Open Library Offers New Possibilities for Musician Who is Blind

Matthew Shifrin is a musician, graduate school student, podcaster, rock climber, and comic book fan. The 24-year-old who lives in Newton, Massachusetts, is also blind. When he wants a book for a research paper or just leisure reading, he often needs more than what a campus library or local store can offer.

Matthew Shifrin. Photo credit: Webb Chappell.

Shifrin has relied on Open Library to borrow digital books in formats that he can download for reading on his computer, which has a Braille display. As part of the Internet Archive’s program for users with print disabilities, he can skip waitlists for the ebook collection and download protected EPUBs and PDFs. 

“The process is simple and efficient,” says Shifrin. “The Internet Archive has a huge amount of accessible books—Italian grammar books, children’s poetry—the most random things. It’s the best because you never know what you will come across. You can search for something specific, but also just wander the virtual shelves.”

Shifrin is in his first year of graduate school studying classical singing at the New England Conservatory, where he also got his undergraduate degree in music. Although audiobooks are useful, he prefers to read a book with his Braille computer because it’s faster and he can go at his own pace. 

The Digital Accessible Information System (DAISY) books are in a special encrypted format that makes them easy to navigate. Shifrin also uses library websites designed for blind people such as Bookshare and National Library Service for the Blind, but often finds older or niche music books through the Internet Archive. 

For instance, he was recently able to download On the Track: A Guide to Contemporary Film Scoring and The History of Western Music, which were useful in writing an essay on music criticism. He was also able to enjoy a book of poetry by David McCourt that he says brought back “flickers of his childhood.” In addition to books, Shifrin uses the Archives’ wealth of videos, movies, and music in the public domain from all around the world. 

Shifrin is currently writing a one-man musical and his creative outlets have included podcasting and essay writing. He recently produced the Blind Guy Travels podcast on PRX’s Radiotopia and had an article in the Boston Globe about how he is using technology to decipher facial expressions. 

In all of his work, Shifrin said he values the Internet Archive’s collection: “It’s been a great resource for all the books and all the content that I couldn’t find in other places.”

Learn more about the Internet Archive’s program for patrons with print disabilities.

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