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The History of Large Print Books and Frederick A Thorpe

Large print books (LPBs) barely cross the mind of most readers, or so I thought. A more accurate statement would be that LPBs barely cross the mind of most readers until later in life. That’s because the major cause of vision impairment around the world and in Australia is ageing. If you think that this won’t be a problem for you, it might be wise to think again. The hard truth is that in excess of 161 million people worldwide are visually impaired (A Guide to Australian Eye Health, 2009) and 52% of the Australian population report eyesight problems (ABS National Health Survey, 2007-08). Put simply, 1 in every 2 Australians will suffer from visual impairment of some kind at some stage. For a large percentage of us the minor visual impairment we will encounter will not result in having to read LPBs, but there is still a decent chunk of the reading population that will have to. Having to read large print books isn’t the end of the world. In fact, I’m sure most people who read LPBs are just grateful they exist at all. What is a little disheartening is the availability of titles in large print format. According to the Availability of Accessible Publications study, only 4.4% of titles published in the UK between 1999 and 2003 were reproduced in an alternative format (LISU Occasional Paper No. 35, May 2005). This figure is just a drop in the ocean and it includes other alternative formats, like audio books. It would be easy to focus this piece on the availability issues surrounding large print books, but I’d much prefer to dwell on the positive. Given that quite a few of us are, or will be, the target market of LPBs, I thought it might be nice to provide a brief history and introduce you to the pioneer of the format, a little known Englishman by the name of Frederick Thorpe.

My research on when the first large print book was published yielded some confusing results. There were some sources that stated the first large print book was published in 1914, but none provided actual evidence to back-up their claims. What most historians seem to agree on is that the first LPBs produced in the English language in bulk were published in 1964 in Leicester, England. The publisher was a former book and magazine printer and publisher by the name of Frederick A. Thorpe. Thorpe wasn’t the first person to recognise the need for a larger format book for elderly readers with poor eyesight. In fact, the book industry had been talking about the need for such books for almost 20 years, but nothing had come to fruition as most felt that LPBs wouldn’t be a financial success. Thorpe came at the idea from a different angle and decided that though there were risks involved, the best way to make the idea commercially viable would be to produce the books for libraries. Thus, Thorpe became the founder, and subsequent world leader in large print book publications with the formation of his non-profit organisation, Ulverscroft Large Print Books Limited.

In the early years, Thorpe produced large print books that were about twice the physical size of a regular book and the type inside was also about twice the size of the original publication. The books were colour coded according to their genre and had very simply designed dust jackets. However by 1969, after realising that the format of his books were too bulky for his elderly readers, Thorpe began to publish the books in regular sized bindings and came up with a standard 16-point type. This change in design marked the real take-off point for Ulverscroft. The new formatting made the books user-friendly for readers, but more importantly from a business perspective, the new format made the books more durable and shelf-friendly for libraries all over the world. Since these humble beginnings, Ulverscroft Large Print Books Limited, now known as the Ulverscroft Group, has purchased many other large print companies around the world and has diversified their product line to include talking books as well. Whilst many readers now buy Ulverscroft LPBs themselves, libraries were the prime buyer of the Ulverscroft product back in the 1960s and they still are today. The non-profit side of Thorpe’s business is still alive today under the name, The Ulverscroft Foundation, a charity based in the UK that aim’s to provide help and support to the visually impaired.

Many other large print companies exist across the globe today and whilst the plain dust jacket that characterised the original Ulverscroft publications in 1964 are still the standard, increasingly many more publishers are giving their LPBs the same look and feel as their originals with more elaborate cover art. In terms of inclusion, this seems like a positive move, but what interests me the most about the future is the impact of e-book technology. The ability for the reader of an e-book to increase and decrease type size at will makes them almost indiscriminate. From a publisher’s point of view, one could argue that large print books are becoming redundant. Why go to the trouble of publishing them and catering for a niche market, when the e-book supposedly caters for all? With the existence of libraries themselves also under threat, it makes me wonder what kind of future is in store for the large print book. What I do know is that for almost 50 years, the pioneering work of Frederick Thorpe has meant that the world of books has remained open to many a visually impaired reader, and that ain’t bad.


Australian Bureau of Statistics National Health Survey (2007-08)

Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, A Guide to Australian Eye Health Data, 2nd edition (2009),

Loughborough University, Availability of Accessible Publications, LISU Occasional Paper No. 35, May 2005,

The Ulverscroft Foundation Website, How the Ulverscroft Foundation Began.


