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65th IFLA Council and General


Bangkok, Thailand, August 20 - August 28, 1999

Section Activities and Developments in the Area of Libraries for the Blind

Beatrice Christensen Sköld
Chair of IFLA Section of Libraries for the Blind,


SLB Activities

In the Medium-Term Programme of IFLA for the period 1998-2001 the Section of Libraries for the Blind has the following scope:

The Section of Libraries for the Blind concerns itself with library services for the blind and other print handicapped readers. The main purposes of the Section are to promote national and international cooperation in this field, and to encourage research and development in all aspects of this area, thus improving the access of information for the blind and other print handicapped persons.

The Section is thus concerned with the implementation of service goals, standardisation of material, problems of copyright, bibliographic control, technical standards, free transmission of postal and tele communications or any means of distribution of material, and the identification of the locations of special format collections and activities for the blind and other print handicapped readers.

In order to carry out these tasks the Standing Committee of the Section has put out a number of goals and made an action plan for the period 1998-1999.

Goal 1

Encourage the establishment of library service to print handicapped persons in countries where it does not exist or is inadequate, thus bridging the information gap.

One way of fulfilling this goal is by arranging training seminars in developing countries. In February this year we arranged a seminar in Grahamstown, Southafrica in cooperation with the Southafrican Library for the Blind.

Goal 2

Establishment of guidelines for library services for print handicapped persons.

In August 1998 IFLA professional Board approved of Guidelines for Library Services to Braille Users, that the Section had worked out. The Section is also planning to work out similar guidelines for talking book services.

Goal 3

Provide proactive leadership in the evolution of the digital library for the visually handicapped.

Several working groups within the Standing Committee are following the developments in this field. The Section advocates mainstream industry standards where appropriate and applicable. We have one working group that follows the development in the area of digital talking books and another for the development of Metadata.

Goal 4

Reduce the major obstacles for free international flow of special format, such as copyright regulations, technical standards, postal regulations etc

Within the Standing Committee we always have a working group, which investigates and clarifies questions of copyright regulations regarding electronic text and digital audio as well as older formats such as braille and talking books on analogue cassettes.

We live in a time when postal services are being privatised, which means that the UN regulations about free postal matters for the blind can be set aside . The Section tires to influence the universal Postal Union as well as governments . Free postal distribution of special format material is fundamental for library services to the visually impaired.

Goal 5

Promote the use of cataloguing standards to make alternate material accessible.

One of the most important tasks of our main organisation IFLA is to set out cataloguing standards, such as the MARC format. The Section recommends that libraries for the blind also use national and international standard formats for their catalogues. Many libraries for the blind are offered to put their records in the Library of Congress Union catalogue for special format material. The Section is also promoting use of the Z 39.50 protocol which enables you to unite several catalogues.

Goal 6

Encourage the training and continuing education of professionals in the field service to print handicapped readers.

Expert meetings like this one, open sessions and workshops during the IFLA General Conferences are one way of reaching this goal. We also try to influence library schools so that they include our kind of services in their training programs. During the IFLA Conference in Barcelona in 1993 the Section has workshop in cooperation with The Section of Library Schools.

Goal 7

Promote international interlibrary loan materials for print handicapped readers.

One important tool for interlibrary loans is the International Directory of Libraries for the Blind . Our aim is to make this directory accessible on Internet. The Japanese Society for Rehabilitation of Persons with Disabilities has kindly offered to host the directory. Right now the Directory is being updated.

In cooperation with FORCE the section is planing to publish a source book on interlibrary loan resources for alternate material for the visually handicapped, to replace the old one from 1992

Goal 8

Provide information about the work of the Section and the Standing Committee to those interested in library services to the blind and other print handicapped.

We do this by publishing a Newsletter twice a year, in English and in Spanish in a printed versions as well as in braille and on diskette. The Newsletter is also accessible on IFLA-Net (www.ifla.org)

We also continuously publish and update Section brochures in English, German/Russian, French and Spanish.

Goal 9

Cooperate with appropriate international organisations, by recognising the need of users, and by promoting cooperation between libraries serving print handicapped readers and user organisations.

We try to the co-operate with the World Blind Union and other international organisations representing the print handicapped, regarding such issues as copyright, standards of talking books and braille etc.

This is a brief account of the Section's professional activities.


During the last two years the Section of Libraries for the Blind has focused its activities on the development of electronic media and information technology. The satellite meeting in Koege, Denmark, prior to the Conference General in Copenhagen 1997, was a big manifestation. Under the theme Overcoming the Barriers to the Virtual Library of Alternate Format Materials, international experts presented the latest development in this area.

The seminar was such success that the Section was asked to repeat the program (of course a bit updated) here in Malaysia.

In this seminar you will listen to presentations of some of the most important projects going on in the world of the libraries for the Blind. I will just briefly mention some of the projects and certain trends.

One of the most important projects is the development of a new digital talking book standard . For this development more than forty members of the section have joined in a consortium called the DAISY Consortium. DAISY being the acronym of Digital Audio-based Information System.

We also have session with the theme The Digital Library Concept . With the digital technology practically all information, at least in theory, is accessible for a print handicapped person. The CNIB Library was one of the first libraries for the blind to use this opportunity and in 1997 launched Visunet. Now The National Library for the Blind in Stockport, UK has joined Visunet.

Integration and normalisation are two political key-words. For how long shall we have special libraries for the blind? The digitisation of libraries is as we see one way. But you also have to make non-digitised material available for the blind. There are several projects around the world where public and university libraries are made accessible to the blind and other handicapped by for example building up work stations with necessary devices.

At the Seminar in Koege in 1997 David Mann from RNIB gave us an overview of copyright regulations in Europe USA, Canada and New Zealand. We do not have a similar paper at this seminar, which I now regret.

One of the most serious threats against the realisation of the digital library for the blind is the proposals of changes in copyright legislation made by WIPO and the EC can be serious threats to the freedom of information for also handicapped persons if they are put in operation. Hopefully states will observe this fact and legislate in the spirit of the United Nations' Standard Rules on the Equalisation of Opportunities for Persons with Disabilities.


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