EPUB Adoption in Academic Libraries–Progress and Obstacles

cellphone with ebsco name displayed and various icons extending from the sides to represent a swiss army knife effect New Inclusive Publishing Partner, EBSCO, explores the challenges of EPUB adoption for academic libraries.

Just as accessibility in publishing has gained momentum in recent years, so has accessibility in libraries. In 2019, the Los Angeles Community College District ruling was an inflection point–libraries were found to bear responsibility for the resources they make available to users, even with limited control over the vendor platforms themselves. Vendors perked up and have made great strides in recent years, ensuring their software and platforms conform to standards whilst providing increasingly accessible experiences for users. Despite the progress with platforms, however, there are still some endemic challenges that limit the accessibility of ebooks in academic libraries. With EBSCO’s scope and reach, we feel we have a vital role to play in addressing these challenges wherever we can.

We see this un-met potential when we look at the EPUB availability and EPUB accessibility of academic content.

One challenge is that the EPUB format has simply not yet achieved broad acceptance with academic users. EPUB has many accessibility advantages compared to PDF, but until the format is pervasive and fully supported, academic users will not fully benefit from those advantages. Since demand for the format is limited, so is the pressure on publishers to create EPUBs and to invest in the accessibility potential. Academic users tend to gravitate to PDF because it’s familiar. They know exactly what they can and can’t do with it, and they’re using PDF for journal articles, which is a large portion of academic research output. EBSCO gives the user a choice to access the EPUB version for every title where the publisher makes both a PDF and an EPUB version available, and users only select the EPUB version 15-20% of the time.

The single biggest factor driving academic libraries’ resistance to EPUB (and the persistence of PDF) is the lack of pagination. Most EPUB files we receive from publishers do not contain pagination, which means there are not stable page numbers for citations, a critical aspect of academic research and scholarly communication. Citation standards have mostly kept up with the times: they instruct users to cite the database or even the chapter and paragraph if an ebook is in EPUB format or is accessed on a reader without stable pagination. This is simply unacceptable for most of the faculty that we talk to, on practical grounds as well as philosophical. Faculty members that have to grade papers and check sources recoil at the thought of finding an ebook in a database and counting paragraphs when they are already sitting under a mountain of undergraduate essays. But perhaps more important is the integrity of knowledge-transfer–it’s important for the scholarly record to easily identify the place in the work where the knowledge was produced, and to preserve the continuity of the scholarly discourse. So “arbitrary” page numbers that might be displayed by the device are not acceptable if they don’t correspond to other versions of the work, and if they aren’t consistent across platforms. Only 25% of our incoming EPUB files contain page numbers, and until we can get this number much higher, academic libraries and users will not adopt EPUB at scale. Without the use and demand, the evolution of the format and the possibilities for academic users that would benefit from it are diminished.

Only 25% of our incoming EPUB files contain page numbers, and until we can get this number much higher, academic libraries and users will not adopt EPUB at scale.

We see this un-met potential when we look at the EPUB availability and EPUB accessibility of “academic content.” Publishers whose content is available in academic libraries range from large commercial publishers to university press publishers (among which there is also much variation), to very small or specialized academic presses. A significant portion of this content set is still in PDF only–30% looking at 2019 and forward publication years. Most of the publishers that aren’t creating EPUB for all of their titles indicate that they can’t afford the EPUB conversion process. It’s an unfortunate reality that many small academic publishers are simply not able to produce EPUB files, let alone born accessible ones. That said, even some major publishers have indicated that if a title has formatting or other characteristics that don’t easily lend themselves to reflow, they only produce a PDF. We are aware of some working groups addressing formatting challenges like these, so we are hopeful that EPUB solutions will be found in the coming years.

Among the EPUB-format files EBSCO receives, not all have been made fully accessible. While the production processes of trade and higher education publishers have matured to the point where most are creating born-accessible EPUB files, the landscape of academic publishers is much more varied. To assess the files we do host, EBSCO created an EPUB assessment tool integrating Ace by DAISY, and to date we have assessed 1.16 million EPUB files. Only around 40% of these fully pass a check for the WCAG 2.1 A standard.

