Bookshare: A Virtual Library of Accessible Books and Periodicals

by Quest Staff on March 31, 2010 - 5:32pm

QUEST Vol. 17, No. 2

Bookshare, the world’s largest online library of accessible books and periodicals, is free for students with qualified “print disabilities,” which include difficulty holding a book or turning pages. Bookshare offers more than 60,000 books, textbooks and teacher-recommended reading in accessible formats.

Many U.S. states have designated Bookshare as an authorized user of the NIMAC (National Instructional Materials Access Center). The NIMAC was established by the U.S. Department of Education Office of Special Education Programs as a central repository of digital files from U.S. textbook publishers.

Books and textbooks are kept in the NIMAC in a standard file format called NIMAS (National Instructional Materials Accessibility Standard). NIMAS files must be converted into student-ready formats, such as the latest DAISY 3.0 format (Digital Accessible Information System) or BRF (Braille Ready File), to read with software applications, such as a digital e-book, text readers or Braille devices.

Educators can search the NIMAC for textbooks and then ask one of their state’s authorized users, such as Bookshare, to assist them in converting the requested books into the appropriate formats. If the book is in the NIMAC, Bookshare will convert it and get it ready for the student in less than a week.  

In 2007, Bookshare received a $32 million, five-year award from the U.S. Department of Education to provide free access for all U.S. students with qualified print disabilities. Bookshare is collaborating with dozens of U.S. colleges, universities, and publishers to contribute their textbooks to the collection.

Bookshare serves more than 80,000 members and offers a variety of membership options for schools, organizations, qualified students and individuals. To register, visit

Bookshare also offers free, online Webinars (Web seminars) that include live interaction with a Bookshare program manager. Times and dates are currently scheduled through May, 2010. You can sign up individually or with a group at

Webinars last about an hour and are delivered through an easy-to-use Web conferencing tool called Ready Talk.

The Webinars provide information about Bookshare eligibility, managing organizational memberships, searching the Bookshare library, requesting K-12 NIMAC-sourced textbooks and using the free, accessible e-book software. Bookshare also offers pre-recorded Webinars for educators and parents at

Bookshare is an initiative of Benetech, a  Palo Alto, Calif., nonprofit that creates sustainable technology to solve social needs.

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