Today we had a talk with Saskia Boets, who is the customers, collection, and communication manager at Luisterpuntbibliotheek, a public library serving people with a print disability. Luisterpuntbibliotheek lends adapted books to readers who are blind or visually impaired, and readers with dyslexia or with a brain injury like aphasia.
Could you tell us more about your book collection?
Our book collection contains around 30,000 Daisy audiobooks and around 18,000 braille books, including books for every age group. Readers can receive printed braille books sent via post to their home. As for Daisy books, they can choose between a CD or an online book. Readers can adjust the readingspeed according to their needs, children with dyslexia can read and listen at the same time. Most readers use a free and user-friendly app, Anderslezen, which is connected with our online bookshelf. All readers can read the same book at the same time. We offer translated books and books written in Dutch, and also in French and in English. We also have large-print copies of the children's books that are nominated by the children's jury from Iedereen Leest (Everybody Reads). Children with a reading disability, libraries and schools can also ask for them for free.
Do you have any international partner organisations?
We have some exchanges with our partners from the Netherlands to share costs. Since we both speak Dutch, we would only need to adapt a book once when it is written or translated in Dutch. Since a few years, according to the Marrakesh treaty which is signed by the WIPO (World Intellectual Property Organization) Member States at the Diplomatic Conference held in June 2013, we can exchange books across borders. A lot of countries have implemented that treaty, such as Canada, Australia, the Netherlands, France, United States, Spain. So we can ask for books in English, French, or Spanish, and they can also ask for books from our collection.
How do you reach your target groups?
The two largest target groups we serve need specific approaches. Almost half of our readers are elder readers with eye diseases. Already in 2009, we started a campaign for the elderly in elderly homes and daycare centers. Another large group of our readers are children and youngsters with dyslexia. We have a website for them which offers school books and our books in one place. Next to that, we distribute posters to schools and speech therapists, organize campaigns in train stations, work with paid advertisements and posts on social media… this time the poster is about the app Anderslezen. And we have campaigns to schools, speech therapists, and the libraries. We also participate in fairs that are organized within education or that focus on disabilities or on the world of visual impairments.
How could reading influence target readers' life, especially the young audience?
Thanks to Daisy books, kids can read the same books as their peers and talk about the same books, and it's good for their self-esteem. Because normally, due to their technical level of reading, they are focusing on easy reading materials. They can't read a lot of popular books with too many difficult words and many pages, such as 7 Harry Potter books. And thanks to the Daisy books, now they can enjoy these books. It's also good for their vocabulary, but I think it's especially important to give those children and youngsters a reason to read. The same goes for adults. Just more than a few weeks ago, there was a woman who was telling us we saved her life. We reopened a world for her that she thought would be close forever because of her eye diseases. It's really touching. So reading certainly influences people's life.
How do you focus on diversity and inclusion?
We have been trying to make our books more inclusive. We have an exception of legislations for authors and lending. So we don't have to ask permission from and pay authors or editors to adapt books. But this only applied to readers with visual impairments. So in 2011 we negotiated with the publishers and had an agreement with them so that also people with MS (Multiple sclerosis), dyslexia, and aphasia can enjoy our books. Now, with the Marrakesh Treaty (2013), everyone with a print disability can become a member of the Luisterpuntbibliotheek, but we are still not satisfied. We aspire that Daisy books can also benefit people who are learning Dutch. This can especially help the immigrants and refugees because they can listen to and read the vocabulary and learn how to pronounce words. We work together with Wablieft to make books in simple Dutch language also available as Daisy books, which is useful for Dutch language learners. And we want to add more books of a higher level for them. Also, we have special books with audio descriptions of the illustrations. So children with visual impairments can also read picturebooks.
We also try to have diversity in our books. We try to focus on cultural and gender diversity. We pay extra attention to diverse children's books for immigrants that have different languages and cultures when we have an opportunity. For example, there was a group of newcomers in Brussels who shared their stories with an author. I heard of this and we adapted the book with the audio and they were really glad about it. We also have books about how people live with diseases and disabilities, which makes these topics discussable for children, and encourages our readers. So they are very important for us.
What can we do to contribute to more equitable access to reading materials? What challenges are there?
Worldwide, not even 5% of published materials are accessible for people with a print disability, so there's still a lot of work to do. We want to have more books about diversity and its importance. We can only adapt the books that exist, and there are not many to select from. And for us, it's not only every story matters, but also every reader matters. When we’re talking about print disability, like dyslexia and visual impairment, we also have to consider deaf people. They have even fewer books to choose from. Also, our adapted books are much more expensive than ordinary books. It costs around 470 euros just to produce one braille book or one Daisy audiobook.
We also try to influence more publishers to be more open and to publish more accessible materials. Most of the publishers publish in EPUB 2, but EPUB 3 is much more accessible and user friendly. We hope they can have more ebooks published in EPUB 3, and we want to do more for people who are learning Dutch. The challenge is that it might not be so easy for publishers to see the benefits for them to do so. I think when the readers learn our language, they also do so by reading our books, loving our stories, and getting to know our authors. This way, it’s also good for publishers’ business, so I hope we will inspire them to understand this in the future and we will be able to do more to help our readers.
In addition, we try to collaborate much more with all the other libraries for persons with print disabilities worldwide. We often work together with IFLA. They have a section ‘Library Services to People with Special Needs’, and another section ‘Libraries Serving Persons with Print Disabilities’. We are a member of the standing committee of that IFLA Section. We work together with many other members from different countries to make guidelines and to organize symposia, to influence other people and organisations, and to share information and knowledge. Together with the other section, I was a co-project leader of the working group that made ‘IFLA Guidelines for Library Services to Persons with Dyslexia – Revised and extended’. A few years ago, together with the other section, we tried to increase reading resources for people with special needs, and now we collaborate to make guidelines for library services for refugees and immigrants.
Do you have some examples of inclusive Daisy/audio or braille books?
We feature authors and books on cultural and gender diversity, racism, climate change, or refugees. For example ‘Brown Girl Magic’ by Dalilla Hermans and Fatinha Ramos or ‘Ik ben Hassan’ (I am Hassan) by Hassan Al Hilou, a success story about being a refugee, believing in your dreams, and becoming an entrepreneur. We also feature books about how people live with diseases and disabilities. One of our authors, for instance, Stijn Geerinck, had a brain injury because of a car accident and wrote a book 'Tussen hoop en hersenletsel' (Between hope and brain damage) about how he struggled to organize his life afterwards. Another example is ‘Pssst’, a children’s book about mental health, written by Brenda Froyen who had psychosis after giving birth to her third baby. When we have those inclusive stories, it's important for us to ask the author to read this story himself or herself, because the author is the best narrator for his book.