Giving Thanks, Looking Ahead: An Open Letter to the Bookshare Community

By Benetech, posted on

Dear Friends,

I always appreciate hearing from our members and getting a glimpse into how Bookshare is making a positive difference in their lives. Oftentimes, the stories our members share with us are deeply moving, but there’s something especially rewarding in hearing someone new to our community commenting on what they’re able to accomplish with Bookshare. Consider the following statement that one of our members has anonymously shared with us:

“I recently activated my account, and am thrilled with your service and how it works seamlessly with my iPad. This is the first time I have been able to read books unavailable [as commercial digital spoken audio products] in over fifteen years. In addition, your service is enabling me to develop a career that would otherwise be impossible. I am very grateful for Bookshare!”

This note is a powerful reminder of how grateful I am for you—our Bookshare members, parents, educators, volunteers, donors, and partners—and for the tremendous achievements we have accomplished together over the past year.

Thanks to your support, Bookshare is now serving more members than ever with a collection of hundreds of thousands of accessible ebooks, and with tools that offer a “read now” experience on multiple devices of their choosing, whether at school, at home, at work, or on the go. We just launched a major update to the Bookshare website, carefully making major improvements to it in order to better support our members and enable them to get even more out of our vast and growing collection.

We aren’t stopping here, though. We believe that our technology and services offer a new world of opportunity for millions of readers around the world, and are setting our sights on further revolutionizing the fields of accessibility and education. These goals are embodied in the mission of Benetech, the nonprofit parent company that operates Bookshare and that advances the use of technology as a force for social good. We’re therefore expanding not only the scale of our work through Bookshare but also our scope across the Benetech Global Literacy Program.

This means that our team is taking on multiple new, cool projects. For example, we’re working hard to improve science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) education for students who have visual disabilities or learning differences. We just launched a new project to explore new ways in which 3D printing technology in libraries and museums can be used to improve learning and accessibility in a range of educational contexts, especially in STEM classes. Earlier this year, we began developing a cloud-based app to help publishers and educators deliver accessible math.

As these projects illustrate, we’re extending what we’ve learned from our extensive work with Bookshare to help publishers and other content creators realize the promise of the digital age and ensure that all content that’s born digital is also “born accessible.” We’re also expanding the proven Bookshare model internationally, so that people with disabilities all around the world, including many who currently have little or no access to education, benefit from the same service that our members enjoy in the United States. In fact, Bookshare is the only major library of its kind that’s actively delivering services in conjunction with partners across the world.

Thank you to our thriving Bookshare community for everything you have done to make these efforts possible. As we look forward to 2015, we know that much work remains to be done—people to empower, places to reach, new accessibility tools to explore and build, and new partnerships to develop in order to better address the global need for accessible content. All this mission-focused work goes beyond what we’re funded to do, and we definitely need your generous help to carry it forward: to provide additional books; create unprecedented opportunities to benefit from accessible math; extend our services to developing countries; and keep improving and increasing the ways to use Bookshare.

This giving season, you may be receiving communications from our team with an appeal for financially supporting Bookshare. Please take a look and give whatever you can to allow us to continue these efforts and do even more, for more people. We build our technology-for-good products and reach dollar-by-dollar, and therefore every gift of any size makes a difference for the individuals we serve.

I look forward to continuing our shared journey, and to accomplishing much more together over the coming year and beyond. Thank you in advance for your support.

Warm regards and happy holidays,

Betsy Beaumon

General Manager, Bookshare

This post originally appeared on the Bookshare blog.