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Technology News for People Who Are Blind or Visually Impaired
From the American Foundation for the Blind
 May 2003 Issue  Volume 4  Number 3

Book Review

Finding eBooks on the Internet, by Anna Dresner

Boston: National Braille Press, 2002. Web site: <www.nbp.org>.$14, braille or large print.

Figure 1. Finding eBooks on the Internet

Caption: Finding eBooks on the Internet

There was a time when I had read and reread every braille book available in my tiny elementary school "library." It was housed in the corner of the resource classroom where I learned to read braille and consisted of three small shelves of children's books. Never, I believed then, could there be enough books to satisfy my reading appetite. Of course, I was wrong.

A decade ago, I began loading electronic books, mostly obtained from Project Gutenberg (<http://gutenberg.net>), into my Braille Lite and reveling in the fact that I could carry a book, even a number of books, along with me to read anywhere, anytime. With Web-Braille (sponsored by the National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped at <http://lcweb.loc.gov/nls/reference/factsheets/webbraille.html>) and Bookshare.org (<www.bookshare.org>), also designed specifically for people with visual or learning disabilities), the number and range of books blind people could read with screen readers or braille displays increased exponentially. With each new and magnificent offering of electronic book riches, however, I had to take time, examine the site, learn the most efficient ways to find desired information, and experiment with downloads and transfers in order to gain a certain comfort level with a given site. Anna Dresner's Finding eBooks on the Internet does all of that work for us.

Even if you're crazy about books and enamored with the delicious availability of so many of them on the Web, there is only so much time allotted to each of us to learn new skills. If you're anything like me, a year or two after you first heard about a fabulous web site, you find that it's the topic of conversation once again—and you still haven't taken the 15 or 30 or however many minutes at your own keyboard to look it up and figure out its navigational quirks. This book goes beyond name-dropping (or site-dropping) great Internet book resources. It tells you, very specifically, how to go there, do that, and download the e-book.

In a fairly small book (the braille version is two volumes, 163 pages in all), Dresner covers virtually everything a computer user who is blind needs to know before tracking down a single title or building a personal electronic library. In addition to more familiar sites such as Web-Braille, Bookshare, or Project Gutenberg, Dresner includes a fairly exhaustive list of other mainstream sources of electronic books and details the kinds of literature offered at each location. Rather than a mere listing of resources, however, Finding eBooks serves as a complete tour guide.

Getting the Lay of the Land

With the explanation of each site's holdings, the author provides specific instructions for navigating that particular site. Every time a keyboard action is referenced, the specific keystrokes required to accomplish that action in both JAWS for Windows and Window-Eyes are given immediately afterward in parentheses. Dresner doesn't just tell us to go to a site because it offers good science fiction or best sellers; she describes the "lay of the land" to render that site more friendly to blind users—a feature most blind users will greet with gratitude. Details such as where to find the Search field on a given site, how many links there are and how they're categorized, and even shortcuts to get to a desired piece of information more quickly are all spelled out in these pages.

An explanation of the many file types and how to read them is a particularly useful section of the book, as is the detailed explanation of downloading, storing, and opening e-book files. Which sort of braille file is preferable when you want to emboss it? How, exactly, do you read a PDF file? Dresner doesn't just tell you to go do it, she explains exactly how to accomplish the task.

The five appendixes are particularly valuable, and are arranged in a manner that facilitates a quick check for specific information. How to read a particular file type, what is the key command to go back a page in Internet Explorer, or what is the web address for downloading Acrobat Reader are all bits of information contained and easily located in Appendixes A through E.

While the nuts-and-bolts information in Finding eBooks is valuable and well organized, there were a number of small errors related to language usage that were troubling. The misspelling of Martha Stewart's name in the title of her magazine, for instance, in a section describing the contents of the Web-Braille site, or the mention of "peaking" the reader's interest are the kinds of irritating little oversights that nibble away at some readers. A reference to a device called Bookworm, made by Handy Tech of Germany, as a "commonly used" braille device for reading books startled AccessWorld staff members, who could think of no one who uses the device. Sentence structure, too, is at times convoluted and awkward. Such minor flaws aside, however, the book delivers exactly what its title promises. If you want to learn where and how to find books on the Internet, you'll want to add this book to your collection.

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AccessWorld, Copyright (c) 2003 American Foundation for the Blind. All rights reserved.

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