EBSCO works closely with publishers to provide them data about the accessibility of their files. Our detailed “Progress Reports” show them the extent to which they are passing or failing accessibility checks, what percentage of their titles have an EPUB version, and how to access resources, vendors, or organizations like Benetech to help them improve. We even produce a title-level report showing which files pass or fail which WCAG metrics, in the hopes that the data can be used to drive targeted improvements in their production processes. That said, only a quarter of our publishers say that the problem is the know-how. Almost half of publishers say they just don’t have the budget to make the needed improvements to their workflows.

Since EPUB has not yet been broadly adopted (or demanded), few vendors offer online EPUB reading systems which would greatly improve and universalize an accessible experience for users. The reason an online reading system is important is that most academic publishers require the use of (Adobe) DRM to support library checkouts and user access limitations. (Not all publishers require DRM, and for those that don’t, users can get a DRM-free EPUB for download fairly easily.) With the option to access the EPUB online, users can access the full range of EPUB and accessibility features available without having to download into a separate reader that might limit the accessibility of the title.

EBSCO’s choice to offer and evolve a fully-featured online EPUB reader stems from our desire to optimize the experience for all our users, to support the EPUB standard as it evolves, and to be advocates for the potential of EPUB in the academic setting. Each year, we measure our industry’s progress–on EPUB output, on accessibility metrics, and on usage, and we are happy to report that all of these metrics are headed in the direction we, as a community, would like. We have also joined the W3C EPUB working group to address EPUB pagination consistently across the publishing ecosystem. Many of the EPUB working groups are populated by trade publishers and reading system vendors, so we see our role as being advocates for the academic users as a vital partnership with these colleagues. We hope that combining their experience in trade publishing with ours in academic libraries will lead to real benefits for users performing research and accessing readings assigned in academic courses. To learn more about accessibility at EBSCO, visit https://www.ebsco.com/technology/accessibility.

This article was written for Inclusive Publishing by Kara Kroes Li, Director of Product Management, EBSCO

Free DAISY Webinar: Exploring Reading App Accessibility

April 21st, 2021

There are many different apps for reading digital publications. How do you know which offer the accessibility features you need, and which to avoid?
Well the good news is that reading apps are regularly evaluated for accessibility features and the results made public. This session will explain the basics of reading apps, and describe the most important features different users will be interested in. Our presenters will reveal the latest results and recommendations, and also point you towards a growing set of resources to help users and support staff in getting started with these apps.

Date

April 21, 2021 at 3pm UTC

Venue

Online via Zoom

Learn More

To register for this webinar visit the zoom registration page

New Releases: Ace By DAISY

The DAISY Consortium are pleased to announce new releases for both versions of the Ace By DAISY EPUB accessibility checking tool: the Command Line Interface (CLI) and the Graphical User Interface (Ace App) versions 1.2.

These releases contains significant internal changes that address security issues, improve performance, and fix bugs at various levels of the project architecture. Crucially, DAISY Ace now uses the latest version of Deque’s Axe library.

There are also improvements for screen reader users including updated accessibility checks that match the latest W3C WCAG and ARIA specifications.

Both DAISY Ace CLI and  the desktop Ace App depend on a number of third-party code libraries, which are up to date. As usual with DAISY Ace App releases, the latest revision of the DAISY Knowledge Base is included.

For more information on Ace by DAISY visit the Ace resource pages.

 

What does the European Accessibility Act Mean for Global Publishing?

Flags of the member states of the European Union in front of the EU-commission buildingDirective (EU) 2019/882 of the European Parliament and of the Council on the accessibility requirements for products and services

Our thanks to Laura Brady (House of Anansi) and Tzviya Siegman (John Wiley & Sons) for this article.

The European Accessibility Act

What do publishers around the world need to know about the European Accessibility Act? This legislation is some of the strongest we’ve seen around accessibility and will force change, without question. If publishers plan to sell digital products into the European Union in the near future, they must get up to speed on what this means for their workflows.

So, what is the legislation exactly? The EAA is a directive that aims to improve the functioning of the internal market for accessible products and services, by removing barriers created by divergent rules in Member States.

Businesses will benefit from:

  • common rules on accessibility in the EU leading to costs reduction
  • easier cross-border trading
  • more market opportunities for their accessible products and services

Persons with disabilities and elderly people will benefit from:

  • more accessible products and services in the market
  • accessible products and services at more competitive prices
  • fewer barriers when accessing transport, education and the open labour market
  • more jobs available where accessibility expertise is needed

The Directive entered into force in June 2019.  Member states have until 28 June 2022 to adopt and publish the laws, regulations and administrative provisions necessary to comply with this Directive. This means introducing new and/or updating existing national legislations to comply with its principles and requirements. The full force of the legislation comes into effect on June 28, 2025.

