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Digitizing Braille Music Summer 2018

The digitization project at the NLS marches on and currently it is in the hands of a summer intern!

This is a guest post from Hannah Noel, a West Coast native currently living in North Carolina. She is a recent graduate of UNC Chapel Hill’s School of Information and Library Science, where she earned her MSLS and focused her studies on archival work in an arts and museum-specific context. She is interning at the NLS-BPH at the Library of Congress through the HACU program this summer.

What does one work on during a ten-week, all-too-brief stint at the world’s largest library? My primary project for this summer has been to continue the digitization of braille music books housed in NLS’ extensive collection, a project that has been equal parts fascinating and (at times) challenging.

In the six weeks I have spent at the Music Section, I have learned that NLS places a particular emphasis on the accessibility of their works, as well as on the preservation of books in their collection. Oftentimes, these two goals go hand-in-hand.

As previous posts of Music Notes have already discussed, different methods are used to undertake the process of digitizing braille music books. I have been working almost exclusively with the DotScan machine, in part because it yields clearer, more accurate scans than the scans produced with Optical Braille Recognition software, OBR. While the OBR scans result in text files, the DotScan takes an actual image of the braille music sheet and recreates it in a software program that senses where each Braille cell on the page is, and in what order. However, accuracy of the machine alone greatly depends on the shape that the braille music book is in, as well as the quality of the scan; since many of NLS’ books are quite old, braille cells can often be worn down or picked off the page entirely. Though it may be obvious to a sighted reader that a dot is supposed to be on the page, the machine is not always able to capture that.

This is where an intern such as myself comes in! Once I have scanned each page in a braille music book, I must review the digitized file in the DotScan program, line by line, and compare it with the actual braille music book to ensure that what is on the page is accurately represented on the screen. Once this editing process has been completed, I convert the DotScan file into a text file, give it a last edit run-through in another formatting program (Duxbury) and then send the text file to Gilbert Busch, our resident proofreader for all digitized braille music.

This is a deceptively simple process, one which takes a great amount of time and attention to detail. To date, I have digitized a total of thirty braille music books, equaling 616 pages, and this alone has taken me six weeks to complete. Nevertheless, incremental progress is still progress, and the Music Section of NLS continues to charge forward with this digitization project, one book at a time.

The most challenging part of this project has been coming to terms with the fact that I will only be able to digitize a fraction of the braille music collection during my HACU internship. As the definition of a Type-A student, I have never been very good at leaving anything half-finished, and I chafe at the thought of not being able to check off each book listed on the department’s shared spreadsheet as “digitized.” This, however, has been part of a very important lesson for me in the art of public service: Digitizing these books, proofreading them for errors, and putting them up on BARD (not to mention maintaining those digitized files in the years to come) is a time-consuming, detailed and collaborative activity, and one that no single person, no matter how hard they worked, could hope to accomplish on their own. My colleagues at NLS strive every day to meet the needs of their many patrons and they do so by relying not just on their own skill sets, but on the experience and ability of others. Though the digitization project may at times seem to advance at a glacial pace, it is in perpetual motion and every day moves closer to the goal of complete digitization and accessibility for all patrons of NLS.

I feel very fortunate to be gifted with the many responsibilities I have here at the Music Section and to be working alongside such open, friendly, and experienced people. I feel that I am contributing something substantial to this department in the course of my internship and that my work in digitizing braille music and performing additional tasks ultimately helps the Music Section serve its patrons. Arts accessibility has always been an important priority for me, both in the realm of my education and in my career, and I am happy to have found a role that allows me to combine my knowledge of Library Science and archival procedures with promotion of the accessibility and awareness of the arts.

Listed below are a few of the scores I have scanned and processed, and which are now available on BARD:

Soft Summer Breeze (BRM08168) by Eddie Heywood
Harlem Nocturne (BRM08169) by Earle Hagen
On Wings of Song (BRM08200) by Felix Mendelssohn
Autumn Leaves (BRM08233) by Joseph Kosma

This, of course, is just a fraction of BARD’s total holdings and we encourage you to explore the database for further titles! If you have any questions about borrowing materials, please contact the NLS Music Section by email at [email protected] or by calling us at 1-800-424-8567, extension 2.

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