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Passend Lezen: Making Reading Accessible for Everyone

How Passend Lezen is revolutionising the way Blind and Visually Impaired people can access Information
White Braille book and Yellow flower on a table

#blog by Kristina Misiunaite #with Sylvia Krijnen

'With a good book you are never alone'. I can only agree with that statement. Through books, I have learned a great deal about what the world is like. Detailed descriptions of places and people, literally including smells, colours and facial expressions. Especially in these times of (travel) restrictions, reading can take you anywhere you want to go and is even the only way to do it. Effortlessly you imagine yourself in unknown worlds of the past or the present, more and more carried away by the captivating writing style with every new page or chapter. For those who cannot (or no longer) read on paper, it is not easy to walk into a bookshop or library. Even though I sometimes find that a pity, because of the smell of old or newly printed books that meets you there, breathing in all that is written in them.

Thanks to the library service Passend Lezen you don't have to miss out on the joy of reading. You get everything online or sent to your home: from books, newspapers and magazines to radio plays and lectures, to name but a few of the great diversity of different products. Perhaps even more than in an 'ordinary' library. Although as a curious frequent reader myself, I have been a member of Passend Lezen and its predecessors for a long time, I was curious to see what goes on behind the scenes. There is a lot going on which you don't realise as a customer. For this blog, we asked Sylvia Krijnen, relationship manager at the Passend Lezen library service, about it. Read on for her answers to the questions I asked, woven into a story.

For those not (yet) familiar with passend Lezen

Passend Lezen is a Dutch institute and the solution when reading is not self-evident. It is an ordinary library, but for people who are blind, partially sighted or dyslexic, for example. Falling under the system of public libraries, the aim is to provide access to information, knowledge, culture and personal development, just like the library on the corner. Hopefully, there is a suitable solution for everyone with a reading disability, as the name suggests. Attempts will be made to make this available through various reading formats, on request or otherwise. These include Braille, spoken form and large print. By having all these in the collection, which is constantly being expanded, the goal is have something for everyone and plenty to choose from.

Not everything is possible

So many people, so many different preferences. There are people who can literally walk around for hours with a spoken book, listening to text being read. Unfortunately, it is impossible to convert all of the eight to ten thousand new books that come out every year to adapted reading formats. Due to (budgetary) constraints, some 1800 audio titles can be recorded and some 800 Braille titles produced each year. If all that comes out in a year are thick pamphlets like Lucinda Riley's, the number of recording minutes will quickly be reached.

This makes the choices to be made when building a collection all the more impossible: which books to buy and which not? A special department within Passend Lezen works literally day and night to collect titles, to keep the collection up to date and, most importantly, interesting. Not only do these people have a knack for this, of course, but they are also trained for it. Their stress of choice is possibly reduced somewhat by the fact that not all newly published books are suitable. One example is comic books. Although in the past, a Donald Duck was once converted to tactile form and explanation in audio, it is not expected that this will happen on a weekly basis. This issue looked very cool and certainly aroused my personal curiosity at the time. It is great to be able to form an image, even if only globally, of such a visual phenomenon, which would otherwise be unattainable for those who cannot see it themselves. Still, it is quite difficult to capture something like this in audio. In addition, the collection creators are helped in their choice by information sent weekly by library suppliers and publishers with reviews of newly published books.

Let them know what you want to read!

However, Passend Lezen are also very happy to listen to suggestions from customers. So please do pass them on! They try to honour around 60% of these requests each year. A current book, on a living subject, from a recognised publisher or a prize winner: all factors that increase the chances of a green light. One reason for rejecting a request is that the book is too specialised or is impossible to convert. In the unlikely event that the year is already 'full', it is worth trying again at a later date. Fortunately, international exchange of titles also offers more and more opportunities, which will probably only be increased in the future through the Marrakesh Treaty. Already, titles are being loaned back and forth with the Flemish library, which can be heard in a spoken book. With foreign-language books this is also possible, because duplicate production is a waste.

Start small

I was surprised to learn that half of the members of Passend Lezen are under the age of eighteen. There is therefore a broad collection available for these young readers. Via the website, everything can be found conveniently together for them. They in particular are constantly challenged by all kinds of different forms of reading, with more and more being added. In an earlier blog I already mentioned touch books: these should be lent out more often and more often! This is, just like the tactile bags, a very accessible way to take your first steps in the area of tactile reading. It is also fun for visually impaired children to read to them. There is also jumboletter: large print books for young people.

Since the end of last year, electronic children's books have been available, which means that technological developments are certainly not standing still either. A very interesting target group for Passend Lezen is also children with adhd, language development disorder and the like. For them, it seems difficult to sit quietly and read a book, whereas reading and listening at the same time - via karaoke books for young people - is possible. At the same time, a bar (like karaoke singing) runs along with the word that is then pronounced. Finally, spoken books are often used by young people when reading for lists. Listening makes it easier to get through those thick pills that are compulsory reading for Dutch.

Did you know:

  • The collection comprises over 83,000 audio books (14,500 of which are youth titles) and 19,000 Braille books

  • In 2020, 1.28 million audio books were lent, 5,500 braille books requested and 10,000 titles in jumbo format

  • The other half of the members' readership is equally divided between 18 to 65 year olds and those aged 65 and over

  • Because the Copyright Act allows conversion into adapted reading formats, only people with a reading restriction are allowed to make use of all the wonderful things that Passend Lezen has to offer

A little patience

After publication, a book is not immediately available at Passend Lezen: this can sometimes take several months. In the case of audio books, this is because they have to be read in. This is often done by volunteers in recording studios of producers CBB and Dedicon. Depending on how long and how often the reader can enter the recording studio, it can take some time before the whole book has been recorded. Fortunately, each year an x number of titles may be produced in an accelerated manner. The book is then available one to three months after publication. This happens with bestsellers, for example. Adriaan van Dis's latest book, for example, is already in the collection one month after its release. What a time-saver it would be if a book could reach Passend Lezen via the publisher even before it was published!

Really personal

Through customisation, it is also possible to have personal documents converted into a readable form. An example of this that Sylvia remembers very well were handwritten cards of condolence. Because these were recorded, the recipient could listen to them at any time and thus know for himself what they contained. It is nice and pleasant to make this possible! But the choir booklet or important meeting documents are also possible.

Many more readers to come

The 53,000 clients that Passend Lezen now has seem a lot, but there is still room for many more! Not all blind and visually impaired people in the Netherlands are members yet, which is a shame. Passend Lezen is working on making them better known in all kinds of ways. Certainly when you lose your sight at an older age, the step to saying you really can't see anymore and to looking for alternatives turns out to be very big. The easiest people to catch are those who are already members of the public library. Continuous innovative developments, such as new reading forms and the pursuit of an even more customer-friendly website, ensure that Passend Lezen keeps up with the times. Sylvia concluded with a striking, comprehensive quote: 'If you have a reading disability, you are thieving from yourself if you do not become a member of Passend Lezen'.

Website passend lezen

Friday, 9 April 2021