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Producing Accessible Format Materials at WTBBL

Published onMar 30, 2023
Producing Accessible Format Materials at WTBBL

Providing accessible library services and increasing access to books and reading materials is central to the mission of the Washington Talking Book & Braille Library (WTBBL). Persons who are blind or visually impaired may have access to approximately only ten percent of the published material that a sighted reader does. The Washington Talking Book & Braille Library provides materials in accessible formats to persons with print disabilities, including persons who are blind, visually impaired, have difficulty holding a book or turning a page, or have a reading disability. If you or someone you know has a print disability, applications for WTBBL service are available at Eligibility Information ( The application includes certification of disability by a professional, including professional library staff, so libraries are able to sign up patrons in their communities.

Most of our collection is provided by the National Library Service for the Blind and Print Disabled (NLS) and the number of books added to the collection is increasing annually. This past year, we received over 8,000 new audiobook titles, including books through agreements with commercial publishers. However, it is still only a fraction of what could be available for our patrons. To help increase access to materials and grow the collection, WTBBL produces books both in braille and audio formats at the library. Traditionally known as Talking Books, WTBBL books are in DAISY format and include metadata and navigation markers that allow readers to move through the book at various levels, be it from front matter to chapter, or poem to poem, recipe to ingredient, depending on the level of markup. NLS or WTBBL produced books are also never abridged and typically do not include music, multiple narrators, or high levels of dramatization. NLS has been producing Talking Books since the 1930s and providing access to reading in a format that opens up reading to a world of readers and the presentation and current navigability improve the experience and make the books even more accessible.

The NLS, and therefore the WTBBL collection, is very much a public library type of collection with a broad range of materials from which to choose. Bestsellers, popular fiction, romance, mystery, westerns, and trending non-fiction topics are popular with our patrons. In order to supplement the national collection that we receive from NLS, WTBBL focuses on producing materials by Northwest authors, books about the Northwest, or books set in the Northwest. We produce materials at all reading levels and in both fiction and non-fiction. Titles are selected by staff or based on requests or recommendations from patrons that are evaluated with our collection development criteria, suitability for the format, and the production capacity of our Audiobook Production and Braille Production Departments. Specific titles or subjects outside of a Northwest focus will be considered for special projects, summer reading, or when particular gaps in the collection are identified.

A narrator with long, black hair in a ponytail wearing a black fleece, zip-up jacket is speaking into a microphone in the Washington Talking Book and Braille Library's audio booth. They rest their hand on a sheet of paper, perhaps a script, and a audio track displays in the background on a monitor.

A narrator in one of the Washington Talking Book and Braille audio booths.

Audiobooks produced at WBBL are done in our studios with four staff members and nearly one hundred volunteers. Volunteer narrators, who have passed an audition and done extensive training, narrate print books purchased by the library. During their narration sessions, they do some initial editing of the sound files and usually record on a weekly basis. Volunteer reviewers listen to the narrator’s files for any mispronunciations, omissions, or artifacts that need to be edited and these are marked in the sound file. The narrator makes their corrections and then staff review the files, normalize them for sound quality and consistency, and then add metadata and the markup needed so that readers can navigate through the book. A completed book is uploaded to the Braille and Audio Reading Download (BARD) site, making it available to WTBBL patrons and NLS patrons nationwide. The completed book is also ready to circulate on physical digital cartridges for patrons receiving their books by mail.

Books produced by the Braille Department are also made available through the work of volunteers. Volunteer braille transcribers are either given a print book which they manually transcribe into electronic braille using braille software, or are provided an electronic braille file of a book that has been translated from a text file produced from the scanned book. The transcribers use their expertise to format and produce a braille file in Unified English Braille (UEB) which is sent to the braille coordinator to be embossed for proofreading. Volunteer proofreading teams are made up of a sighted copy holder and a blind tactile braille reader who reads the embossed braille aloud while the copy holder monitors the print for accuracy. Any mistakes are noted and then corrected by the transcriber. Once complete, the braille file is uploaded to BARD, making it accessible to patrons across the country. They can download the file to read on a refreshable braille display, or they can request to have a hard copy of the book embossed on demand.

WTBBL is allowed to produce our books in accessible formats without requesting copyright permission or paying any fees because we are an authorized entity under the Chafee Amendment to the U.S. Copyright Act and now the Marrakesh Treaty. The Marrakesh Treaty to Facilitate Access to Published Works for Persons Who Are Blind, Visually Impaired or Otherwise Print Disabled, or “Marrakesh Treaty,” provides for the exchange of accessible-format books across international borders by organizations that serve persons who are blind, visually impaired, and print disabled. The Marrakesh Treaty was adopted in 2013 by the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) to address the widespread problem commonly referred to as a book famine, where few books are published in formats that are accessible to those who are blind or visually impaired. On February 8, 2019, the United States became the 50th member to ratify this treaty with WIPO, and the treaty came into force in the United States on May 8, 2019. With Marrakesh, NLS and WTBBL can expand our collection of books in world languages, offering a broader range of materials to meet our patrons’ needs. It also allows for NLS books, and even books produced at WTBBL to be shared internationally with the other countries who have ratified the treaty. 

Along with expanding the languages we have available, we are committed to building a diverse collection of locally-produced audiobooks and are looking for authentic voices in our narrators. We have books waiting for narrators written by authors identifying as Black, Indigenous, or People of Color (BIPOC); Asian, Asian-American, or Pacific Islander (AAPI); Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgendered, Queer, and more (LGBTQ+). We are accepting volunteer applications from everyone, however, we are currently focused on recruiting volunteer narrators who have a connection to the material and can offer the most authentic voices for these projects. To learn more about volunteer opportunities, visit Volunteering at WTBBL.

Creating accessible format materials, working to end the global book famine, and building diverse collections are all steps in our work to meet WTBBL’s mission, That All May Read. 

Headshot of Danielle Miller, a smiling woman with brown, curly hair wearing black frame glasses and a black dress shirt.
Danielle Miller has been the director and regional librarian for the Washington Talking Book & Braille Library (WTBBL), a program of the Washington State Library and a Regional Library for the National Library Service for the Blind and Print Disabled/Library of Congress (NLS), since 2008. Miller earned her Master of Library and Information Science from the University of Washington iSchool. She is a WLA past president and the secretary for the Libraries Serving Persons with Print Disabilities Standing Committee of the International Federation of Library Associations and Organizations.
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