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Digitizing Braille Music

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“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!”



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