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15.11 EBooks — Ubiquitous Access To Books

AsTeR — was motivated by the increasing availability of technical material as online electronic documents. While AsTeR processed the TeX family of markup languages, more general ebooks came in a wide range of formats, ranging from plain text generated from various underlying file formats to structured EBooks, with Project Gutenberg leading the way. During the mid-90’s, I had access to a wide range of electronic materials from sources such as O’Reilly Publishing and various electronic journals — The Perl Journal (TPJ) is one that I still remember fondly.

Emacspeak provided fairly light-weight but efficient access to all of the electronic books I had on my local disk — Emacs’ strengths with respect to browsing textual documents meant that I needed to build little that was specific to Emacspeak. The late 90’s saw the arrival of Daisy as an XML-based format for accessible electronic books. The last decade has seen the rapid convergence to epub as a distribution format of choice for electronic books. Emacspeak provides interaction modes that make organizing, searching and reading these materials on the Emacspeak Audio Desktop a pleasant experience. Emacspeak also provides an OCR-Mode — this enables one to call out to an external OCR program and read the content efficiently.

The somewhat informal process used by publishers like O’Reilly to make technical material available to users with print impairments was later formalized by BookShare — today, qualified users can obtain a large number of books and periodicals initially as Daisy-3 and increasingly as EPub. BookShare provides a RESTful API for searching and downloading books; Emacspeak module emacspeak-bookshare implements this API to create a client for browsing the BookShare library, downloading and organizing books locally, and an integrated ebook reading mode to round off the experience.

A useful complement to this suite of tools is the Calibre package for organizing ones ebook collection; Emacspeak now implements an EPub Interaction mode that leverages Calibre (actually sqlite3) to search and browse books, along with an integrated EPub mode for reading books.


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