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NLS: That All May Read

Alternatives for Future Operations of the Books for the Blind Program

Section 7 - Future Alternatives by Major Program Function and Planning Horizon

Summarized below are possible alternatives for future operations for the different major functions of the Books for the Blind Program that were described in Section 2 for current operations.  As noted in Section 1, these are undoubtedly a subset of all the possible alternatives and others almost certainly exist.

7.1 Program Content

Short term: NLS continues producing current program content but performs the evaluations suggested in Sections 4.1 and 4.3 to ascertain program user broadband Internet resources and use of alternative reading sources and public library future plans, respectively.  NLS will also monitor developments with commercial audiobook producers and will consider whether or not to seek legislative change regarding production copyright.

Medium term: Depending upon the outcomes of the evaluations suggested in Sections 4.1 and 4.3, NLS (1) continues producing largely current program content, or (2) changes the conditions for some of the audiobook characteristics.  It could be that commercial titles are used more extensively by NLS, or the current production mix may prevail.  NLS will also monitor, via program user input, if program users are directly obtaining audiobooks from retailers and/or public libraries and at what cost; if NLS determines that all or most users are obtaining certain content from other sources, then it will likely not duplicate that content.

Long term: The mix of program content provided by NLS is likely to vary somewhat from current operations, however this degree is uncertain.  Some content now being produced by NLS may be available at little or no cost from other sources (commercial sources and/or public libraries), but only time will tell.  It is likely that synthesized speech may improve significantly by this time and that some materials produced by NLS may use this technology, and it is also possible that more commercial works will become unabridged.

7.2 DTBMs

Short term: A firm production plan is now in place for this time period, during which all users will receive DTBMs.  Current operations will continue at MLAs and MSCs, as will the mix of standard and advanced players. Volunteers will perform virtually all required repairs.  During this period consideration could be given to possible future enhancements to the machine.

Medium term: MLAs will accumulate and hold small buffer stocks of machines, and continue to distribute DTBMs to users.  Consolidation of machine distribution at a smaller number of MLAs could begin, or existing operations may remain.  Production of new units will continue at a maintenance level or be discontinued if, for instance, a large proportion of program users are using commercial machines.  If production continues, the standard/advanced mix may or may not be changed. Volunteers will likely perform all repairs, but it is possible some commercial repair may be required. The machine will likely be upgraded to receive wireless broadband directly upon program user request and/or as “pushed” by network libraries to users.

Long term: It is doubtful that there would be further production of the DTBM at this time, but it is possible; it is equally likely that another NLS-machine may be in use, or commercial machines may replace a portion or all of the DTBM inventory or in entirety.  DTBMs could be distributed by individual MLAs, from MLAs handling consolidated workload, from a central distribution center (CDC), or MSCs. Repairs could be performed by volunteers and/or commercial repairers.

7.3 DBs

Short term: NLS continues producing DBs and cartridges per current production plan (for new and retro titles), but performs the evaluation suggested in Section 4.2 to ascertain the simultaneous impact of BARD delivery of content, broadband access by users, and DTBM distribution and determine future production requirements.  Network libraries will develop in-house duplication capabilities.  Some possible consolidation of DB distribution among network libraries may take place.  Weeding, possible reallocation among libraries, and reconditioning of cartridges and containers begins in 2013. MSCs perform current functions related to DBs.

Medium term: NLS continues to produce DBs on cartridges, but in smaller average quantities because of significant circulation being generated by BARD at this juncture, and most if not all users will have broadband.  It is possible that cartridge production may cease and that requirements for new production can be provided from reconditioned units, or cartridge production may continue.  It may also be that NLS produces some, but not all, DB titles (whether new or retro) on cartridges (but all on BARD).  Further consolidations of DB cartridge distribution from libraries likely take place, and libraries will become very familiar with in-house duplication.  MSCs may perform some of the current DB-related functions.

