{ subscribe_url:'/share/sites/library-of-congress-blogs/nls-music-notes.php' }

Digitizing Braille Music

“You are beautiful! You make me so happy.”

This maybe a typical remark of an ardent dog lover fussing over her Pomeranian, or a declaration by a young bridegroom as he gazes at his fiancée walking down the aisle in her gorgeous wedding gown. However, here in the Music Section, such sentiments are usually uttered by an appreciative librarian sitting at the DotScan unit (previously referred to as the German scanner), admiring a clean braille music scan that will require a minimum amount of editing.

You may recall our past blog posts titled, Digitizing Braille Music — How We Do It and Digitizing Braille Music: An Update On Scanning by John Hanson and Amanda Smith respectively. As they wrote, our braille music collection has been prioritized for digitization, and we have been devoting hours to scanning and editing the music scores.

In his blog, John explained about the different software that we use for scanning braille music scores. Since the blog, we have retired the Russian scanner and have mostly been using DotScan. However, we still rely on the OBR (optical braille recognition) software for interpoint (braille embossed on both sides of the page).

Scanning braille music is not as simple as photocopying print pages. In this blog, you will read about the procedures that we undertake to get the most accurate images possible. Our scores have been collected from more than 20 different braille publishing sources from many different countries, so you can imagine the variety in formats, paper and the quality of braille that we work with.

Kate Rodda editing at the DotScan unit

Kate Rodda editing at the DotScan unit

One of the most important steps in capturing a clean image is establishing precise parameter measurements. For each piece of braille music that we scan, we have to measure the distance between the adjoining dots within the cell, and those of adjoining cells. Without accurate measurements, the software has trouble converting the images into text and music notation. If the measurements are off, the resulting images we see on the screen are full of mistakes, making reviewing and editing impossible.

The next step following the scanning is reviewing and editing the scanned music, which at times can be a challenging test of visual acuity, attention to detail and most of all, patience. DotScan requires each line of the scanned braille page to be checked individually. We compare the cells in the review bar to the scanned image and make the corrections. Worn-out braille with squished dots, mistaken dots that were pushed back, unevenly-spaced braille characters, and the dots in the cells that are not aligned perfectly typically appear encased in white or blue circles. These circles alert the reviewer that the cells need to be double checked.

When the software does not accurately pick up the braille cells, the reviewer has to manually fill in the dots cell by cell with the computer mouse.  There could be a few cells here and there that have to be filled in or there could be 4-5 lines, page after page that require manual corrections. For example, a 100-page clean master copy may take as little as 6 hours to scan and edit. However, a 100-page braille music score on deteriorating thermoform can take five times longer to review. The quality of scan that we capture will be poor, requiring hours of manual corrections. Now you understand why our emotional well-being can directly be tied to how the scan comes out.

After each page has been scrutinized, we recheck our edits before saving the final copy for formatting.  We move to a different editing software to make sure that the books are in the standardized format (40 cells per line and 25 lines per page). This step is important in ensuring that the embosser does not cut off any cells and lines that exceed the standard limit.

This year so far, we have digitized 116 books. That is over 8,000 pages of braille music! However, the number of books that we have digitized up to now represents only a small percentage of our huge braille collection.  It is a daunting task that we are undertaking. However, I see the Music Section as The Little Engine That Could, chugging along steadfastly and single-mindedly, looking forward to the day we can proudly say, “We thought we could. Yes, we knew we could!”


Congratulations Smokey Robinson!

This past week, the Library of Congress recognized Smokey Robinson as the winner of this year’s Gershwin Prize for Popular Song. Smokey Robinson is probably most remembered as being the leader of Smokey Robinson and the Miracles. Hits for The Miracles included “Shop Around,” “Going to a Go-Go,” and “Tracks of My Tears.” Robinson also […]

Finding Jimi and Django

In a recent NLS Music Notes blog post, “The Festival That Changed American Music,” I read about rock stars such as Jimi Hendrix who performed at the first Monterey festival in 1967.  Because of the recordings listed there, and my own experience of the NLS collections, I assumed that anything we have on Hendrix would be in audio format. So […]


As a musical direction, “tutti” means everyone, all voices, not just the sopranos, or the bass soloist, who just finished an aria. A musical work often requires many participants, as do many human endeavors. I recently blogged here about participating in a meeting with braille music transcribers. I observed how they consulted each other on […]

The Festival That Changed American Music

Nearly 50 years ago today marked the beginning of the Monterey International Pop Festival, one of the first rock festivals in the United States. Nowadays, rock festivals are a common occurrence, happening in various locations year-round. Back in 1967, though, the rock festival was not common. Monterey helped change all that, as the rock festival […]

Golden Days of Yesteryear

My attention recently was called to a very historic event; on June 2, 1896, Guglielmo Marconi applied to patent the radio. When we think of Marconi as the inventor of the radio, it is easily overshadowed by contemporary inventors of computers, 3-D printing, and copy machines. Don’t get me wrong, I am thrilled to have […]

Score Writing: Humor and Wit

A few weeks ago, I pulled a little book from the Music Section’s reference collection, An Introduction to Music Publishing: A Tour Through the Music Publishing Operations Involved in Transforming the Composer’s Manuscript Into a Printed Publication and Its Dissemination to the Student and the Performer. The front cover of this book features Beethoven as […]

Paris in the Springtime

Spring has sprung around these parts in Washington, DC, but for this blog post I am going to continue with our international theme and wax poetic about springtime in France. I’m bringing up this geographic location because two well-known French composers, Gabriel Fauré and Jules Massenet, share a birthday today, May 12! Although neither Fauré […]