Wednesday, 11 August 2010

Digital books for print-disabled users

The Victoria University of Wellington Library now provides 1064 of the works available through the NZETC collection in a new format to support the needs of those with print-related disabilities.

One of the potentially positive results of digitisation is that electronic documents hold the promise of substantially increasing access to material for people who are blind or have limited vision.  Through a collaboration with the Royal New Zealand Foundation of the Blind we have now generated DAISY Books for the majority of titles in the NZETC collection. The work was funded through a grant from the Community Partnership Fund and the books are now freely available to download.  To try out a DAISY book click on the logo when you see it in the right hand tool bar for a text like this. You will also need a reader — here is a list of readers and here is a free one to download.

The DAISY (Digital Accessible Information System) standard describes an open data format for the representation of interactive books that are accessible to those with print-related disabilities. Daisy books may have both a textual and an audio component and allow for an active reading experience. To read a Daisy book, a reader needs a hardware or software playback system. Unlike a book on a cassette tape that users typically listen to from start to finish, readers using a Daisy book player can easily move backward and forward in the book; they can move to chapters, sections, pages, or bookmarks they have created.

We worked with Brett Challacombe-King from the University Disability Support Services to understand how DAISY books would worked best for students. This was particularly important as some of the books now available in DAISY format are prescribed reading for courses. Examples include “Forest vines to snow tussocks : the story of New Zealand plants” (BIOL219) and “Everything is possible to will” (GEND409).  Brett advised that most students here have their own hardware with built in text-to-speech synthesizer which they will have adjusted to suit their particular needs and preferences. There was therefore no real advantage in providing our DAISY books with a generated audio component that would be little used and result in the books themselves being very large and time consuming to download.

We will monitor the use of the new format and if it proves popular extend the delivery to other titles in the collection. Tell us if you have other good ideas for improving the usability of digital content!


Friday, 6 August 2010

The Centennial Surveys: the establishment of modern New Zealand history

We're pleased to be able to make the Centennial Historical Surveys available online.

The centennial historical surveys comprise of eleven volumes (originally thirteen were intended) published between 1939 and 1942 to commemorate the 100 years since the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi.

The surveys were a milestone in New Zealand historical publications, representing a shift from a generation of amateur enthusiasts (such as James Cowan, Elsdon Best, Johannes Anderson, and T. L. Buick) to a generation of academically-trained historians (John Cawte Beaglehole, F. L. Wood, W. T. G. Airey, and James Rutherford). As Rachel Barrowman puts it in her essay, History and Romance: The Making of the Centennial Historical Surveys, "The new historians were trained in the research practices and academic standards of the British universities of the interwar years. For them, history entailed the presentation of thesis and evidence; it had footnotes and arguments."

As well as representing a sea-change in historical analysis of our country, the Centennial Surveys were also a typographical milestone, largely the accomplishment of Beaglehole's genius. As the Surveys were a government initiative, it would have been expected that the Government Printing Office would have been responsible for their eventual printed form. However, due to some skillful negotiation by Oliver Duff, the original series editor, and Joseph Heenan, the civil servant who developed the idea of the surveys, the printing was put out to tender and it was Wilson and Horton who secured the contract.

As Sydney Shep relates in her essay about the typographic production of the centennial publications, concerning the Government Printing Office Beaglehole was particularly irked that it was more willing to spend £500,000 on a new building, than a paltry £2-3000 on replacing its outmoded, 'poverty-stricken and ugly' types and thought that there was "some question how far it is competent to print a book at all."

Initially someone who thought the centennial surveys "a series of fatuities, all of them depraved", Beaglehole became an ardent supporter and collaborator of Heenan, and, as Shep relates:
dreamed of a superbranch in Internal Affairs comprising archives, historical publications, and a historical manuscripts and monuments commission. Safeguarding the country's heritage and disseminating it through popular and accessible publications, Beaglehole's new agency was fancifully termed a 'Tolerable-Printing-and-Graphic-Art-Education-Department'. It was later called 'Historical Branch' and remains today a unique entity in the western world.

The Historical Branch (now known as the History Group, part of the Ministry for Culture and Heritage), is responsible today for publishing New Zealand history in a number of guises, including New Zealand History Online, and has a close relationship with Te Ara Online Encyclopedia of New Zealand and the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography.

Although there are occasional deviations from form, the thirteen centennial surveys presented a important modern picture of New Zealand's first century of nationhood, and highlights of the series include Simpson's The Women of New Zealand (the best-seller of the series, and almost an afterthought of the editorial committee), Beaglehole's Discovery of New Zealand, McCormick's Letters and Art in New Zealand, and F. L. Wood's New Zealand and the World.

As well as the Centennial Surveys themselves, we are pleased to be able to make available the collection of essays Creating a National Spirit: Celebrating New Zealand's Centennial, which includes much interesting analysis of the Centennial from various points of view. We thank the authors of these essays, and the series editor, Bill Renwick, for their cooperation with this project.

Over time we hope to add to this collection, and future additions will include:
  • the 30-part pictorial series Making New Zealand
  • the Official Guide to the exhibition
  • the guide to the Centennial Art Exhibition
For more information about the Centennial publications, and the Centennial Exhibition itself, consult the following: