2004 Conference Proceedings

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Robert Martinengo, ATPC Supervisor
71-A Day Road
Ventura, CA 93003
Phone: 805-648-8927
Email: rmartinengo@atpcnet.net

Martin Crossley, ATPC Etext Production
71-A Day Road
Ventura, CA 93003
Phone: 805-648-8927
Email: mcrossley@atpcnet.net
Web: www.atpcnet.net

After a brief recap of the history of the Alternate Text Production Center, we will discuss and demonstrate the challenges of working with book publishers in obtaining electronic text for use by students with print-disabilties.


The Alternate Text Production Center [ATPC] was created by the California Community Colleges Chancellor's Office in 1999. A grant to operate the ATPC was awarded to Ventura College, located about 60 miles north of Los Angeles, in June 2001.

The primary purpose of the ATPC is to coordinate the production and distribution of electronic text, Braille, tactile graphics, and large print. All ATPC services are performed at no cost to the colleges. The ATPC began accepting requests in June of 2002.

The ATPC has been requesting E-text directly from publishers. In the Fall semester of 2003, the ATPC made well over 1,000 requests to over 100 publishers, ranging from the largest - Pearson Education, Thomson Learning, and McGraw Hill - to independents such as Arte Publico Press and Vista Higher Learning.

We now have over 1,200 files of in our catalog. Most textbook publishers have some system in place to process requests, but fill rate, response time, and file quality continue to vary.

This experience has highlighted the different expectations and capabilities of the colleges making the requests, and the publishers who receive them. There are three significant areas where these expectations diverge: technological, procedural, and philosophical.


The quality, quantity, and retrievability of electronic files varies between, and within, publishers. The notion that publishers know what they have, where they have it, and have the same for all their books is simply wrong. Files are stored with production houses, books are bought from other publishers and the files are misplaced, parts of files go missing, files are stored under different names, etc., etc.

Assuming files are located, formats and layouts also vary wildly. We have received books as one huge PDF file, and books where every page was its own PDF file, which took 4 CDs for a cookbook. We have had Quark, FrameMaker, PDF, Word, and some things we couldn't identify. Many files are made on Apple systems, and provide problems for PCs, so we bought an IMac just to open files. Page layouts within files also vary. Most publisher files do not have the book page numbers in them, making navigation confusing for the student. The ATPC can not fix the files because we do not have a copy of the book, so the college must spend time editing the publisher file.

Another challenge is the widespread practice of bundling and customizing books into packages with ISBN numbers that are unique to that particular item. Many times the ISBN requested will not match what we have in our catalog, but on closer inspection, we find that we have the files needed with a variant on the spelling of the title, or a book that was packaged with a CD will have a different ISBN but be the same material. Again, it is difficult to be confident that the publisher files match the students text without side-by-side comparison.


AB422 presumed an orderly exchange between requester and publisher. In reality, it's all over the map. Every publisher has their own variation, and the big publishers vary within themselves. Sometimes we fax a form, sometimes email, sometimes we have to sign something, sometimes not. Rarely do we receive feedback telling us if or when a file will be sent.

In a few cases, the publisher trusts us enough so that all I have to do is email the book information to the contact, and I get a file in return - no certification or license. Other publishers treat the file like gold, and don't like sending it without restrictive agreements, which we always sign to obtain the file. We have been charged a fee, from $15 to $40, which we paid. There is no rhyme or reason to the process, but we usually end up doing whatever the publisher requires.

Another huge gray area is the definition of a textbook. Several trade publishers who have many books adopted for college use refuse to provide files outright, but many smaller companies have provided files because we ask them nicely, with no mention of any legal obligation. One recent success was receiving files for 'The Gospel According to the Simpsons' from Presbyterian Publishing, who was happy and surprised to know their book was being used in a classroom.


For all the difficulty with technology and procedure, it is the philosophy behind AB422 which is probably its greatest contribution and greatest weakness. All of the large textbook publishers have taken the intention of the law and applied it across the board, regardless of the state of origin. They will respond to requests from qualified organizations, and in some cases individuals, regardless of location. Thus, California is receiving no favored treatment, and appointing the ATPC, or anyone else, as a 'single point of contact' will have little or no effect on the timely, accurate, and appropriate provision of electronic text.

On the other hand, there is a definite current of resentment within some publishers, as was probably anticipated by the authors of AB422. What may not have been anticipated was that publishers have interpreted the law as they see fit, and define compliance as whatever they feel like doing. Since the files and service is given to us for free, there is an expectation that we should be happy with what we get, and not make too many waves. This has been particularly noticeable with one large publisher. The lack of enforcement has led to a Catch-22 situation, where we receive services that go beyond the letter of the law, but in return, we are expected not to complain when other legal requirements are not met.


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