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Member Spotlight: Academic Enjoys Instant Access to Scholarly Texts in Bookshare

Olga Borovaya, PhD, a university researcher and lecturer with a visual impairment, relies on Bookshare for immediate access to scholarly texts in accessible formats

Olga Borovaya has been doing research and teaching at Stanford and other universities since 1998, which is when she started losing her eyesight. An expert in Sephardic Studies and Ladino Culture, she was always looking for resources and devices that would make her work possible despite her visual impairment, but most of the time she relied on research assistants who would read to her in several languages and help her find books at the university libraries.

How did you find out about Bookshare?

About three years ago, Mike Marlin, director of the California Braille and Talking Book Library (BTBL), told me about the Victor Reader Stream, a handheld media player for the blind and visually impaired. A year or so later, I read in the BTBL Newsletter about Bookshare, the world’s largest library of accessible ebooks. Through a project funded by the Institute of Museum and Library Services, patrons could use Bookshare for free. I applied and became a happy Bookshare member.

How did you discover that Bookshare had academic books?

The Beginnings of Ladino Literature: Moses Almosnino and His Readers by Olga Borovaya

I know that Bookshare has fiction books, but one day I decided to check whether there might be academic books. As a joke, I typed in the titles of my own books—and they were there, to my immense surprise. After this experiment, I searched for other academic works in the Bookshare library and found most of what I needed.

Since that time, I constantly use Bookshare, often several times a day. Sometimes, I hear about a new book from a colleague and immediately type in the title or the author’s name. By the end of the conversation, I surprise my colleague by reporting that I have already downloaded the book we just discussed to my device.

How did Bookshare help you with your research during the pandemic?

Modern Ladino Culture by Olga Borovaya

I regularly listen to work-related podcasts, such as “New Books in History” and “New Books in Language,” and I search for books right away. It takes several weeks for a university library to acquire and catalogue a new book, even an ebook, but Bookshare receives new publications immediately. So, I read many books in my field much earlier than my sighted colleagues do. And during the pandemic, Bookshare was particularly important because it allowed me to finish my new book without having to wait for the Stanford libraries to reopen.

Victor Reader allows me to go through a book by chapter and often by page, insert bookmarks, search for words, hear the spelling of any word, and look it up in a dictionary. I must admit that I still cannot get used to this miracle!

Even though over 900 publishers around the world donate digital files to Bookshare, not all publishers collaborate, and many books published before 2000 are unavailable. But new publishers and books are being added all the time, and the library continues to grow. Bookshare currently has over 1 million books in 34 languages. Many third party reading apps and devices offer text-to-speech voices in over 20 foreign languages.

How has Bookshare helped you achieve your professional goals?

It is not an exaggeration to say that Bookshare has changed my professional life and made me significantly more independent. So, I want to thank all those wonderful people who made Bookshare available to me! I hope more scholars and students discover this amazing resource.

About California Braille and Talking Book Library (BTBL)

BTBL is a branch of the California State Library which cooperates with the Library of Congress, National Library Service for the Blind and Print Disabled (NLS). The California State Library directly administers the program in Northern California. The Braille Institute Library in Los Angeles serves residents of Southern California. Students with qualifying disabilities in K-12, college, and other post-secondary schools can receive a Bookshare membership for free. BTBL offers a limited number of free subscriptions to Bookshare for active patrons who are not students.

Learn more about library partnerships with Bookshare.

This article originally appeared in the BTBL News (Fall/Winter issue) and has been reprinted with permission.

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