Library interfaces for the visually impaired

New technologies promise better access to information for the visually impaired. Many libraries already use computing and communication techniques for this purpose. Developers in the field face the twin challenge of making appropriate systems and achieving harmonisation at an international level.

Two related projects are exploring the use of computers and the Internet in libraries. TESTLAB builds on previous work to expand these institutions' services. Its goal is to provide visually impaired people with access to catalogues in public and university libraries. MIRACLE targets blind musicians, who depend on Braille for access to musical scores. Production of these scores is labour intensive and expensive, so the project is developing a European system allowing special libraries to access and download Braille music in digital form from a central database.

In addition to developing interfaces for the visually impaired, both projects use the World Wide Web to provide information and to remotely access catalogue databases. TESTLAB has carried out trials at eleven libraries in four countries, using adapted workstations to search through catalogues, networks, databases and electronic documents. Links have also been established to activities funded by national governments. Under MIRACLE, five of Europe's major Braille music libraries have created a shared catalogue of Braille music for amateurs and professionals. The next stage involves joining the digital files to a database, so they can be shared over the Internet.

The stand shows how cultural information can be assessed by the visually impaired. Visitors can try TESTLAB systems. Laptop computers, Braille bars and speakers will facilitate the browsing of catalogues at different libraries. The MIRACLE project demonstrates its Braille music catalogue and database, with live Internet connections. Most of Europe's major specialist music libraries, it is hoped, will have joined the scheme by the project's end.

Contact Mildred THEUNISZ, Studie- en Vakbibliotheek voor visueel
tel +31 20 62 66 465
fax +31 20 62 08 459
email mtheunisz@svb.nl
website www.svb.nl/project/projects.htm

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