Koen Krikhaar - Part 1

Portrait of Koen Krikhaar In Part 1 of his story Koen Krikhaar takes us on a trip down "DAISY memory lane". I first met Koen at an early-day DAISY meeting in Kyoto, Japan. The next time we met was in the Dedicon (then FNB) recording studios in Amsterdam. He gave a wonderful tour of the facilities which I remember as if it were yesterday but it was at least 15 years ago. In February 2008 the DAISY Board of Directors and members of IFLA/LPD met in Zagreb Croatia to review the goals of the Global Library Initiative. At the conference held Zagreb in conjuntion with that meeting, George Kerscher and I were introduced by Koen before our presentation as "Mr. and Mrs. DAISY". This brought laughter from those who knew us and may have caused just a bit of confusion for those who did not. I still chuckle to myself when I think of it – thank you for this smile.

In Part 1, Koen introduces himself as 'ordinary' but I believe you will find as you read Parts 1 and 2 of his story that he is not at all ordinary. He, like several others of us who have been involved with DAISY from the very, very early days, will carry the memories of those exceptional times with him, always.

Koen Krikhaar's Story: Part 1

A working life dedicated to a11y. To what? Well read all about it…

In March when I was asked to write my story for the DAISY Planet, I was somewhat suspicious that they were pulling my leg (April fool was approaching) or that they were panicky of running out of truly amazing people to fill their column with. The thing is, I am not blind or, as far as I can see, otherwise challenged in life. I'd like to read and have no trouble doing this through print. So, how can I fit in to this Hall of Famous DAISY People? I see much of what I do or did as part of a team effort, made possible through the dedicated efforts of Dedicon or the international networks I have the privilege to work in. I am not retiring yet, so do I want to write a summary of my life and expose my virtues or vices? I fear I am simply too self-conscious too write an interesting piece. So how to land this? What on earth would readers of the DAISY Planet be interested in this quite ordinary Dutch guy? I guess I have to relax and write about my ordinary life with its ordinary accomplishments, albeit in extraordinary times. And I must trust that people like to read stories about fellow-travelers on the road to a11y. To what? Be patient: we'll deal with that later.

Skip the Beginnings?

Photograph of one of the many, many canals in Amsterdam - Lynn Leith Shall we skip the beginnings? Oh, all right then, just the basics. I can recommend being born in Amsterdam. I cannot imagine living anywhere else. I studied psychology, some philosophy, fell in love several times, found true love from which sprang two beautiful daughters to help me start to act responsibly. My professional life started in the early eighties with a part-time job recording talking books for the blind. Fully magnetic analogue technology at the time. It was a magic time, full of wonders we took for granted. We wrote things down with chalk on a blackboard, and we never had to search for our telephone when it rang, we simply knew where it was! Working with a team of up to 5 conscientious objectors to military service (still compulsory at that time), mostly students, we had a group of young existentially challenged males recording and narrating one schoolbook after another. Although we knew generally that we worked for a good cause, and that it was much better than crawling under barbed wire, we did not bother too much with the end results of our labors or the needs of clients. For me that came later.

Occasional visits by blind students who came to our premises in Amsterdam dropping off a bag full of printed textbook ("Can you convert this to braille please, my exams are in two weeks' time!"), made an impression. And it began to dawn on me: this is about actually unlocking important information, essential for a person's career or cultural involvement! But how can they ever browse, retrieve or study the books. Finding a song on a C90 compact cassette is hard enough, but how can you ever find a certain ruling in a book of law, or a favorite recipe in a cookbook. Every now and then I visited the braille department, puzzled by the dots, but I began to appreciate the cleverness of the system. And the way each braille volume had its own table of content with the last braille volume containing a table of all the tables of content seemed brilliant at the time – much better than the page bleeps (known by some as 'tone indexing') we worked with in the audio department.

The Big Change

The changing point came with a crash visit from Sweden, when Jan Lindholm from Labyrinthen Data AB and Kjell Hansson from TPB (now MTM) demonstrated their first DAISY system – this must have been in the mid-nineties. And from here on things began to change rapidly for our clients and also for me. Creating pointers to specific audio sections and having direct access to them made a huge difference. In hindsight, I could say I was digitally reborn as a 'DAISY adept'. Together with a team of IT savvy persons, led by Edmar Schut (no doubt, he should be in the Hall of DAISY fame too) we began a campaign to convince other (competing) Dutch libraries of the Blind to switch to digital and embrace DAISY. This was not at all obvious at the time. Many recording facilities focused on audio quality and less on navigation, and they worried about compression and sampling rates a lot. So it took a while, before, as we say in Dutch, 'all noses were pointed in the same direction'.

Spreading Out Around the World

Plextalk TK-300 DAISY player In the meantime on an international scale, I had the honor to serve at the first DAISY Board. I helped bring about the famous "Sigtuna U-turn" where DAISY was redefined in open internet terms and the first DAISY authoring software tool, LP/Studio Pro, was commissioned by the DAISY Board. We were able to contract George Kerscher to help develop the work of the DAISY Consortium and everything started to accelerate. We created a more transparent governance of the DAISY Consortium, redefining the Articles of Association, and we moved its legal base from the Netherlands to Switzerland.

With funding from the "Association of Technical Aids", a Japanese government organization, Shinano Kenshi Co., Ltd. (Plextor), famous for its CD-ROM technology and headed by the company president Mr. Hachiro Kenako, developed and provided approximately 400 prototype DAISY players which were used in 1996-1997 in the international DAISY field trials conducted in 32 countries around the world. More than 800 questionnaires were submitteded and I had the doubtful pleasure of summarizing them. Making the player lighter and smaller was one of the many valuable remarks that helped shape the future DAISY players. With the information gathered the company produced the now famous TK-300, a robust and high quality DAISY player that set the standard for future developments. I remember driving through the Dutch country site, interviewing Dutch pilot users. The appreciation was overwhelming. People loved them and students immediately saw the incredible potential of the system.

The Switch to DAISY

To cut a long story short: in 2004 the whole Dutch audio service for the print disabled (as they were now more aptly called) switched over to DAISY. Patrons could get reimbursed from their health service to buy a DAISY player and thousands of analogue books were converted to DAISY format. An impressive "cold" changeover. With that an important chapter to a11y was added. By now you probably would have guessed, or you knew the meaning of this numeronym (an abbreviation using numbers) already. Accessibility is often abbreviated as "a11y" where the number 11 refers to the number of letters omitted. Opening up the meaning of otherwise inaccessible information is what a11y is all about.

Editor's Note/Afterword

Sign in front of the Dedicon facility in Grave, the Netherlands Koen Krikhaar is currently the Chair of the IFLA/LPD Section (International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions, Libraries Serving Persons with Print Disabilities Section). As Chair he is very much involved with the organization of and preparations for eBooks for Everyone! the IFLA Satellite Conference that will take place in Paris France, August 22-23. He is also Senior Specialist for Library Services with Dedicon – a significant change in position from a young man who recorded books onto tape as a part-time job in the 1980's. Please be sure to read Part 2 of Koen's story in August to find out where his commitment to accessibility has taken him.