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The Story of DAISY

Ingar Beckman Hirschfeldt
Beatrice Christensen Sköld
Swedish Library Of Talking Books and Braille, TPB

This presentation is based on an essay by Ingar Beckman Hirschfeldt, former Chief Executive of The Swedish Library of Talking Books and Braille, TPB. The essay was Ingar's contribution to a book published in connection with the 50th anniversary of the talking book in Sweden in 2005.


I am going to tell you the story of DAISY. How it came that DAISY was born at TPB, the Swedish Library of Talking books and Braille, grew up in the town of Falk?ping and then went out to conquer the world. I will also tell you how we established the DAISY Consortium in order to continue to develop DAISY to become an even better way of reading for those who cannot read ordinary printed text. Furthermore I am going to tell you about persons who have been the important actors in the development of DAISY as well as the implementation of DAISY in different countries. At the end of this paper I will present to you a wish list for the future.

How it began

In the early 1990s TPB run a project together with the Swedish Handicap Institute, where a number of print disabled student were able to try out Information Technology in their studies. Their study books were digitized and made accessible for reading in a computer, thus being able to search in the text and also enabling them to listen with the help of a speech synthesizer, and also read with the help of to a Braille bar. The project was a success but there was still a problem. TPB did not have the rights to produce books with electronic text due to copyright restrictions. After rather tough negotiations TPB eventually made an agreement with the copyright holder which enabled us to produce electronic text for print impaired university and college students and persons in employment. The electronic text was read by using reading software called Textview. But the demand for talking books with structure increased. We made a small trial producing talking books on DAT cassettes.

Mr Kjell Hansson, who at that time was head of the Student's library within TPB, applied for money from the Ministry of Education for a new project aiming to investigate if there were existing digital talking book developments going on, and also make practical trials producing digital talking books. He received the money. This time the Handicap Institute wasn't able to join the project but recommended us to get in touch with Mr Lars S?nnebo, an independent consultant who had a past as researcher at the institute. Lars was also an experienced talking book reader himself, who knew the limitations of the analogue technique especially in regard to complicated study literature. In his task was to make a survey of the development of digital talking books around the world. This survey was completed in 1993. It showed that there was development going on in the US and the UK. Furthermore, the Nordic association of the organisations of the disabled had ordered a survey called the Next generation talking books. At the same time the European Blind Union was working on a specification for digital talking books. This development had not only reference to study literature but embraced all kind of literature.

The new talking book should, according to the specifications made up both of the Nordic Association and the EBU, be simple to use but at the same time be able to represent complicated structures. But was the market able to grant these demands? The Dutch company Philips was at that time still working on the development of the DCC-cassette. The DAT cassette existed but none of the parties thought this was the future talking books media. So we decided to start working on our own.

In the middle of the work with the survey Lars S?nnebo got an idea. He wanted to make a software that would create a structure in the talking books by using the pausing in the narrations. The fiscal year 1993/94 TPB decided to commission the company Labyrinten Data to create a prototype of such a software. Labyrinten was owned by Lars' father-in-law Jan Lindholm, who engaged himself in the work. The new talking books system was stored on a normal PC with standard software for the play-back CD-ROM's were used. The concept was genial and very attractive. This prototype was launched in September 1994 at the International Conference on Computers for Handicapped Persons (ICCHP) which was held in Vienna, Austria. The presentation "Digital Talking Books. Report from a Practical ingoing project" which was given by Kjell Hansson, Lars S?nnebo and Jan Lindholm, created great international interest.

But why the name DAISY. The name DAISY was also created by Lars S?nnebo at an early stage in the development work. It is the acronym of Digital Audio-based Information System but also alludes to Lars' favorite tune from the film 2001 by Stanley Kuberick, where the robot Hal is singing Daisy, Daisy give me your answer do.., when he is dismounted.

