Braille Book Review

July-August 2005

In Brief

NLS Business Plan summary on cassette

Executive Summary: Current Strategic Business Plan for the Implementation of Digital Systems, March 2004, is now available on cassette and can be obtained through your cooperating library or the NLS Reference Section. When ordering, please refer to stock number MS269C. It is also available on line at < ahref="">

Listen to magazines with NFB-NEWSLINE

AARP the Magazine, the Economist and the New Yorker are now available in audio format from NFB-NEWSLINE. AARP the Magazine appears bimonthly and offers information on current events, travel, arts, and medicine to senior citizens. The Economist is a weekly magazine focused on trade, finance, science, and technology. People across the country read the New Yorker for its editorials, cultural news, and acclaimed fiction pieces.

NFB-NEWSLINE is a free service provided by the National Federation of the Blind (NFB) and the National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped of the Library of Congress (NLS). NFB-NEWSLINE converts printed content to synthetic speech, which readers may access twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week by using a touch- tone telephone. Patrons of NLS can register by calling their cooperating network library and asking to subscribe to NFB-NEWSLINE.

The following material is reprinted from two issues of NLS Flash, a newsletter created to bring current information on NLS progress in digital technology to patrons, library staff, and other interested individuals.

Flash, April 2005, volume 1, issue 5

An accessible design for NLS Patrons

Accessibility is a hot-button issue in the world of consumer products. Engineers consider the wide range of abilities and limitations of consumers and incorporate accessible design into their work--as will the team that creates the new digital talking-book (DTB) system for the National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped (NLS), Library of Congress.

Involved from concept to handoff for production, the team members are HumanWare, formerly VisuAide, a leader in DTB technology; the National Federation of the Blind (NFB), the largest organization of blind persons in the world, with more than fifty thousand members; and the Trace Research and Development Center at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, a specialist in accessible technology for the disabled. They will assist Battelle, a leading technology innovation firm, with the design and development of the digital talking-book machine (DTBM).

Getting creative

"The creative input of our patrons is essential to designing a digital talking-book system that best accommodates them," says Frank Kurt Cylke, director of NLS. "One of the ways we'll identify the needs and wants of our patrons will be through repeatedly testing the player design concepts with focus groups of blind and physically handicapped users." Other project highlights include creating multiple models of the DTBM, observing how users interact with them, and developing the player's software and hardware. Gilles Pepin of HumanWare, will manage and coordinate subcontractor activities. His team will also support Battelle with design and engineering activities by sharing the results of earlier tests, developing training materials, and testing the final DTBM for overall performance.

The two-phase project will take thirty months to complete. "The first phase consists of concept development, design, and testing," says Pepin. "The collected information will directly influence the design of the DTB player prototypes at appropriate stages of development." During the second phase, the player will be transferred for manufacturing, and early DTBMs will be examined to make sure they operate according to design., two, eight

A series of eight usability test cycles will ensure that the final player is acceptable to NLS patrons. The tests will employ a combination of focus groups, fieldwork, and site visits. Individuals will test different versions of the DTBM in typical settings, be assigned operational tasks, and make evaluations based on their interactions with the machine. Testers will also make suggestions on the kinds of things they want the machine to do.

Most tests cycles will take two weeks from start to finish. The results will guide the development process, as each test is designed to extract specific information. Initial tests will explore user needs; whereas later ones will examine how users interact with different player designs and test sound, navigation, and manipulation of the DTBM. A few tests will be used to confirm that the player meets with the regulatory standards for DTBs.

Recognized for expertise in consumer product testing, NFB and the Trace Center will administer usability tests to select groups. The Trace Center will test individuals selected from residential living centers for the elderly and senior day centers.

"People who are older and those with multiple disabilities are a large part of the talking-book user population," says Gregg C. Vanderheiden, director of the Trace Center. "Our work can help ensure that current users will continue to be able to use talking books as they age, and new patrons will also be able to enjoy DTBs."

NFB will manage tests among blind and low-vision users, primarily NLS patrons who match certain profiles for visual ability, age, demographics, and level of exposure to technology. They will also test the DTBM with library staff and repair technicians. "When a user population is involved, they will come up with many things that engineers don't even think of," said Dr. Marc Maurer, president of NFB. "Because if one believes that the target population for the machine will have a fuller life because of the machine; then the machine has to do what it's designed to do."

Facing a new frontier: Talking-book machine transformation

For many years, NLS and the volunteer machine-repair groups TelecomPioneers and GE Elfuns have partnered to keep talking-book machines in top shape. With a whole new technology in development for talking books and machines, what does the future look like for this relationship?

As the next generation of playback machines evolves, they will still have their work cut out for them. Cassette machines will be in use beyond 2008 when the new DTBMs are introduced.

The national organizations of volunteers have repaired more than 1.8 million NLS machines and dedicated countless hours in repair workshops around the country. Their efforts save NLS more than $5 million each year.

