Orange silhouette stack of books attached to a computer mouse.

How Bookshare books come to life

It's alive! A behind-the-scenes look at how your favorite Bookshare books get converted to accessible formats.

When I was visiting Palo Alto, I had the opportunity to tour Bookshare headquarters and learn more about how Bookshare books come to life. As someone who has used the service for over eight years, it was fascinating for me to see all of the work and attention to detail that goes into creating accessible books that I can read alongside my friends. Today, I will be sharing how Bookshare books come to life for users with print disabilities.

What is Bookshare?

Bookshare is an online accessible library that provides copies of accessible books for people with print disabilities, which is defined as the inability to read standard print. At this time, there are over 700,000 titles available, including New York Times Bestsellers, new releases from popular authors, and many more titles. Bookshare membership is free for qualified K-12 and college students and $50 for qualified adults.

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Requesting titles

Bookshare users frequently determine which Bookshare books will be included on the platform. Users can request books through the request link on their website, which requests the title, ISBN, author, publisher, and copyright year. Users can also indicate whether the book is required for school- books that are required have a much faster turnaround time.

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Buying the book

Once Bookshare receives a request for a title, they will purchase the book or request a digital copy from the publisher. For many obscure titles, they will purchase a physical copy of the book that they will manually scan in with their technology. Users do not have to pay for a book that they are requesting- books can be requested free of charge.

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Cutting off the spine/preparing for scanning

Once a book is ready to begin its process of transforming into a Bookshare book, a staff member will look through the pages to make sure they are in good condition. Next, they use a tool that chops off the spine of the book, similar to a guillotine so that they can feed the pages into a high speed scanner.

Photo of machine that cuts off the spine of a book.

Off with their spines!

Scanning the book

Once the pages are loaded into the scanner, a staff member presses a button and the pages are scanned in high resolution OCR format. This entire process goes very quickly and most books can be finished in less than 15 minutes.

OCR scanner machine that scans book pages.

Stitching it together

Now that the pages are scanned in, another staff member will start to stitch the book together and put pages in order. They will convert the book into different accessible formats including MP3, EPUB, DAISY, and Braille formatted files so that users can access books with their preferred assistive technology.

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Going to the proofreader

Once a book is stitched together, the proofreader will fix any text or punctuation errors and ensure that the book is in the correct order. If Bookshare receives a digital copy of the book directly from the publisher, they will check to make sure the page numbers are correct as well.

Publishing on Bookshare

Once a book is proofread and ready to go, the book is published on the Bookshare website for users to download and read. Users can search for books to download by title, author name, and ISBN, but another cool way to look for books is to search by topic or genre, as this allows users to really dig deep into a subject they are interested in. This was a cool feature I had never tried out before I visited Bookshare.

Timeline for a book to be added to Bookshare

There are lots of factors that can determine how long it takes for a book to be added to Bookshare, such as the availability of a digital copy from the publisher, how long it takes to find a print copy of a book, and the type of book that it is- school books get converted much faster as priority is given to students. Since all of my requests have been for school-related books, I have found that most of them are fulfilled within a few weeks. If students are taking a literature class, I recommend submitting requests for books whenever they get a copy of the syllabus to ensure there is adequate turnaround time. Books that are not school related may take a few months to be added to Bookshare.

Final thoughts

I’m so glad Bookshare took the time to show me around their office, and I loved getting to learn how a book can go from a small print paperback to an accessible book in several different formats. It definitely gave me a greater appreciation for Bookshare and all that they do for students!

By Veronica Lewis/Veronica With Four Eyes,

Updated September 2023; original post published July 2019.

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