The Daisy concept is born

But how come that almost every talking book producer in the world came together and decided to make DAISY the standard for digital talking books? The answer is that by using DAISY you structure the book the same way as printed books and magazines; to create a hierarchy consisting of chapters, subtitles, sections, heading in different levels, tables and lists. The structured information makes it possible to navigate between pages, chapters, and sections. You also receive information of where in the book you are. You can also change the speed.

In the beginning CD-Rom was used for storage and distribution, this way creating a talking book consisting of one item instead of several items like the compact cassette. A DAISY book can be read by using a reading program in your PC or by a special DAISY player. When DAISY 1 was upgraded to DAISY 2.0 the books were compressed by using Mp3, the files were put in a certain order enabling DAISY books to be played in ordinary Mp3 CD-players.

Plextor and the first DAISY playback machines

Already in October 1994 the basis for a realisation of the DAISY concept was made by Mr Ikeda, Mr Hiroyuko Murakami and Mr Tatsu Nishozawa of the Plextor company, which belongs to the Shinano Kenshi Concern in Japan, visited the Handicap Institute in Sweden. They brought a prototype of a CD-Rom player for talking book reading. Plextor had been commissioned by the Japanese Emperor to develop a digital talking book for the Blind citizens of Japan. The Gentlemen from Plextor went back to Japan with an invitation to cooperate with TPB. Also theRoyal National Institute for the Blind (RNIB) of the UK as well as the Dutch and the Danish Study Book libraries for the blind were interested in cooperation.

In October 1994 a Nordic meeting was held. In March 1995 it was time for the first international DAISY workshop in Stockholm. That summer concrete plans for cooperation were drawn up. Mr Hiroshi Kawamura, who represented IFLA , Mr Chris Day from the RNIB , Mr Hioryuki Murakami and Mr Tatsu Nishizawa from Plextor, Mr Kjell Hansson and Ingar Beckman Hirschfeldt, Executive Director of TPB met at Labyrinten in Falk?ping. The cooperation with Plextor and the continuing development of a DAISY player was confirmed on the highest level of the Shino Kenshi in Ueda in December 1995. Mr Kaneko Sr, Head of Shinano Kenshi received representatives of this loose association which later should become the DAISY Consortium. A seminar was carried out at Shinano Kenshi's training center in the mountains outside Ueda, in the presence of representatives of the Japanese Ministry of Social Affairs and the Secretary general Mr Pedro Zurita of the World Blind Union.

IFLA the first platform for cooperation

IFLA Libraries for the blind Section was the first natural platform for cooperation. At the sections meeting in Istanbul in August 1995 future cooperation on a wider basis was discussed. But funny enough it was due to Mr. Frank Kurt Cylke, CEO, of the National Library Services to blind and Physically Handicapped, NLS, and organised cooperation was established. Mr. Cylke had called to an international meeting about the future digital talking book in Toronto in April 1995. At that meeting he was provoked by the small European countries who thought they had the solution and also were supported by IFLA. They on their side also felt provoked and decided to go together and develop DAISY. Hiroshi Kawamura, then chair of IFLA Libraries for the Blind Section, was to become the motor in this cooperation.

The DAISY Consortium is established

Only a year after the Toronto meeting the DAISY Consortium was established.

Hiroshi Kawamura was at that time librarian at the Tokyo university library and was engaged in the IFLA section for many years. After some years he left the University Library and became head of a department of JSRPD, the Japanese organisation for rehabilitation of disabled persons. Even in this position he became involved in the digitization of the Japanese libraries for the blind.

Hiroshi Kawamura also engaged himself in the development of the DAISY playback machine. He succeeded in getting money for a worldwide test of the Plextalk player, which took place in the autumn of 1996 and spring of 1997. The test enhanced about 30 countries, where visually impaired persons were able to try the player. This trial gave a first introduction to digital talking books. Test productions were made in several languages. In Sweden several talking book users in public libraries were took part in the test. Unfortunately several test countries missed the trial due to customs who withheld these mysterious machines or wanted unreasonably high custom duty. Hiroshi Kawamura also found money for an evaluation meeting in Tokyo, where representatives for many countries, who later became engaged in the Consortium, came together for the first time.

