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Content archived on 2024-04-19

Expansion of European Library Systems for the Visually Disadvantaged


The overall objective of EXLIB has been to investigate and provide a range of user requirement specifications and standards to ensure compatible access to the European Unions information resources between normally sighted and visually disadvantaged Union citizens.

Visually disadvantaged persons (a substantial minority in the Union of 20-25 million citizens) have severe difficulties in gaining access to information in comparison with normally sighted persons. The increasing use of digital storage of information in libraries and the dominantly visual presentation of output calls for other forms of output that are accessible to the visually disadvantaged. EXLIB has therefore examined existing technologies, systems and services including existing and near-future telematics provision for visually disadvantaged and normally sighted persons. This should lead to recommendations (i.e. standards, specifications and planning of implementation trials) upon the most appropriate means to provide enhancements of service to the target population.
Impact and results:

There will be a follow-up European implementation project to test and validate integrated systems assessed during the course of EXLIB.

In addition, its recommendations to enhance access to information services by the visually impaired provided the basis for national projects in Ireland, the Netherlands and Portugal.

Perhaps the most immediate impact of the project, however, is in its information dissemination and awareness raising activities.


All EXLIB project reports are in the public domain, including the final report on EXLIB's activities, results and future plans:

Establishment and role of the Expert User Group;
Survey of information needs of visually disadvantaged and resultant specifications;
Recommendations on technologies, systems and interfaces;
Exploitation of telematics;
Implementation plans for integration of EXLIB results into three pilot projects;
Final recommendations of the Expert User Group.
Technical approach:

The project was structured into six workpackages:

Expert User Group, of users, publishers, governmental and independent organisations, to advise EXLIB, to maximise information acquisition and dissemination and to develop links with related work.
Technologies, systems, interfaces in three areas: catalogue access in specialised/general libraries; use of existing specialised publications; ways to publish for the visually disadvantaged.
Exploitation of telematics to examine adaptations, compatibility and integration.
User requirements specifications and standards developed for the visually impaired and for librarians and associated professionals.
Library information access systems and services for the disadvantaged in central, research, regional and local (general) libraries;
Infrastructures and implementations to integrate all workpackage results and plan pilot project exploitation.

Key issues:

- Technologies, systems and interfaces suitable for enhancing access and use of information;
- Adaptation of telematics (harmonisation, integration with access systems);
- User requirements specifications and development of standards;
- Systems and services for visually disadvantaged at all levels of library systems;
- Definition of pilot experiment implementation plans.

EXLIB had to consider:

The means of communication:

Braille can be computer generated but still relies on manual input and editing;
large print - rarely fully automated even now;
human/synthesised voice, with great potential but cost and quality problems;

Electronic storage is not directly appropriate for visual impairment and adaptation is made difficult by diverse standards. Two for consideration were: ODA (Open Document Architecture) and SGML (Standard Generalised Markup Language).
OPAC and GUI adaptation on voice recognition/synthesis;
Actions in libraries, both specialised and general.

Call for proposal

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Funding Scheme

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EU contribution
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Total cost
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Participants (3)