Long term: While it is possible that some production of new titles on DB cartridge will continue, it is somewhat unlikely at this juncture, since all new titles will likely be circulated via BARD download and via wireless broadband connections to the users.  Library in-house DB duplication may suffice for the residual requirement for DBs at this time. Cartridge production itself will almost certainly be reduced, but reconditioning will continue.  While DB storage in and distribution from network libraries may continue at this time, it is more likely (and clearly more efficient) for distribution to be consolidated in a small number of libraries, CDCs, or MSCs, wherein it is possible that DOD may be employed in addition to or instead of conventional book circulation.

7.4 BARD

Short term: Current operations will continue with institutions joining individuals as BARD users, and with an increasing proportion of circulation from downloads as more users have broadband and DTBMs. Infrastructure may or may not have to be expanded during this period. Network libraries register users in the system and BARD is “branded” for network libraries rather than for NLS.  Current levels of functionality are maintained during this period, although plans for improvements could be developed. Current projections include incorporation of Web-Braille into BARD in 2012.

Medium term: Capacity will likely have to be expanded to several servers and distributed geographically. All users will have DTBMs by the beginning of this period, and most will have broadband.  Registration and branding by libraries will continue as in the short term.  System functionality will likely be improved, with more sophisticated BARD-reader interactions (prompts, background communications, etc.), and the interfaces with both CMLS and library information systems will likely be improved.  By the end of this period, a majority of audiobook circulation will likely be from BARD, much of it via wireless broadband.

Long term: BARD will be the source of most audiobook circulation and a larger share of braille circulation.  The system will continue to be branded for the network libraries.  The various enhancements cited for the medium term will be in place.  Users will be accessing the system via a variety of broadband methods and possibly using several types of playback machines.  There will likely be developed a capability by which network libraries will “push” digital books via broadband Internet to users.

7.5 RCs

Short term: Current RC operations will continue in network libraries and MSCs, though new production will cease in  FY2011, so that copy allotment and receipt and in-processing of new titles will also cease.

Medium term: RC distribution will continue from libraries, but consolidation of distribution in a smaller number of libraries is likely because of the economies of centralization.  Given the limited space and staffing of a number of the network libraries, there might be an increase in  contracting RCs from larger regional libraries.  This would save space at the contracting library and still provide users continuous access to RC titles until the interest or need for analog titles ceases.  The consolidation of braille-lending libraries occurred naturally in the network, but whether it will happen naturally with analog books or whether NLS will need to implement such arrangements is part of what must be determined in the plan.  Extensive weeding will significantly reduce the size of library collections with likely most or all RC copies of retro titles removed since they will be available in digital format. MSCs will continue to operate for circulation of back-up and special RC collections, but the tape quota and QA programs for RC materials will likely cease.

Long term: It is possible that RC collections will be consolidated in either CDCs or MSCs for distribution, although it is possible that a few network libraries could handle the workload.  All excess copies will be weeded by this time.  MSCs would likely continue to store and distribute RC books from special collections unless turned over to a CDC.

7.6 RC Magazines

Short term: The plan is to continue producing RC magazines during this time period as is done currently.  BARD downloads of magazines should reduce the average number of required mass-duplicated copies.  NLS will examine putting multiple current magazine titles on single DB cartridges, which would be returned, reconditioned, and reused.

Medium term: The RC magazine program will probably, although not definitely, be discontinued because of technological obsolescence during this time period.  Copies of old issues will be distributed from MSCs.  NLS will likely implement a system whereby multiple current magazine titles will be put on single DB cartridges, which would be returned, reconditioned, and reused, and would replace RC magazines.

Long term: The program will almost certainly be discontinued because of technological obsolescence.  Copies of old issues will be distributed from MSCs.  Magazines will be available on DB cartridges and on BARD.

7.7 CBMs

Short term: Current CBM operations will continue with MLAs storing and distributing machines, volunteers repairing them, NLS providing parts, with a back-up supply of machines at the MSCW along with packaging supplies.  Some reallocations among network libraries may be necessary to move units from operations of relative surplus to operations of relative deficiency.

Medium term: Operations will continue at MLAs, but there may likely be some consolidation of distribution in a smaller number of MLAs. Volunteers would still repair machines.  MSCs would perform the same functions as for the short term.

Long term: Distribution will very likely consolidate in a very small number of MLAs, the MSCs, or a CDC.  Unavailability of critical parts may render much of the inventory obsolete at some point.

