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The Early Days of Bookshare

Eagerness, excitement, dedication, and pride characterized the early days of Bookshare. Many of the early Bookshare Members with disabilities were also volunteers who dedicated long hours to scanning and proofreading books, prior to submitting the books to Bookshare. These volunteers literally opened a book and pressed the pages one-by-one, onto a flatbed scanner, hoping the scanner would accurately recognize the text on the page.

We’ve gathered some stories from early Members and volunteers to remind ourselves what Bookshare was like and how good it was! Members are welcome to contribute more to this retrospective through Comments in this blog.

“It was 2002 and I was a freshman in college. I read about Bookshare in USA today and signed up right away! I used whatever textbook I could find; it was luck of the draw. I remember I found a novel I needed for an English class. I used Bookshare for all my pleasure reading. When I was reading, I was tied to my computer. I’m so glad that isn’t true anymore and that we can read anytime, anywhere with Read2Go!” said Olivia Norman, currently a sales associate for Apple.

The dedication of the volunteers – then and now – was and is impressive. One volunteer, Anna Dresner, told us about a weekend of work. “I was expecting the birth of my son in late October 2001 and knew they were going to induce labor the following Wednesday. My husband had scanned a lot of books for me, and I wanted to submit them to Bookshare. So I spent a good part of that weekend uploading books to the site.”

Another original volunteer and Member who’s now on Bookshare’s Collection Development team, Liz Halperin, said, “I was a Member from the very start. I still keep the copy of my Proof of Disability that I faxed for membership, dated in February 2002. After paying the initial membership fee, I never paid again: I worked it off in volunteer scanning. Other volunteers helped teach me and the volunteer email list was very busy. Proofreading was called validating. I always self-proofed my scans before submitting for validation. My biggest embarrassment: I took out all the page breaks in one long book before submitting it. Nope, it’s not in the collection anymore.”

The words of early Member and volunteer Paula Muysenberg express the enthusiasm felt by all: “Bookshare was a dream come true! Besides more access to books, I soon discovered that Bookshare offered other advantages.  Navigating the website helped me better learn how to use the Internet, something I knew little about when I first signed up. One of the best parts about volunteering for Bookshare was that I could be part of helping to shape the online book collection, instead of waiting to see if some agency somewhere would braille or record the books I wanted to read.”

Ms. Muysenberg also appreciated Bookshare’s different approach to a library for the blind. “As a Bookshare Member, I could also keep the books I downloaded.  While I had greatly appreciated lending libraries that offered accessible books, it’s such a blessing to actually own books that I can refer to again and again!  I have had the pleasure of reading some of my downloaded books aloud to my children, as well.”

The sentiments of all are best summed up by early Member Michael Asher. “Bookshare has been the very best resource for my reading needs. You have the most recent and largest selection of books and periodicals in one place anyone would want. Bookshare allows my life to be more rich and exhilarating with the content you provide. My mother was a book reviewer and reading was a very important part of growing up. Unfortunately, my reading disability didn’t allow me to enjoy the world of books. Bookshare has given me and my family the chance to pass along the wonderful experience of reading. I have children who although have reading difficulties are avid readers.  Thanks to Bookshare the world of words continues to enrich myself, my family’s, and others’ lives.”

We encourage all Members and volunteers to add their stories to this retrospective, simply by adding a Comment to this post. Be sure to tell us when you first joined or learned about Bookshare. Thank you all for your dedication over the years!


  1. Philiph Woodforf III

    Hello my name is Philiph Woodford III,
    I have been a member to Bookshare since 2009. I asked Bookshare to have Robin Hobbs’ publisher added to bookshare in 2010 so that other Bookshare members could enjoy her books as much as I have. I hope Penguin Group U.S.A. is added to the collection.

    • Betsy Burgess

      Thank you for your comment!

  2. I remember my earliest days with — it was 2003 and I had just (proudly) become a US Library of Congress Certified Braille Transcriber. I read on the Bookshare website that they were requesting anyone who had edited proofread BRF Braille files to contact and maybe provide such files to Bookshare.

    I sent several emails to Bookshare saying that I had several such volumes that I had pains-takingly entered via 6-key as back then I had no scanning / OCR / automated Braille translation capabilities.

    But I never received a reply. Nothing. I did not again come in contact with Bookshare until 2007 but that is a whole ‘nother story.

    • Betsy Burgess

      Wow! The organization must have been too small to reply. Our apologies many years later! Obviously, we reply now.

  3. BTW the wording from the original website c/ 2002-2005 (which I have saved) was:

    BRF (Digital Braille) accepts submissions of BRF files, so if you have access to carefully proofread BRF files, we welcome you to submit them as the quality will likely be
    better than what the software automatically generates for its downloadable BRF files.

    • Betsy Burgess

      You still have the wording! OCR and the quality of our books have improved lots since those early days. Maybe you’ve noticed?

  4. Liz Halperin

    I mentioned an early book I had submitted after I foolishly removed all the page breaks. That book has recently joined the collection, now an excellent quality book, thanks to a generous grant from one of our benefactors. That’s wonderful because the book pages are larger than the standard home flat bed scanner and the formatting is a bear to tackle.
    Liz Halperin, who now can read that very book!

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