The legislation follows market-driven standards, requiring publishers to produce their digital publications in an accessible format  It also requires the entire supply chain (retailers, e-commerce sites, hardware and software reading solutions, online platforms, DRM solutions, etc.) to make content available to users through accessible services.

The EAA hinges on the discoverability of products and services by end users. Using international standards for accessibility , such as EPUB 3, and describing the accessibility features within the content with schema.org and ONIX metadata enables publishers to expose metadata on retailer and publisher websites, which is crucial.

General Summary

The legislation applies to products and services placed on the market after June 2025

These include:

  • Hardware
  • Software
  • Websites
  • Mobile Apps
  • ecommerce
  • ereaders
  • ebooks and dedicated software
  • all products and services, including information about how to use above, user sign in, and identity management

There are several factors which allow specific organisations to be exempt from compliance. In addition, the directive does not apply to the following types of content on websites and apps:

  • Pre-recorded time-based media published before 28 June 2025.
  • Office file format documents published before 25 June 2025.
  • Online maps; though if the map is used for navigational purposes then the essential information must be provided in accessible format.
  • Third party content that is entirely out of the control of the website or app owner.
  • Reproductions of items in heritage collections which are too fragile or expensive to digitise.
  • The content of web sites and apps which are considered archival, meaning they are not needed for active administrative purposes and are no longer updated or edited.
  • The web sites of schools, kindergartens, and nurseries, except for content pertaining to administrative functions.

Service Providers must prepare necessary information and explain how services meet this act.

All accessibility information must remain private.

In general, this follows the same principles as WCAG’s Perceivable, Operable, Understandable, Robust model, but it points to specific outcomes. The requirements of this legislation incorporate many types of disabilities, including cognitive disabilities, which have only begun to be incorporated into WCAG.

It’s time for publishers to come to terms with what’s required to meet accessibility standards. If the EU is part of your market, it should be a business imperative to investigate how to fix workflows, and implement robust metadata practices.


Information from the EAA Legislation that Pertains to the Publishing Industry

Details from Appendix I in Directive 2019/882

Information and Instructions

Information, instructions for use must be:

  1. be made available via more than one sensory channel;
  2. be presented in an understandable way;
  3. be presented to users in ways they can perceive;
  4. be presented in fonts of adequate size and suitable shape, taking into account foreseeable conditions of use and using sufficient contrast, as well as adjustable spacing between letters, lines and paragraphs;
  5. with regard to content, be made available in text formats that can be used for generating alternative assistive formats to be presented in different ways and via more than one sensory channel;
  6. be accompanied by an alternative presentation of any non-textual content;
  7.  include a description of the user interface of the product (handling, control and feedback, input and output) which is provided in accordance with point 2; the description shall indicate for each of the points in point 2 whether the product provides those features;
  8. include a description of the functionality of the product which is provided by functions aiming to address the needs of persons with disabilities in accordance with point 2; the description shall indicate for each of the points in point 2 whether the product provides those features;
  9. include a description of the software and hardware interfacing of the product with assistive devices; the description shall include a list of those assistive devices which have been tested together with the product.

User Interface (UI) and functionality design.

Products and their UI must contain features that enable disabled people to perceive, understand and control them, by doing the following things:

  1. Communications must be over more than one sensory channel
  2. Speech alternatives must be provided
  3. When product uses visuals, must provide flexible magnification, brightness, contrast
  4. When product uses color, must convey information in an alternate way
  5. Audible information must be conveyed in an alternative way
  6. Visual elements must offer flexible ways of improving vision clarity
  7. Audio –  must provide user control of volume and speed and improve clarity
  8. Manual controls shall provide sequential controls (not simultaneous)
  9. Avoid operations requiring extensive strength
  10. Avoid triggering photosensitive seizures
  11. Protect user’s privacy when using accessibility features
  12. Alternatives to biometric id and controls
  13. Consistency of functionality and enough and flexible time for interaction
  14. Interaction with assistive tech
  15. the product shall comply with the following sector-specific requirements:

Publishing

  • e-readers shall provide for text-to-speech technology

Support Services

Where available, support services (help desks, call centers, technical support, relay services and training services) must provide information on the accessibility of the product and its compatibility with assistive technologies, in accessible modes of communication.

