66th IFLA Council and General
Jerusalem, Israel, 13-18 August
Code Number: 026-158-E
Division Number: III
Professional Group: Libraries for the Blind
Joint Meeting with: Public Libraries
Meeting Number: 158
Simultaneous Interpretation: No
MIRACLE in Jerusalem: Connecting to Music Collections
Francisco Martínez Calvo
The aim of this paper is to assess the impact and benefits of the MIRACLE Project. A group of the major braille music libraries have created a shared catalogue of braille music which will be made available through an Internet connection. The bibliographic information contained in this database will be linked to the corresponding digital file(s) thus enabling it to be downloaded and printed locally. As this is an Internet-based information system, public libraries will benefit from this database by being able to provide information services to blind and visually impaired customers.
For some time now book production in Braille has been another one of the many things done on a computer, with all the advantages that entails: easy storage of the original master, immediate and unlimited reproduction and the possibility of electronically conveying the information contained in the book.
Yet, despite the high technology involved in this process, transcribing a musical score into Braille reading and writing code continues to be a task requiring highly specialised personnel with a broad knowledge of musical and Braille notation as well as the transcription rules for this kind of document. Producing such scores is, then, time-consuming and costly. And while the result is a document as universal and interchangeable among blind and visually impaired people as the original score is among sighted musicians, a paucity of information traditionally limited our institutions to the narrow confines of our own users. As a result, the material produced was often circulated to no one besides the customer initially requesting the transcription, raising publication costs to inordinately high levels.
We were all aware that there were other organisations producing Braille scores, but their printed catalogues, like our own, were never up-to-date. Contacting them, communicating in another language, paying for orders in advance, was a long and tedious process, and there was always some doubt about whether what we would ultimately receive, some indeterminate number of weeks later, was what we really needed. In the end, our obligation to provide our users with the material ordered as quickly as possible justified the decision to produce any and all scores ourselves, even at the risk of reinventing the wheel.
And yet everything we needed to solve these problems was available: our catalogues were already computerised or in the process, our production was stored on computer files, the older hard copies were gradually being digitised. All that had to be done was update, compile and organise all this information, all these documents, to offer them to our colleagues in other institutions. It seemed that simple to us way back in 1989, when the Dutch SVB contacted three other organisations of the blind, the United kingdom's RNIB, the Swiss SBS and Spain's ONCE, to propose a collective catalogue that could be updated from time to time to avoid the production of existing works. The idea continued to grow and mature as the Internet spread, lowering communication costs. Ten years later, this collective catalogue based on the periodic interchange of diskettes had become a database that could not only be updated and queried on line to know what material already existed, but used to download any score needed over the Internet in a matter of minutes.
This idea and European Commission funding were behind the creation, on 31 January 1999, of the MIRACLE (Music Information Resources Assisted Computer Library Exchange) Project, which purports to compile, catalogue, structure and, of course, circulate the growing stock of computerised Braille scores that the major European producers - RNIB in the United Kingdom, SVB in Holland, SBS in Switzerland and ONCE in Spain - had on hand. Moreover, these stocks were supplemented with additions from new project participants, such as DBB in Denmark and Stamperia Braille in Italy. It was also an Italian firm, Shylock Progetti, that assumed the task of developing the software on which MIRACLE runs. At six months to completion, the project has already aroused the interest of a number of European organisations as well as of large producers on other continents, which will be participating as correspondent members and adding their production to the project.
How MIRACLE operates
The system is quite simple. MIRACLE consortium members will be connected via Internet to the MIRACLE server and upload onto it the bibliographic descriptions of their existing stocks and material in progress. Wherever possible, records will carry a link to the file or files where the score can be found as well as information on the characters and format required to print it in Braille. When a project member receives a request for a Braille transcription, it will first query the MIRACLE server over the Internet. If the work has already been produced and the file is available, all the member needs to do is place an order that will authorise it to download the respective file or files, which may then be printed locally and delivered to the user requesting the score in question. If the score is in production in another member organisation, the member interested in acquiring it may wait until it comes on line to request a copy. If, by contrast, the work is not on the server, the institution will then proceed to produce it as usual, but with the assurance that it is not engaging resources to publish a product that already exists.
In order for a database to provide consistent search results, the data must be perfectly harmonised and structured. The bibliographic entries received in the server must, firstly, be UNIMARC catalogue standard compliant and, secondly, validated and completed by system administrators to guarantee flawless retrieval.
Once a document is located from among the over 3,600 Braille scores in electronic format that our server will carry when the project is completed, it will take barely a few minutes or even seconds to obtain the respective file. Immediate access is, then, one of the main advantages to this project. To ensure that such immediate access can be maintained, we need to devise a system for payment or financial compensation among Consortium members that will allow for authorisation - in a matter of seconds - to download the file or files needed.
The solution adopted by project members is, then, simple and hardly innovative. And yet it is going to send tremors through the foundations of Braille music production. Placing our stocks on line over the Internet will mean more customers and therefore circulation of a larger number of copies of a given work, enabling us to cover most of our production costs. Higher income, in turn, will lead both to the production of new scores and the digitisation of works presently available on hard copy only. Co-operation among institutions will grow: one organisation may even ask another to produce a given score when it is not in a position to do so itself or because it feels that a musician in another country - Spain, for instance, for a score for guitar - is better placed to do the job. Ultimately, the new system will be primarily to the benefit of users, whose possibilities of obtaining the documents they need easily, quickly and reliably will be greatly enhanced.
MIRACLE and public libraries
I am aware of the importance that is being attached in public library milieus to universal access to information. Given the very specific nature of the formats with which our institutions work and the memory they occupy, access to information rather than to the document itself is a concept that the institutions represented in this project have been supporting for years. For a person with a severe visual impairment to be able to go to their nearest public library and come away with, at least, the information they need to locate the document they are looking for is of inestimable value to them and something to which we have been aspiring for a very long time.
The October 1999 Declaration of Copenhagen, which maintains that one of the primary functions of public libraries is "democracy and citizenship", in an attempt to "increase the quality of life and citizens' democratic potential [...] by providing them free and equitable access to high quality information" affords blind and visually impaired people access to yet another service to which their citizenship entitles them. For this reason, as the Declaration of Copenhagen states, public libraries must undergo a technological revolution that provides "maximum access to new information resources for all citizens, regardless of their financial, physical or educational condition". And in order to enable technology to access information, information needs to be made available.
We are aware that to reach this aim, those of us who have information are under the obligation to make it public as soon as possible. And this is where projects such as MIRACLE come into play. It is in this area - in this desire for public libraries to be information centres more than (or in addition to) mere storehouses and reading rooms - that projects based on the circulation of information, the circulation of documents through present IT and communications resources, have a primary role. The MIRACLE project has undertaken to catalogue and classify, harmonise and standardise bibliographic information on the formerly scattered stocks of Europe's principal Braille musical score producers. It is now up to the information management majors to help us disseminate that information, to publicise the services that this project provides to a community of citizens who, up to now, have found little support outside specialised library milieus. This is the minor miracle that will make our project useful.