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Digitizing Braille Music: An Update On Scanning

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The work of digitizing the Music Section‘s braille music scores continues unabated. Details of the Section’s scanners and software were discussed in a previous post. Since then, the German scanner has served as the driving resource for digitizing braille music items. The digital copies of scores and parts are backed up and archived, serving as a replacement source for items that deteriorate or go missing. At the same time, some of these digital scores are placed on BARD, where they can better serve registered patrons by being directly downloadable.

In addition to digitizing its existing collection, the Section also adds newly transcribed scores and books. Because of advances in technology, most new braille transcriptions come to the Section by way of digital files, so there is no need for scanning. The Music Section treats any new digital file of a scanned item as a new acquisition, by virtue of its format. So, many of those fifty-year-old paper scores are given a new birthday, so to speak.

What shall we scan? Patron requests take priority. It may be that a patron wants or requires a digital version, not paper. It may be that on the shelf there are only one or two copies. Or, that the only copies are in poor physical condition: brittle paper, loose pages, etc. We do not send out the last copy of any score, or any score that is in poor condition, without first scanning it. Then we are able to emboss a fresh copy to send to the patron, knowing that another may easily be made. Short works can be scanned in a matter of days if needed immediately. Longer works or multi-volume titles can take weeks, even months, to complete. After patron requests comes the NLS master braille collection, hundreds of scores that were transcribed and produced by hand under the sponsorship of NLS, the Library of Congress. All are pre-computer era creations.

To showcase a few recent digital acquisitions, we call attention to a few larger works. Don Sebesky’s The Contemporary Arranger, BRM25189, consists of eleven hard copy braille volumes. So far, we have digitized volumes 1-4, and they are available on BARD. Other large and therefore long term projects that have been scanned and uploaded to BARD include The Baptist Hymnal, in twelve volumes, BRM32625, and The Hymnal 1982: According to the use of the Episcopal Church, in fifteen volumes, BRM29192.

Since the Music Section’s library is a circulating collection, many scores are used over and over again. Such welcome use exacerbates deterioration, not only with paper, but also with thermoform copies, of which there are many in the collection. Happily, scanning has come to the rescue.

The beauty of having a digital file is that it ensures that an item is available for loan to a patron. The file can be readily made tangible by an embosser at NLS. If you are one who highly values a “real” item, then the Library’s blog for Digital Preservation has a great article about this.

The Music Section is working to have the best of two worlds, an actively circulating braille collection in hardcopy, and its full counterpart in electronic format.




  1. Stay with this guys, you’re heplnig a lot of people.

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