Section IV, article f  Ebooks

  1. ensuring that, when an e-book contains audio in addition to text, it then provides synchronised text and audio
  2. ensuring that e-book digital files do not prevent assistive technology from operating properly
  3. ensuring access to the content, the navigation of the file content and layout including dynamic layout, the provision of the structure, flexibility and choice in the presentation of the content
  4. allowing alternative renditions of the content and its interoperability with a variety of assistive technologies, in such a way that it is perceivable, understandable, operable and robust
  5. making them discoverable by providing information through metadata about their accessibility features;
  6. ensuring that digital rights management measures do not block accessibility features

(Note: all of these, except as relates to DRM are part of the EPUB specification)

 E-Commerce Services

  1. providing the information concerning accessibility of the products and services being sold when this information is provided by the responsible economic operator;
  2. ensuring the accessibility of the functionality for identification, security and payment when delivered as part of a service instead of a product by making it perceivable, operable, understandable and robust;
  3. providing identification methods, electronic signatures, and payment services which are perceivable, operable, understandable and robust.

Section VII – Functional Performance Criteria

  1. Usage without vision. Where the product or service provides visual modes of operation, it shall provide at least one mode of operation that does not require vision.
  2. Usage with limited vision. Where the product or service provides visual modes of operation, it shall provide at least one mode of operation that enables users to operate the product with limited vision.
  3. Usage without perception of colour. Where the product or service provides visual modes of operation, it shall provide at least one mode of operation that does not require user perception of colour.
  4. Usage without hearing. Where the product or service provides auditory modes of operation, it shall provide at least one mode of operation that does not require hearing.
  5. Usage with limited hearing. Where the product or service provides auditory modes of operation, it shall provide at least one mode of operation with enhanced audio features that enables users with limited hearing to operate the product.
  6. Usage without vocal capability. Where the product or service requires vocal input from users, it shall provide at least one mode of operation that does not require vocal input. Vocal input includes any orally-generated sounds like speech, whistles or clicks.
  7. Usage with limited manipulation or strength. Where the product or service requires manual actions, it shall provide at least one mode of operation that enables users to make use of the product through alternative actions not requiring fine motor control and manipulation, hand strength or operation of more than one control at the same time.
  8. Usage with limited reach. The operational elements of products shall be within reach of all users. Where the product or service provides a manual mode of operation, it shall provide at least one mode of operation that is operable with limited reach and limited strength.
  9. Minimising the risk of triggering photosensitive seizures. Where the product provides visual modes of operation, it shall avoid modes of operation that trigger photosensitive seizures.
  10. Usage with limited cognition. The product or service shall provide at least one mode of operation incorporating features that make it simpler and easier to use.
  11. Privacy. Where the product or service incorporates features that are provided for accessibility, it shall provide at least one mode of operation that maintains privacy when using those features that are provided for accessibility.

Resources

EPUBCheck: W3C Announces Release of Version 4.2.5 and New Website

W3C are pleased to announce the latest production-ready release of EPUBCheck, version 4.2.5, providing support for checking conformance to the EPUB 3.2 family of specifications. This is a maintenance release. Full details and release notes are available at [https://github.com/w3c/epubcheck/releases/tag/v4.2.5.

They are also excited to launch the EPUBCheck website at https://www.w3.org/publishing/epubcheck/. Visit this site to download the latest release of EPUBCheck and find useful resources about it.

The DAISY Consortium is proud to provide maintenance for EPUBCheck on behalf of W3C. This work is being funded through donations from organizations which use the EPUBCheck tool. Full details are available at the Publishing@W3C fundraising page.

WIPO Accessible Books Consortium International Excellence Awards 2021: Call for Nominations

Nominations are now open for the Accessible Book Consortium’s (ABC) International Excellence Award for Accessible Publishing, which recognizes a publisher and a project initiative that each demonstrate outstanding leadership and achievements in advancing the accessibility of commercial e-books or other digital publications for persons who are blind, visually impaired or otherwise print-disabled.

Nominations in the publisher and project initiative categories should be completed by Wednesday, June 30, 2021. Further details on how to submit nominations can be found at the ABC Awards page.