Technology: Demystifying Daisy by James Risdon - New Beacon Magazine
"Demystifying Daisy" by James Risdon.
Copyright New Beacon Magazine, RNIB, August 2007: www.rnib.org.uk/nbmagazine
James Risdon, RNIB Distributor Liaison Officer, explains all you need to know about Daisy and how to get it
It's often said that nostalgia isn't what it used to be, and true, there is a certain pleasure to be derived from leafing through an old book, or browsing the dusty shelves of a library. But for any blind or partially sighted student of a certain age, the memories of using cassette tapes will not necessarily be fond ones. This article looks at how things have changed over the last decade with the introduction of Daisy.
How we used to read
For me, the fun began even before I started. I remember surveying the distinctly flimsy-looking shelf in my room, and asking a rather bemused caretaker if he would put up some more to store the piles of tapes and Braille books I was destined to acquire over the year. After making some wisecrack about first year students not doing any work anyway, he duly set to work, and the shelves were soon straining under the weight of tapes. Some were more interesting than others, but knowing which were which was impossible to tell. If only there had been a way to skip to the bits I needed and miss out the bits my lecturers told me I needed, I may have had more of a chance to spend my time being a real student, watching Countdown, cooking gourmet suppers and making sure the student union wasn’t left with excess beer on the shelves.
James Odell, who is eagerly awaiting his final marks from Swansea University where he studied Spanish, is all too aware of the frustrations involved in leafing through his set texts. He used cassette for the first two years of his degree before moving to Daisy. He says "it could take fifteen minutes to find an entry in the index, go to the right cassette and then find what you're looking for, only to realise it is a passing reference and not what you needed at all - pretty frustrating." Sure, a box of twenty-five cassettes may be better than no cassettes at all, but for anyone not wishing to read the entire recording from cover to cover, it's about as user-friendly as a map with no road names. What was needed was a digital accessible information system which is where this article takes up the story.
Where we are now
James’s experiences and tortuous route through his Spanish books are typical of the findings of research carried out back in the early 1990s which led a number of national libraries and organisations for the blind to start investigating alternatives. In 1996, the Daisy Consortium was formed, with six initial members including RNIB - its aim to promote a new standard for digital talking books around the world. The consortium now has fourteen members and many associate members and friends, including commercial organisations such as Microsoft and manufacturers of Daisy players and software developers.
So what is Daisy?
Daisy stands for Digital Accessible Information System, and is a digital reading format which can include structured audio, text and graphics in the same production. The key word here is structured, as whatever the format - be it audio, text, or combined audio and text - Daisy allows the reader to navigate through the book on up to six levels, making it possible to jump to specific sections, subsections, chapters, pages and even phrases. By way of an example, the Daisy TV listings produced weekly by RNIB can be browsed by day, channel, time of day and programme in less time than it takes to find the remote control! In addition, the reader can insert bookmarks for future reference. In short, Daisy is a better way to read, allowing books to be interrogated rather than read.
The ability to synchronise the full text of a book with the audio tracks has benefits for all readers with any kind of print impairment, including those with dyslexia or learning disabilities, as the text can be read on screen, and highlighted in time with the audio. That said, this is the most time-consuming type of Daisy to produce, and requires some training to get started.
What Daisy materials are already available?
The most common format currently available is audio only, and it is this format which RNIB has adopted for the National Library Service. The audio is made up of MP3 files, along with tags which allow the book to be indexed and allow the user to navigate the book flexibly. The book is compressed, so that up to twenty-five hours can be recorded on a single CD.
The RNIB National Library Service is the largest library of unabridged Daisy titles in the world, containing the classics, travel, sci-fi, romance and much more. What’s more, the new Learning and Skills library is expanding every month, with academic titles on every conceivable subject, and is available to National Library Service members.
Over 200 of the most popular Daisy titles are also available to buy and keep for the same price as the print book. This includes box sets of Harry Potter, Stephen King and Roald Dahi. The first Daisy version of the New International Version of the Bible was launched earlier this year in partnership with the Torch Trust.
For those wishing to keep up to date with current affairs or browse the papers over a Sunday morning coffee, the Talking Newspaper Association UK produce four weekly and one monthly Daisy publications, each with a whopping thirty-five hours or so of articles from the broadsheets, tabloids and other leisure titles.
Calibre has recently launched an MP3 service with a growing number of titles available. These books can be played in any Daisy player, though some of the navigation and bookmarking features may not be available.
How you can play Daisy
Daisy books can either be played on a computer using a software Daisy player, or on a range of hardware players. These are available in a variety of shapes and sizes and start from ?35. RNIB sell a number of different Daisy players - see the useful links section at the end of this article.
Customers who subscribe to the RNIB National library Service have the option of loaning a Daisy player as part of their annual subscription.
How you can produce your own Daisy material?
Daisy books can be produced in a variety of ways, depending on the money available to buy software and hardware, the time available for training, and the time available to produce the book.
- The Plextalk PTR2 and Plextalk Recording Software (PRS) are well-suited for audio- only Daisy recordings, for people who wish to record lectures, seminars and the like and use volunteer readers to record other materials.
- EasyProducer is a simple piece of software which can convert a structured Word document into a digital talking book using a synthetic text to speech engine. This is a great way of quickly making materials accessible, such as public information leaflets, educational materials and even instructions.
- EasyPublisher is the most comprehensive Daisy production tool, capable of producing full text and audio books, using either human narration or synthetic speech. It is aimed at anyone wishing to produce materials on a large scale, and is used, for example, by the RNIB transcription centres at Tarporley and Ivybridge, who produce numerous leisure and academic titles each year.
Last year, the RNIB transcription centre in Tarporley alone had approximately 200 individual clients who sent approximately 700 jobs for Daisy transcription. They produced 2,250 hours of Daisy recording, which is approximately 45,500 equivalent print pages, ranging from cookery books to instructions for mobile phones.
So what next?
As the world goes wireless and CDs come to the end of their shelf-life, so Daisy is likewise evolving. RNIB has just launched a new book stream club, which for the first time enables anyone with a PC and internet connection to browse for and listen to audio books directly online. The audio books available are not just our conventional Talking Books but also Daisy versions of many of the most popular titles that we have recorded for individuals. So as well as fiction and biographies you can find cookery gardening, the whole range of academic subjects and even books on the Archers and old steam railways.
So if you’re not already familiar with Daisy, why not try it, and if you are, then happy reading!
RNIB National Library Service:
For information about the service for individuals and sponsors, how to join and
choose books - www.rnib.org.uk/talkingbooks, telephone 08457 624 843
RNJB Book Stream Club:
Browse for and listen to books online - www.rnib.org.uk/booksite, telephone 08457 023 153
Talking Newspaper Association UK provide weekly and monthly Daisy publications -www.tnauk.org.uk, telephone 01435 866 102
A website devoted to the provision of education materials in alternative formats including case studies, conference reports and articles www.altformat.com
An online catalogue of resources in all formats from a range of agencies -www.revealweb.org.uk