader is far superior. For now, it is enough to be grateful that our book supply is better than it has ever been, to celebrate this elegant abundance. It is a giddy feeling to be able to get so many of the books I want after so many years of settling for whatever books I could get.

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