Hiroshi Kawamura had from the very beginning decided that disabled people in developing countries should not be left behind in the development of the digital talking book. He also applied for and received financial support from the Japanese foundation JAIKA for this work. The development of the DAISY software towards an open standard was also an important priority for Kawamura. He was also very important to the Plextor Company which could have lost patience as it took many years before their players got a market. Kawamura built up a wide network of people and organisations to which he spread knowledge of DAISY.

Anther important person for the establishment of the DAISY Consortium is Stephen King from the RNIB. He was also the chair of the Technical Committee of the European Blind Union which had created a specification for the next generation of talking books. In November 1995 Stephen King and Chris Day also from RNIB, came to Sweden and together we started sketching more concrete plans for cooperation. Chris Day also took part in the meeting at Ueda in December 1995, where the cooperation with Plextor was finally confirmed. The idea to establish a Consortium was presented at an EBU meeting in January 1996 and in May the same year the Consortium was a fact. In the basement of a hotel in Stockholm the statutes of the Consortium were written by Stephen King and Ingar Beckman Hirschfeldt, which were finally confirmed at a meeting in Cambridge in October the same year.

Altogether ten organisations from UK, Netherlands, Japan, Sweden, Switzerland, Spain and Finland (as an observer) were invited to join the DAISY Consortium in order to develop the DAISY concept. They had a first meeting in Stockholm in May 1996. At the Cambridge meeting also a German organisation joined. In 1997 organisations from Australia and New Zealand , The Danish National Library for the Blind joined as well as Recording for the Blind and Dyslexics, USA. A little later the Canadian Institute for the Blind (CNIB) and the Korean Braille Library joined. These organisations form the Consortium and have full membership. Today the consortium ahs about a 100 associated members, but also friends like for example Plextor, Human Ware and Microsoft. In many countries national DAISY Consortia have been established who in their turn are members of the international DAISY Consortium (see www.daisy.org).

The first years were very work consuming for the steering committee, which soon realised that there should be officers who took a larger responsibility for the care of the Consortium. Ingar Beckman Hirschfeldt, TPB, was elected President of the Consortium. A Board was established and a project manager employed - George Kerscher.

George Kerscher played a very important role in the so called Sigtuna meeting in May 1997 when he initiated a change of file format from Wave to SMIL. In the autumn of 1997 George was, as already mentioned, employed as Project manager, a decision which has had an enormous impact on the development of the Consortium to a world wide organisation. George is now the Secretary General of the Consortium, a very important person who keeps the organisation together. George also has an pedagogigic talent and enormous work capacity. Thanks to him The DAISY Consortium has been represented at many important conferences and also been able to attend meetings with Open eBookForum, W3C Consortium. These contacts have lead to that the DAISY format has become a standard file format for text books in the US.

The development of software

In the autumn of 1997 the Consortium decided to make a new specification for open standards based on the www file format. However, the new specification DAISY 2.02, was not approved until February 2001, but is now the most common software for talking books. The Consortium has also developed software, which upgrades earlier version as well as a validator which controls if the software is correctly used in a talking book.

The development of DAISY 3.0 based on XML has been elaborated in cooperation with The National Library service for blind and physically handicapped (NLS) as a NISO standard. Since the year 2002 DAISY 3.0 is the Northamerican standard for Digital Talking Books, DTB.


The marketing of DAISY has been of immense importance for the dissemination of the format. DAISY has been presented at IFLA Conferences, beginning in Beijing in 1996, at the World Summit on the Information Society, WISIS, in Geneva 2004 and at the World Blind Union Assembly in Cape Town in December 2004.

Stands and presentations at the CSUN conference in California each year have attracted the North American market.

Prestigious awards also help to market DAISY. In 2001 George Kerscher and Ingar Beckman Hirschfeldt received the Canadian prize "Dr Dayton M. Forman Memorial Award" for "their outstanding achievements in overcoming barriers to information equity for people who are blind or print-disabled in Canada and beyond".

