1999 Conference Proceedings

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LOUIS DATABASE OF ACCESSIBLE MATERIALS FOR PEOPLE WHO ARE BLIND OR VISUALLY IMPAIRED

Maria E. Delgado
American Printing House for the Blind
1839 Frankfort Ave.
Louisville, KY 40206
Phone: (502) 899-2340 Fax: (502) 899 2363
E-mail: mdelgado@aph.org

This workshop will present a hands-on tour of the Louis Database of Books and Materials in Accessible Media.

The American Printing House for the Blind continues its tradition of promoting the independence of visually impaired individuals by making the Louis Database of Accessible Materials available to everyone. Today, the Louis Database can be easily accessed through the Internet, concentrating location information from over 200 agencies across the U.S into one source. Louis contains more than 140,000 records, with locations for books in braille, large print, computer file, sound recording, tactile graphics, music, and pamphlets, and APH products. The Louis Database is updated daily in order to keep up with the demand of our users and contributing agencies.

For its accessibility, as well as for the valuable information compiled in its memory, we believe that the Louis Database of Accessible Materials is an essential tool to make better and more efficient use of limited resources. As we all know too well, books and materials in accessible media are expensive, labor intensive to produce, and above all, difficult to find. We believe that by sharing and exchanging information through Louis about these unique materials, we can make a difference for individuals who are visually impaired, and also for those educators and administrators who serve these individuals.

From the student's point of view, Louis serves as a means to increase independence and self-esteem by allowing individuals to find their own books and materials. The ability to browse these unique pieces of information is important because it gives students a good idea of all the resources available to them, as well as an increased knowledge of the materials specially designed for their use.

From the administrators' and educators' perspective, Louis serves as a tool to acquire books and materials in a timely manner. Louis is a step toward the goal of having each student start the first day of school with books and materials in hand. Louis also helps educators around the country to organize their lesson plans ahead of time, using books that are already available in accessible media and ready to be used by their students.

From the alternate media producer's perspective, Louis prevents the duplication of costly production efforts. It can be used by agencies to prevent wasting time, money, and energy producing books or developing materials that are already available to blind individuals through other sources. The exchange of information about these resources through the Louis database allows agencies to produce and develop new materials that are not already available to blind individuals.

Throughout the years Louis has undergone a great deal of transformation, as it went from being a simple index card file system called the Central Catalog, to a speech friendly database accessible to both blind and sighted individuals through the Internet.

In the 1950's, the Central Catalog was devised as a system to prevent duplication of effort when producing braille materials. At that time, the textbook consultant and director of the Central Catalog of textbooks for the visually impaired, Carl Lappin, decided there needed to be a compilation of textbook data. Mr. Lappin established a card file system, using the U.S Postal system as the communication method. Braille transcribers sent APH a letter saying they had begun transcribing a textbook. On the other end, educators of the visually impaired were encouraged to write a letter to APH when they needed information about books. This index card system consisted of approximately 16,000 titles.

Soon, the number of books to be recorded in the Central Catalog increased, as a number of additional alternate media agencies realized it was a wise choice to add their books to its files. Therefore, in the 1980's, the Central Catalog was upgraded and converted into an electronic database called APH-CARL. The data from the index card files was entered into a Hewlett Packard computer, which allowed users to dial directly into the database to look for information. This system provided information for about thirty to forty thousand textbooks in accessible media.

As time went by, the number of users, as well as the number of contributing agencies who wanted to add their titles into the database again increased, and the APH-CARL system was found to have several limitations, especially memory. Once again, it was time for the system to be upgraded. In the 1990's the American Printing House decided to purchase a main frame computer, and convert the APH-CARL data into a full library format. After this upgrade, APH encouraged all agencies across the country to send their textbooks as well as other titles to the database, and APH-CARL was renamed Carl Et Al, which in Latin means Carl and others.

Two years ago APH took Carl Et Al off the main frame to diversify the ways end users could obtain this information. The new system was implemented by October of 1997, when it acquired its present name, Louis, in honor of Louis Braille. Today, high-speed telephone lines replace the postal service system of the 1950's.

The American Printing House for the Blind has provided three ways to retrieve information in Louis. For those individuals who have Internet access, Louis is available at the American Printing House web page at: www.aph.org/ This interface allows visually impaired individuals to obtain this data using speech access.

For those individuals who have access to a computer but do not have Internet service, or their speech software does not support Internet access, the information in Louis can also be retrieved through a direct dial-in interface. With the use of a modem and a piece of speech friendly telecommunications software called CTE, computer users can dial-in directly into Louis through a toll free line. APH provides, upon request, the pre-configured telecommunications software, as well as an 800 number. Finally, for those individuals who have no computer access at all, Louis information is provided through our telephone reference service at: 1-800-223-1839. Or the information can be faxed to the APH Resource Services Department at: 502-899-2363.

At the American Printing House for the Blind our goal is to make Louis accessible to everyone. If you or someone you know would like to learn more about the Louis Database, please contact us. We will provide information, training, or set up workshops according to your needs. Contact Maria Delgado, the Louis Database Field Representative, at 502-895-2405 ext. 340, or send your request by e-mail to louisrep@aph.org. We will be glad to offer our Louis training services anywhere in the U.S.


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