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Libraries for the Blind Section

Strategic Plan

Introduction: our challenges

There are 161 million blind and partially sighted people in the world [1] who need access to books and information for all the same reasons as sighted people; for lifelong learning, for leisure and to play a full part in society. To this number, one must add many others who could also benefit from books and information in accessible formats for reasons other than visual impairment, e.g. through motor or cognitive disabilities.

But 95% of books in the world are never made available in accessible formats that print-disabled people can read such as Braille, large print, or analogue or digital audio [2]. The same situation prevails in all countries, from the poorest to the richest. It is not known to what extent this level of provision meets users' needs, but it is not equitable. Quite simply, it means that readers with print disabilities do not have the level of choice regarding their reading which is associated with IFLA's professional priority to promote unrestricted access to information.

Part of the problem is attributable to the cost of transforming print publications into accessible formats, which, despite technological advances, is still high. Also, copyright legislation puts barriers in the way of sharing resources.

There are wonderful new opportunities for information to be delivered to print disabled people at the same time as sighted people via the internet. But a survey published by the UK's Disability Rights Commission in 2004 found that 81% of websites do not meet even basic standards of accessibility [3]. Print disabled people are also lagging behind the rest of the world in terms of access to computers. Assistive technology typically entails additional capital outlay close to the price of the computer. Open source solutions may make this cheaper, but it seems that open source technology has not yet really been embraced by this sector.

With new and cheaper technology, the traditional model of transcription in anticipation of demand could be replaced by a new model, so that any book could be produced in an accessible format and/or delivered to the customer on demand. The impact would be that 100% of customers' needs could be met, regardless of the actual number of books transformed. But full realization of this ideal scenario is a long way off, even in many industrialized countries. In the majority of the world, publishers are still reluctant to entrust files to well established and for the most part highly respected organizations such as libraries for the blind.

Print disabled people are grossly disadvantaged through lack of access to books and information, and, to make matters worse, the digital divide threatens to exacerbate the situation. Both mainstream and specialist libraries can play a big part in addressing this inequitable situation.


Print disabled people should have access to the same books and information at the same time and at the same price as everyone else.

The mission of the Libraries for the Blind Section is to encourage the establishment and development of fully accessible library services to print disabled people.

Libraries for the blind are unique organizations; they do not only provide library and information services, but in many cases they are also responsible for the publication of books in accessible formats. Without this activity they would have very little stock, because in most countries there is a very limited commercial market for books in accessible formats.

In the past, such libraries tended to focus mainly on the needs of blind people, therefore when the Section was founded it was named "Libraries for the Blind". Increasingly over the years, many libraries for the blind have come to realize that their skills and offerings could be equally useful to people with other kinds of print disabilities. In some cases this has been reflected in their names, e.g. the National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped, USA, and TPB (Talking Books and Braille Library), Sweden. The Libraries for the Blind Section sees value in extending its scope to embrace the needs of all people who need accessible library services.

The Section identifies closely with IFLA's priorities. Our main concerns are with IFLA priorities (c) promoting literacy, reading and lifelong learning; (d) providing unrestricted access to information; (e) balancing the intellectual property rights of authors with the needs of users; (f) promoting resource sharing; (i) promoting standards, guidelines and best practice, and (k) representing libraries in the technological marketplace.

We also support IFLA priorities (a) supporting the role of libraries in society and (h) developing library professionals.


1. To work together with partner organizations to establish a global library for people with print disabilities


1.1 Work in strategic partnership with the DAISY Consortium [4] (cdefik)
  • Receive reports from DAISY Consortium at all SC meetings (Elsebeth Tank)
  • Provide input to the DAISY Consortium strategic planning process (All)
1.2 Deliver global library projects agreed with DAISY Consortium members at the Microsoft forum, November 2004 (cdefik)
  • Prioritise joint work plan (Johan Roos/Elsebeth Tank)
  • Federated search (Helen Brazier)
  • Communication and collaboration with publishers (Pete Osborne)
  • Digital rights management (Johan Roos)
  • Copyright: spread of exceptions at the international level (Johan Roos)
  • Identifying and securing funding (All)
  • Collaborative collection development (Mary Schnackenburg)
  • Standard interface for the CNIB e-delivery system to facilitate its potential use in other libraries for the blind(Margaret McGrory)
  • Sharing content (Pete Osborne)
  • Integration with mainstream libraries (?)
1.3 In addition to 1.2, take actions to support bilateral and multilateral relationships and service delivery arrangements between libraries for the blind, and between libraries for the people with print disabilities and mainstream libraries (dfi)
  • Encourage resource sharing arrangements between members (All)
  • Support francophone sub-group (Marie Hélène Dougnac)

2. To establish and support guidelines and best practice for accessible library and information services


2.1 Publish Libraries for the blind in the information age: guidelines for development in 2005 (Beatrice Christensen Sköld) (ahi)

2.2 Publish Developing and building integrated digital library system: guidelines in 2005 (Margaret McGrory) (khi)

2.3 With relevant authorities including IFLA, investigate and, if applicable, recommend cataloguing standards for resources in accessible formats (Courtney Deines-Jones) (dhi)
  • With special reference to the DAISY standard
  • Review emerging standards e.g. FRBR
  • Collect and publicise examples of best practice
2.4 Collect performance measures used by libraries for people with print disabilities (Project START) by December 2005 (Marijke van Bodengraven) (fi)

2.5 Contribute to Project EUAIN on accessible information/publishers by providing information on current practices and problems and by assessing proposals from EUAIN and the related CEN workshop (Marijke van Bodengraven/Pete Osborne) (cdefik)

2.6 Hold regular Section workshops or conferences e.g. Korea 2006, South Africa 2007, and ensure that all such workshops and conferences have a component on use of new generation technologies (Johan Roos) (hi)

2.7 Communicate with other IFLA Sections to provide input to mainstream standards (Helen Brazier) (i)

2.8 Promote web accessibility (All) (cdi)
  • Identify examples of good practice
  • Lobby for standards at national level

2.9 Influence IFLA to make its products (such as publications, events and website) accessible, as a model of good practice to libraries around the world (Beatrice Christensen Sköld/Johan Roos) (i)

3. Market and act as advocate for library services for print disabled people


3.1 Market library services to consumers via their organizations, principally via the World Blind Union and its Copyright and Right to Read Committee responsible for liaison with IFLA and DAISY (Johan Roos) (a)

3.2 Promote accessibility issues to libraries through IFLA, and its sections and members, and through other major organizations worldwide by (acdi) (Johan Roos)
  • Developing a marketing plan based on Libraries for the blind in the information age: guidelines for development
  • Promoting accessibility issues through international bodies, such as the UN family, and national governments
  • Working with the WBU to support continued free post for blind people and extend the same principle to telecommunications arrangements.
  • Working with international bodies, principally WIPO and IPA, to develop agreements with publishers and rights holders for production and distribution rights for libraries for the people with print disabilities as trusted intermediaries, including special licenses and concessions from electronic publishers
  • Contributing to the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) to ensure that the needs of print disabled people are heard
3.3 Support libraries for the blind in developing countries by (acdfh) (Johan Roos)
  • Building on project work supported by the Section in Nigeria
  • Co-operating with ALP
  • Encouraging such libraries to join the Section's mailing list
  • Maintaining a good working relationship with the Force Foundation

3.4 Publish two issues of the Section's newsletter annually in English, Russian and Spanish via the Section's website and smartgroup (hi) (Lina Kouzi)

4. To encourage training and continuing development of library staff serving print-disabled people


4.1 Create opportunities for staff to participate in conferences, meetings, the Section's smartgroup, working groups, and teleconferences (All) (h)

  • Investigate funding opportunities through ALP, conference sponsorship etc (Beatrice Christensen Sköld)
4.2 Complete current programme of projects funded by the Ulverscroft Foundation-LBS Frederick Thorpe best practice award, and seek further extension of the programme (Dick Tucker) (h)

4.3 Increase membership of the Section and active participation of members in the Section's activities (h)
  • Use DAISY network as a channel of communication (Elsebeth Tank/Lina Kouzi)
  • Prepare a case for membership (Lina Kouzi)
4.4 Communicate and co-operate with other IFLA Sections (All) (hi)


  1. World Health Organization Magnitude and causes of visual impairment
  2. Right to Read Alliance, UK
  3. UK Disability Rights Commission. The web: access and inclusion for disabled people. 2004
  4. DAISY Consortium