Exchanging accessible books across borders – as easy as ABC

Author:Margaret Williams - Margaret McGrory
Position:Director, Content and Access, Centre for Equitable Library Access (CELA) - Vice President, Canadian National Institute for the Blind (CNIB), Toronto, Canada

The Marrakesh Treaty to Facilitate Access to Published Works for Persons Who Are Blind, Visually Impaired, or Otherwise Print Disabled (the Marrakesh VIP Treaty) came into force on September 30, 2016, bringing with it a new era in access to information for people with disabilities.


The Treaty promises to help end the “global book famine” for people who cannot read traditional print because of a disability (called “beneficiaries” in the Treaty). Only a tiny percentage of published works are currently available in formats that they can use. To change this, the Treaty allows the creation and cross-border exchange of accessible books on a non profit basis without the permission of rights holders. Cross-border exchange is vital to minimize the duplication of effort and cost when two or more “authorized entities” – government or non profit organizations serving beneficiaries – make the same work accessible rather than adding to the overall number of works available.

Putting the theory of Marrakesh into practice

Beneficiaries and authorized entities in countries that have ratified or acceded to the Marrakesh VIP Treaty can now concentrate on applying its provisions. How do we find out which works are available in alternative formats in other countries, how do we obtain them and how do we contribute back ones that we have produced? How can we comply with the terms of the Treaty as implemented in national laws without adding administrative burden?

In this article we share the experience of one authorized entity, CNIB (Canadian National Institute for the Blind), with the book service of the Accessible Books Consortium (ABC) which has worked with stakeholders to establish a technical infrastructure and business processes that respond to these questions. The ABC book service is also known under its pilot project name, the TIGAR service. We look at what the service offers, its value to us and future potential, and how to get started.

CNIB is the largest producer of books in alternative formats in Canada. Since 2014, CNIB has offered access to its collection to an estimated population of three million Canadians with print disabilities through the Centre for Equitable Library Access (CELA) and CELA’s nearly 2,000 public library members. CELA maintains CNIB’s legacy collection and selects new titles from a variety of sources, including the ABC book service.

The ABC book service

Simply put, the ABC book service allows an authorized entity in one country to find and obtain accessible books produced by an authorized entity in another country, and to provide them to beneficiaries in their own jurisdiction.

While designed with Marrakesh in mind, the service also handles cross-border exchange between countries that have yet to ratify or...

To continue reading