The Alternative Format Suite (AFS) at the University of St. Andrews
In this case study we learn about the altformat work Paresh Raval and his team are doing at St Andrew's University. Paresh talks about his Alternative Format Suite (AFS) and the efforts they go to, at St Andrews, to make great accessible materials. St Andrew's Altformat Unit produces high quality audio DAISY material using Dolphin Publisher.
The University of St Andrews boasts a state-of-the-art Alternative Format Suite. This is primarily focused towards the production of DAISY books (versatile audio books) for students with special needs or learning difficulties. Within the AFS a Braille printer is available on demand, and a service is currently available to University departments for the production of learning materials in this format.
We scan books, convert the scans using OCR and proof-read the resulting e-text. We work with MS Word which allows us to produce a versatile e-book, taking advantage of the display options in MS Word. The end product is an adapted e-book with what I call “VAT” – “Value Added Text” – this means we have “humanised” the text to allow for the 2 scenarios that really test our e-books to the limit – Braille and Synthetic voice screen reader.
THE "HUMANISED" TEXT INCLUDES:
- Clear formatting and left justification;
- PAGE introduction;
- SECTION and SUBSECTION introductions;
- OPEN and CLOSE QUOTEs;
- Diagrams of all sorts described with introductions and endings;
- Specialist texts in multi-coloured boxes are introduced and ended;
- Specialist key texts such as Glossary, references words etc are introduced;
- Bullet points are removed and turned into lists;
- Footnotes and References are announced and located to appropriate places for improved access;
- Completed words that are hyphenated over two lines;
- Completed sentences at the beginning or end of pages and Contents and Index entries are corrected as a consequence to match the e-book version;
- Italic words are placed in single quotes;
- Bold words are placed in double quotes;
This is not a complete set of instructions as no 2 books are the same and not all instructions are needed all the time. Sometimes the instructions are altered to suit the style of book layout and sometimes we have to break our own in-house rules.
We also record books in audio, using live readers for clarity. The e-books we produce are full-audio-text DAISY 2.02 talking-books. Metadata is added to the DAISY books prior to building the MP3 version.
Diagrams, tables, figures etc, can be scripted and/or described: this takes a huge effort, depending on the complexity of the material; for best (and accurate) results, it is done with expert readers where possible.
The AFS operates thanks to the help of around 50 volunteers including local residents, University staff and students.
AFS SUITE EQUIPMENT:
- Two special Edge Scanners (OptikBook 3600);
- OCR software – ABBYY Fine Reader;
- Mid-range voice synthesizers;
- Two sound-proof recording booths;
- Braille printer for Grade 1 and 2 Braille.
The final e-book could be in text form as an MS Word (.doc), plain text (.txt), HTML or PDF or DAISY recording. DAISY talking books are held by AFS in two forms: raw WAV for long term storage and corrections and compressed MP3. The MP3 version can be offered on a CD, USB pen drive, or via on-line streaming to legally entitled clients (access systems are required for copyright protection). A DAISY software player is needed to run and access the navigation points built into the e-book. You can play the MP3 alone but there would not be any navigation control. You can access the HTML files alone and convert them to other formats too.
COPYRIGHT AND ACCESS RESTRICTIONS
Clients sign a form of their Copyright responsibility when they take possession of an e-book supplied by the AFS. We need to advertise that e-books are being created and stored (in the University Library) but due to copyright, they are not on Open Shelf access. Access to the e-book must be advertised as for print-disabled clients only.
If the client is registered Visually Impaired, i.e. a member of the RNIB, then there is no problem with seeking copyright permission for producing an e-book. But if the client is not registered Visually Impaired (for instance, is a person with dyslexia) then permission is needed. This can take time to obtain from the copyright holder. Sometimes the copyright might have been sold to another publisher and we could be sent on a wild-goose-chase until we track down the current copyright holder, which may be a frustrating wait for permission.
Clients need to be aware of this so that they can plan ahead to seek permission if they need a book in electronic form.
WE REQUIRE THAT:
- Volunteers are willing to scan and proof-read books.
- Volunteers record directly onto PCs (or tape players if requested);
- Volunteers are willing to listen to the live recording and keep an accurate eye and ear on the recording to make sure that there are no mistakes as the recording is taking place;
So, if you are scanning a book into a Word document, then there will be instructions on how to create the final version - which can include editing the text to produce a certain style.
If you are recording and you make a mistake, then your "Buddy" will attract your attention instantly and ask you to correct your mistake. You could be the "Buddy" listening and requesting corrections to the recording.
All necessary training and instructions are provided. If there comes a time when you or I are not happy with the situation then we can and MUST speak out and alter the training or end the volunteering because the only people who will suffer are the print-disabled students.
The books we reproduce are because the print-disabled students need them, so we don't have a choice on the material. We have produced books of Scottish History, Ethics, Philosophy, Poetry of WWI, Business and Accounting, French and Italian text books.
We don't have a budget for travel expenses and ask all volunteers to:
- Sign a Performance Waiver:
This waiver indicates anonymous production of the e-books and allows the University of St Andrews to own the e-books in whichever format they are created.
- Grant permission to keep basic records on file:
The volunteer allows me to keep records of their name, date of first contact, date of first visit to the AFS, there telephone and email address, basic interests and emergency contact.
Using phone or email is quicker and cheaper to inform volunteers.
I ask volunteers to attend during daytime 9am to 4pm for a one hour session per week (if you can offer more hours in the week then I try to accommodate).
Alternative Format Suite manager
University of St Andrews
www.st-andrews.ac.uk (external link)