Last year alone, they repaired more than 127,000 machines. And with the promise of nearly one million new digital machines, the expertise of the repair volunteers will be needed.

But this isn't the first time these organizations have faced a challenge and won. In the past, the repair volunteers invented special tools and solutions to repair the specialized players.

Flash, May 2005, volume 1, issue 6

Paving a distribution highway for talking books

Just as cars need highways, books need distribution systems to facilitate the journey from libraries to patrons. That is why a distribution system study is a necessary step for the National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped (NLS), Library of Congress, on the road toward digital transformation. A study has been contracted to ensure that the digital book distribution process evolves in tandem with the creation of the books, giving patrons high-quality service.

"The digital transformation is an opportunity to enhance talking-book technology and the reading experience," says Frank Kurt Cylke, director of NLS. "The distribution study will help us maximize the potential of the digital talking book (DTB) to better serve patrons."

For this project, NLS has contracted with experts in new technology solutions. ManTech Advanced Systems International will lead the effort, supported by two subcontractors: Jerome Ducrest, an independent contractor, and Daniel Kind of Wesley-Kind Associates. Having worked with NLS in the past, the two are uniquely familiar with library operations.

Maximizing potential

Driven by thorough research, the two-phase study will take roughly sixteen months to complete. The first phase will involve evaluating three possible DTB distribution models followed by the selection of the best overall choice. Once NLS approves the recommended model, phase two will gear up. The design of the new system and a multiyear transition plan will be the focus of the second phase, expected to run through the summer of 2006.

"Our goal is to implement a system that maintains high- quality service and is mutually beneficial to NLS, libraries, and patrons," says Michael Moodie, NLS deputy director. "An ideal solution would provide patrons with personal service, localized librarian knowledge, and timely book delivery. It would also ensure sufficient inventory to meet patron requests and would save libraries and NLS money."

The three models under consideration include the current system, which duplicates mass quantities of book titles and stores them locally for easy access by librarians as they fill loan requests; on-demand duplication, where a central facility would copy DTBs as patrons request them; and a hybrid model which combines mass circulation and on-demand duplication. To make the right choice, NLS will use evaluation criteria developed with input from the contractors and the Digital Long-Term Planning Group, an NLS committee that includes state, regional, and subregional librarians as well as patrons.

"This decision will impact the entire distribution network--duplication, circulation systems, data management, and possibly even facilities," says Moodie. "It is important that we consider the economic, operational, and human impact of each model."

Seamless transition

Librarians and patrons will aid the process as part of the Digital Long-Term Planning Group. At the end of the initial phase, contractors will meet with the group, which includes members of the National Federation of the Blind and the American Council of the Blind, to review the recommended scenario and to collect comments on system design.

"Depending on the distribution model selected, contractors may also visit certain libraries to gather information to assist the design process," says Jean M. Moss, NLS digital projects coordinator. "Libraries that employ special shelving schemes will be of special interest."

Development of the new design will underscore cooperation and integration. The design must consider all aspects of DTB distribution, including duplication, packaging, shipping/receiving, shelving, and automated circulation systems.

If significant changes from the current system are recommended, the contractor will develop a comprehensive transition plan. Some key topics might be establishing telecommunications systems, phasing out cassette book circulation, and phasing in DTB systems. Another area to be examined is the method for educating library patrons and staff about the new distribution model.

"A detailed transition plan is being developed to provide a roadmap to the future," says Moss. "The plan will be implemented over a period of years to give libraries time to adapt to any necessary changes."

Spotlight on DTB distribution systems

Mass duplication

Book titles are copied in large batches (approximately 1,000 copies) at NLS audiobook production facilities before being sent to network libraries for storage and circulation. An allotment system permits the libraries to determine the number of copies received for a new title. Each library receives at least one copy of each new title but may request more to meet reader demand.


When needed, DTBs would be produced at a central duplication center operated by NLS contractors. Librarians would receive patron requests and submit them to the centers. Rather than storing physical copies of DTBs on shelves, titles would be stored on digital servers and then loaded onto flash-memory cartridges and mailed to patrons.


This system combines mass duplication and duplication-on-demand to meet reader demand. High- circulation titles--which account for about 20 percent of the collection but perhaps 80 percent of total circulation--would be mass produced and distributed to libraries for loan to patrons. Low-circulation titles--comprising the balance of the collection yet only a small percentage of circulation--would be duplicated on demand at distribution centers. The hybrid system is predicated on Pareto's Law, which indicates that for a given population of entities associated with a given activity, a distinct minority of the population accounts for a distinct majority of the activity.

Digital talking-book (DTB) milestones

For information on the NLS digital project contact Jean M. Moss, Digital Projects Coordinator. E-mail:; fax: (202) 707-1690. For the Strategic Business Plan online:

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