Niels Thogersen (Part 2)
Part 1 of Niels Thogersen's story took us back to before the days of DAISY and to the beginning of organizations of and/or for the blind working together. Part 2 of Niels' story takes us from the early days to today, with DAISY firmly established as the Standard for accessible information, through the birth of his company, xml-tekst. His commitment to DAISY and to the DAISY Community continues as does his commitment to accessible information.
(This is the second part of a two-part story)
A year or so later we were invited for a two day demonstration of this system that was to be given in Oslo, Norway. IBOS was there with four staff members, DBB (now Nota) staff were there as were representatives from RNIB in the UK and from SVB (now Dedicon) in the Netherlands. Many of the demonstrations did not work out too well, but nonetheless we all had the impression that this technology was pointing in the right direction.
DAISY and Collaboration
Later the same year at the IFLA Conference, the Section of Libraries for the Blind had their meeting in Istanbul, and DAISY was the subject of talks everywhere – in breaks, in the session rooms, and during dinners and beers in the evening. People began to realise the incredible potential in the concept of doing the same as the others – until then everyone had minded their own business and solved their own problems. Collaboration had not really been a part of the picture – until DAISY.
I can remember that we had an unofficial meeting/gathering sitting on the floor in one of the big rooms of that nice hotel trying to explain to each other that it would be important if we all could agree on using the same standard – even if DAISY were still in its original, proprietary format. The Japanese were also interested in this new digital format, and for the first time ever we saw an automated CD copying engine in the small exhibition area. I think we all wondered how to explain to our bosses that we would need a few hundred thousand dollars for a system like that.
Frustration & Success
At IBOS we were able to purchase a very early version of DAISY software for experimental purposes. It was an alpha version that used the original, proprietary DAISY format developed by a Swedish company called Labyrinten Data AB. We went to Labyrinten's home town, Fallköping, to fetch it and to get some training. The entire installation fit onto two diskettes – just around 2Mb! I was lucky that IBOS fully understood the importance of investing in equipment, training and travelling in order to prepare for the digital production of accessible audio and text.
IBOS was one of the very earliest Associate Members of the DAISY Consortium. Our first DAISY books were converted from analogue audio to DAISY using the "TIPS" system (Tape Input System) from Labyrinten. We could transfer 16 hours of audio per hour, but the editing afterwards in the DAISY software "LpStudioPlus" took nearly as much time as it would take to narrate the entire book again. There were problems with LpStudioPlus and the output was full of errors – it was not possible to produce valid books with it. It was an extremely frustrating time.
By that time we had developed our text tool in Word with which we could create dtbook-xml from Word, and as the first versions of LpStudio/Pro came out, we did a lot of experiments with production of full-text DAISY books. A large group of the early developers and producers of DAISY books helped to improve that software by sending bug reports in a standardised format. The reports were verified and sent to Labyrinten to be fixed. LpStudio/Pro was tested so thoroughly by so many people that the final version is practically error-free, and it is still working very well on the newest Windows platforms – and that's amazing! Through the years this software has been made available at no cost to DAISY Consortium Members.
xml-tekst Was Born
Unlike most other organisations which began their early production of DAISY books with audio and structure only, at IBOS we decided that we would start real production by creating DAISY books with full-text. This format is very useful for study purposes, and it was much faster for the narrators to learn the tricks of digital recording when the text was on the screen. By 2005 we had produced nearly 70 full-text DAISY books. At that time the Danish Government decided to privatise the entire production of educational materials for students with a print disability. I decided that since it was "my" work, I would tender for this production, and in 2005 I started the company xml-tekst – since then my company has done this work. In the early years two other companies also produced these materials for the government, but since 2009 xml-tekst alone has done this.
The entire production is tendered once every 3 to 4 years, and the company that meets the requirements for experience and knowledge in this type of production, and that has the best price/quality ratio and the shortest delivery time is awarded the entire production for the following 3 to 4 years.
The company that is awarded the tender is also in control of the repository of books already in accessible formats. Copies from this catalogue can be ordered on the Internet, via mail or over the phone, and are delivered on a day-to-day basis.
New books that are requested can be ordered with different levels of proofing. Depending on the layout of the original material, the delivery requirements are between 1 and 10 working days, up to a maximum of 15 working days during the two busiest months of the year. Tactile graphics and mathematics as LaTeX can also be ordered.
I think it is safe to say that the students and the teachers are happy with this new system. Delivery times are very, very fast and the quality of the books is consistently high. We have seen a reduction in the production of narrated audio and an increase in the use of TTS-rendering of the text. This has reduced production costs, and made it possible to increase the number of pages produced.
The skill and experience of the xml-tekst team members along with increased efficiencies have allowed us to output 2.5 times more with a significantly smaller increase in costs. For example, in 2006, 945 titles totaling 260,000 pages were produced, with 7,900 copies made; in 2010, 2504 titles totaling 663,000 pages were produced, with 18,300 copies made.
There are now 15 people on the xml-tekst staff team in our offices in Roskilde, Denmark. Most of the staff have been with the company since the start in 2005, and all are highly motivated and skilled in their jobs. A part of our production workflow is done in India and China, but all books are finalised, proofed and checked by our staff team here.
We have enjoyed working and sharing with DAISY 'partners' over the years. My involvement with the work of the DAISY Consortium has brought me wonderful opportunities in terms of relationships, experience and knowledge. As one of the Consortium's early trainers I was able to share some of what I had learned with others. People such as Ingar Beckman Hirschfeldt, Stephen King, and of course Hiroshi Kawamura helped to shape the future of DAISY and of accessible information. Companies such as Plextor, Labyrinten Data AB and HumanWare also helped to make our early dreams become a reality.
Whenever possible I bring some of my staff team to DAISY Conferences so that they too experience the DAISY camaraderie and learn about all things new in the world of DAISY. The old days of everyone 'doing his own thing' are long past. The DAISY Consortium has brought cooperation and collaboration to the libraries and organisations providing highly accessible reading materials to people around the world.
Please feel free to contact us or to visit us if your travels should bring you nearby Roskilde. You can contact me by email at niels[at]xml-tekst[dot]dk. You are also welcome to try our webservice for semi-automated markup of books from scanning to dtbook-xml at www.DAISYmarkup.com. It's free for testing and for individual use; companies and organisations pay a fee to use it. You can also use it as a local webserver running on your internal network. We have quite recently introduced the ida-reader, which is a software reader that can be used on both Windows and MAC computers. The ida-reader is a user-friendly software product that has the ability to read aloud text content from a variety of file formats such as DAISY 2.0/2.02, DAISY 3.0, HTML, RTF, XML or original print pages.
Shortly after its formation, Niels registered xml-tekst as a DAISY Consortium Friend in the Developers category. In addition Niels Thogersen is a Friend in the Individual Supporter category, further demonstrating his personal, ongoing commitment to the mission, vision and work of the Consortium.