The Commercial company Time Warner Audio books received the Helen Keller Award 2004 for publishing the novel The Jester at the same time as audio book and as DAISY audio plus full text.

DAISY work around the world

Members of the DAISY Consortium had different time tables for the introduction of the new digital talking book system. RNIB was in a real hurry. They had broken their contract with Clarke&Smith, a company that made a special 12-track cassette for talking books used by RNIB since the 1970s. They needed to change the whole system, both recordings, recording equipment and recorders, which has become expensive and very old fashioned. RNIB has since then gone over to DAISY gradually. The organisation has bought thousands of DAISY players. Thanks to RNIB there was at last a market for the manufacturers of DAISY playback machines.

Celia Library in Finland which also used Clarke&Smith decided to use the commercial 2-track cassette as a transition and did not start their DAISY production until they moved into a new building in 2004.

In the Netherlands the Government decided that there should be a rapid transition to DAISY in order to avoid double production (both analogue and digital). The Dutch social security system in January 2003 perscribed 30 000 DAISY players. The Danish National Library for the Blind (DBB) started with digitizing their whole analogue collection and as a test lent the books via a book club to a rather small group of borrowers.

In Norway and Japan blind and visually impaired have received free players but not persons another print disability. In India, Thailand, Singapore, Hong Kong and Malaysia organisations who are serving persons in employment and students are responsible for the DAISY Production. In the US Recording for the Blind &d Dyslexics (RFB&D), has transferred all it's text books for students of different ages to DAISY. The largest library for general literature, NLS, is waiting until 2008 and is then going to use DAISY 3.0.

The importance of DAISY players

The existence of adequate players has been decisive for the success of the DAISY concept. Plextor's interest and ability to listen and adjust to the demands of the talking book readers as well as the producers has already been mentioned. A remarkable contribution since they had no earlier experience of production of devices for disabled. The Canadian manufacturer VisuAide (now HumanWare)had on the other a long experience from the field and soon caught up with Plextor.

Both companies have, with there active marketing, helped to spread the DAISY concept. They are very important "Friends" of the Consortium as well as the American company Telex, which also has started to manufacture DAISY players. But at the same time it was the cost of the players that was the obstacle to an immediate success. The fact that the player is a small computer and makes the book accessible in a way that not has been possible earlier, seems to be difficult to understand for many decision makers. Decision makers as well as many users would prefer a mainstream player that also could play DAISY books. Today it is also possible as most MP3 players also can play DAISY but without the DAISY structure.

When will DAISY be main stream?

So the question arises when will DAISY be main stream? The greatness of DAISY and first of all the development towards a DAISY 3.0, is that it is an accessible multimedia format. When society demands accessibility, DAISY is there as a developed system. The US is the one country where they have laws regulating accessibility for disabled persons in the American with Disabilities ACT, ADA. If others want to follow DAISY is there for the main stream.

Ingar's wish list

Before Ingar Beckman Hirschfeldt retired she made this wish list, here comprised:
What I wish after 17 years at TPB, is first of all that every person who has a disability which makes him/her unable to read printed text shall have a computer, a broad band connection and an Internet subscription. Secondly, I wish that newspapers shall be made in the DAISY format. My third wish is that all kinds of study books shall be produced in the DAISY format.

Furthermore, I want a central archive from which libraries and individuals can download DAISY.

I also wish that laws are made that stipulate that all books, magazines and newspaper shall be saved in a DAISY compatible format, for example XML. Thus the files would be simple to transfer into DAISY, either as narrations or with synthetic speech, electronic text solely or as a combination of sound, illustration, text as multimedia. All these wishes can not be fulfilled if there isn't a copyright legislation that makes it possible to produce electronic text,use pictures and distribute accessible media via Internet for persons with a print disability.

I wish that copyright regulations will not set up barriers but enable exchange of material for the print disabled thus creating the Global library. The dream of the Global Library is also an important part of the Consortium's vision.