7.8 BRs

Short term: Current operations will continue, with possible further consolidation of braille collections in a small number of network libraries. An increasing share of content will be delivered via BARD.  The MSCs will store and distribute the back-up BR, BRA, BRF, and BRJ collections.

Medium term: Same as short term, but likely an extensive consolidation of distribution in a small number of network libraries, or possibly even going to distribution from CDCs.  A larger share of braille circulation will likely be delivered by BARD. The same role for MSCs is the same as in the short term.  There may be a possible reduction in the number of copies produced in bound volumes.

Long term: Centralization in a very small number of libraries or CDCs is highly likely because of the economies of consolidation.  There may be a possible reduction of the number of copies produced in bound volumes.

7.9 Braille Magazines

Short term: The plan is to continue current operations for this time period.

Medium term: Continued operations of the short term, but possibly reduce the number of copies per title produced in bound volumes because of circulation shifting to Internet downloads.  The title mix may change depending upon patron use of BARD.

Long term: The most likely change long-term may be a possible significant reduction in the number of copies produced per title if a significant portion of the circulation is generated from BARD and Web-Braille downloads.

7.10 RDs and TBMs

Short term: Any residual operations at libraries/MLAs will be transferred to MSCs, which will conduct all operations.

Medium term: MSCs will conduct all operations; demand may disappear.

Long term: Remains the same as medium term.

7.11 Music

Short term: The plan is to continue with current operations.  NLS will test the use of digital cartridges for musical content.  Downloads from BARD will likely increase and cause a decrease in conventional circulation.  There may be a possible resolution of the mailing return problem.

Medium term: Continued operations per short term, with downloads likely increasing.  Music will be available on digital cartridge as well as in braille and LP (Bold Note).  Some music will have to remain in hard-copy format.

Long term: Remains the same as medium term.

7.12 Program User Registration

Short term: The plan is to continue current operations, with network libraries registering users.  NLS will explore the use of electronic registration.

Medium term: It is likely that operations will continue as in the short term, except that electronic registration will be implemented.

Long term: It is likely that operations will continue as in the medium term, unless some type of centralized service is implemented.

7.13 Reader-Advisory Services

Short term: Current operations will continue, with network libraries performing this function for all reading materials and machines.

Medium term: It is likely that operations will continue as in the short term.

Long term: It is likely that operations will continue as in the medium term, unless some types of centralized services are implemented.

7.14 Additional Services

Documents, including catalogs of books and magazines, and manuals and supplies, including bar-code labels and library property labels, after being purchased by NLS will be shipped to the MSCs, stored, and distributed to network libraries upon request.  These functions are planned to remain at the MSCs for all three time horizons.

7.15 USPS Deliveries

Short term: USPS delivery workload will decline over a multi-year period because of an increasing proportion of program circulation being delivered to users via broadband Internet.  NLS will begin an evaluation of this change in the short term, but will not attempt to redirect the Free Matter subsidy.

Medium term:  NLS will continue to evaluate the shift in workload from USPS Free Matter to broadband Internet delivery of program materials.  Some of the USPS subsidy may be shifted to the provision of broadband for program users who cannot afford it.

Long term:  NLS will continue to evaluate the shift in workload from USPS Free Matter to broadband Internet delivery of program materials.  It is likely that some of the USPS subsidy will be shifted to the provision of broadband for program users who cannot afford it and possibly for other program uses deemed necessary at that time.

7.16 NLS as a Referral Point

One rather extreme although possible suggestion is that NLS in the long term serve primarily, but not necessarily exclusively, as a “referral point” for program users.  In this capacity, NLS would primarily point users to the sources of reading content, playback machine vendors, etc., available from alternative sources, and secondly produce only materials not available to users from alternative sources—a major objective being to not duplicate materials available through such alternative sources.

It would first have to be shown that the critical resources necessary for the program to operate satisfactorily would likely be provided by such other sources in the future in order for this alternative to be feasible.  There are clearly too many unknowns at this time to conclude whether this approach would ever be feasible.

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Posted on 2013-06-28