How to Choose Books to Read to Your Baby From Birth to One Year Old

Reading to babies can be such a joyful experience if you choose the right books. How do new parents go about finding the right books to read to their babies? With a few tips and in a matter of minutes you can be stocked up and ready to go.

The best time to begin reading to your baby is in the beginning. Some parents opt to read to their babies while in utero and experience fabulous results. Other parents prefer to read to their babies at birth. The best advice as to when to start reading to your baby is the sooner you start, the better.

During your baby’s first years of life, they are acquiring the language skills they will use for a lifetime. These are very easily developed when parents stimulate their babies with language through direct conversations and through reading to them.

The best way to choose a variety of books to read to your baby involves a few procedures. First of all, try to think back to books you enjoyed as a child. You may want to begin there. If you are not predisposed to any favorites, then you can look up some bestselling children’s books on Amazon. On Amazon you can read reviews to see why other people liked or disliked a particular book. This is often very helpful in choosing books. There are also bookselling clubs that offer a variety of books delivered to your home.

My favorite way of getting new books to read to my children is to look at lists such as Top 100 Children’s Books. My library offers online service. I just look for top rated children’s books and then search my library’s catalog to see if they are available. I request a hold and the library calls me when the books are available.

Using the library has allowed me to expose my children to hundreds of books at no cost. If we have a favorite we may purchase it for our home library, or we just request it again and again. By not owning them, the novelty of my children’s favorite books never wears off and when they see a book they enjoyed it is like a welcome visit from an old friend.

The library has many board books as well. These are very nice for babies under one. They are able to handle the books without destroying the pages. Some books have textures and make noises, which on occasion are nice for baby to interact with.

Rhyming books are a lot of fun to read and you might as well just begin with Dr. Seuss. Try reading different types of books to your baby to discover what they like.

Think Tank Topic; Digital Libraries and the Future of Books

We have all heard a lot on the news recently about books being made digital for all to read. Microsoft is doing a 20-million dollar project in Great Britain and Google is doing several libraries in the United States. There has been some controversy on this issue from authors who receive royalties and booksellers. It is for this reason our Think Tank brought up the topic.

A prominent member in our Think Tank “Swift” said; “I was looking into your idea of the digital library and Goggle’s attempt at putting all existing books on the Internet. I really like this idea as only a small percentage of books remain in print. I have been looking for an out of print book for decades called the Rose and the Labyrinth and have had book searches done all over the world. I have found out that there were 5 books with this title. The one I am looking for dealt with the time Carl Jung spent with minors and his reactions to them. He didn’t write it, but I no longer have the information on the book so don’t remember who the writer is. There are some really wonderful out of print books and no way to access them. I am having problems with the publishing companies who are worried about the copyright infringement issues and the interpretation of “fair use.”

They wouldn’t start with the newest books, I would think; but the books that were no longer protected. What in the heck are they being protected from? No one is going to pretend they wrote them for crying out loud. After this length of time, I’ll read any book names the Rose and the Labyrinth and pretend it was the book that was referred to me by Jung’s last student before he died. I really like the idea of a mine being a labyrinth–so did my father.

Well I certainly see Swift’s point on this issue and we know that currently we are very busy digitizing humankind’s written knowledge from books to the digital so it can be made available to the world. This is a very wise move as books can decay over years and out of print books are not available to all. By digitizing the known human written knowledge to the world we can conquer the opportunity barriers of those hard chargers who may not have the resources to achieve the upward mobility they seek. As we conquer the digital divide we will be well on our way to giving back the knowledge of the world from the entire Library of Commerce to the human race in an easy to read, search and retrieve format available to all. That will be an excellent day for the human race indeed. Imagine a digital library of the Library of Commerce able to use Super Computer speeds to retrieve all the world’s written books online at a speed of Google or That is to say any book written in any language, anywhere in the world, at anytime, think on that for a second.

By using knowledge and experience this way we can leverage this to prevent failure through understanding results. Those who do not learn from their mistakes, tend to keep from making them. Those who remember the lessons learned from their mistakes successes tend to reason better through analyzing of their mistakes and trying to figure a way around their problems.

Now then, let me tell you why I believe a society needs digital libraries hooked to all civilizations for faster advancement of the human species as a whole or as one. If you had a problem that needed solving for the betterment of your civilization and you had all the world’s knowledge at your finger tips; that is to say a computer hooked to a system like a World Wide Digital Library, then you would have enhanced your personal knowledge and memory by a million fold. This could help your intelligent quotient at the speed of computer and that coupled with the speed of thought is a major component needed to take mankind to the singularity of an all-knowing, never ending being in this dimension. Think on this.