Bookshare Launches New Site

After a year’s worth of preparation, Bookshare.org has launched a new version of its website. The new site has some great new features:

  • Headings make the site easier to navigate.
  • The “Skip to main content” links are more reliable than in the past.
  • The site can remember your login information for up to two weeks and log you in automatically.
  • When viewing a list of search results, you can choose between a table, which lets you move through results quickly, or a list view, which shows each book’s synopsis for more detailed browsing.
  • Low vision users can easily change the size of print on the site.
  • If you download BRF (braille) files, you can choose the line length and grade of braille you want.
  • You no longer need a proprietary unpack program to unzip books you download from Bookshare; any program that can handle password-protected zip files will do.
  • You can view a list of all the books you have downloaded from Bookshare. Mine goes back to when the site first launched, but some people’s lists only go back to 2005 or so.
  • Every book page includes a link you can use to report quality problems with the book. Textbooks get highest priority, but the Bookshare staff is committed to improving the quality of the entire collection.
  • There is a new version of Victor Reader Soft — a self-voicing program that reads Bookshare books on your PC and is designed for blind and low vision users — as well as a program called READ:OutLoud that is designed to be particularly useful to people with learning disabilities. Acapela voices that work with these programs are available free. A version of Victor Reader Soft that will run on the Mac is promised in the near future.

Some features benefit volunteers submitting and proofreading books. for instance, if you enter a book’s ISBN when submitting a book, Bookshare looks it up and attempts to fill in other book information automatically, such as the title, author, and synopsis. It didn’t work on the book I tried, which surprised me because it is a Caldecott Honor Book. When it does work, though, it will save volunteers a lot of time. When you submit a book, it is quickly checked for spelling, and the number and percentage of words not in Bookshare’s spelling dictionary are reported to help you judge scan quality.

Bookshare has hired a librarian. One of her responsibilities will be to categorize the books more precisely, to make them easier to find. There will be several main categories, each containing subcategories, to help readers find the books they want.

Kurzweil 1000 released a patch right away when the site was launched, enabling users to search Bookshare and download and open books just as they have for years. this patch is available for previous versions of Kurzweil, not just version 11. Choose Search for Updates from the Online menu to download and install the patch. If you install it, but Kurzweil doesn’t search bookshare when you conduct an online book search, Go to the Bookshare site, choose the Log Out link, and don’t use the Remember Me feature; automatic login breaks Kurzweil’s online search tool.

The zip program built into the PAC Mate can’t unzip password-protected files, but you can download several free and accessible programs that can. One of these is Total Commander; Freedom scientific has posted detailed directions for downloading, installing, and using this software.

LevelStar has stated that an update that will allow the Icon and Icon Braille Plus to search and unpack Bookshare content from the new site will be available very soon, and HumanWare has stated that support for Bookshare on the BrailleNote will be available in Keysoft version 8, which the company plans to release in March. If you use one of these products, you have two options until the update is released: You can download and unzip books on a PC and transfer the unzipped versions to your device; or, you can download in the usual way from a pre-release version of the Bookshare site. New books aren’t being added to this site, but you can use it to download any books that were available prior to the launch of the new site.

The first time you log into the new Bookshare site, you are asked for your birth date (required information for some of Bookshare’s grants) as well as several questions about the assistive technology you use. Your answers are used to set up a Preferences section in your user account, but you can change those preferences at any time. The set-up process also takes you to pages providing detailed information about the new site.

Bookshare conducted two webinars on Accessible World, explaining the features of the new site. Both include many questions and answers, and much useful information. The January 20 webinar focuses on searching for and downloading books, while the January 28 presentation focuses more on the process of volunteering for bookshare.

It’s always a bit of an adjustment when a long-established site makes major changes, especially if you use hardware or software that is programmed to deal with the site the way it was before. The changes Bookshare has made are worth the difficulties, however, and it sounds as though the organization will become even better over the next few months and years.

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