Braille Book Review

May-June 2006

In Brief

The following information 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, February 2006, volume 2, issue 3

Internet download to deliver reading to patrons

We live in a digital world. Information, products, and services are only a quick surf, click, and download away, thanks to the Internet. Download access will soon be available to patrons of the National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped (NLS), Library of Congress. In late spring, NLS will launch a pilot program to test the functionality of online download for its books and magazines. Results from the pilot will help shape the program for its official 2007 debut.

"Online download will optimize our service to patrons. It's an alternative way to access the collection," says Frank Kurt Cylke, NLS director. "It offers patrons faster, more flexible access and offers them greater choice in defining their own reading experience. We're excited to be able to offer downloadable books and magazines as part of our program."

NLS staff will use the pilot results to examine various elements of the online option. In addition to reviewing the realities of online download, NLS also seeks clarity on patrons' experience with digital talking-book (DTB) technology. Users will be surveyed regularly throughout the pilot, and their feedback will help NLS tailor the program.

Three NLS staff are steering this test-drive of online technology. NLS research and development officer Neil Bernstein manages the overall project. Michael Martys, automation officer, supervises all technical aspects of the pilot including the creation and operation of the download web site and the preparation of DTBs. Alice Baker, assistant head, Production Control Section, serves as project coordinator. She oversees the involvement of several NLS sections on various operational elements, such as book and magazine production and collection development.

This is NLS's most advanced online download pilot to date, involving one hundred patrons the largest tester group so far and a collection of one thousand books and magazines. It is the first time patrons are testing downloadable books. Using a high-speed Internet connection, participants will be able to download their desired title from the NLS web site to their computers. From there, the title must be transferred onto a flash cartridge, which is then read using a digital talking-book player. The books and magazines will be encrypted so that they may only be accessed using NLS-provided players.

"The pilot's success will ultimately be measured by the number and quality of comments we receive from patrons," says Bernstein. "User input is essential to building a program that suits various needs and preferences."

As NLS's digital talking-book machine (DTBM) will not be available until 2008, pilot participants will receive a commercially available player adapted to read DTBs. NLS will also provide each participant with a flash cartridge. To ensure the process is easy, patrons will receive training materials and technical support.

"This project will offer us a sneak preview of how a larger segment of patrons interacts with the technology," noted Bernstein. "Since the player will resemble NLS's final product, we will be able to obtain keen insight into usability."

Patron benefits

The advantages of online download are many. Access to titles will be faster within minutes, instead of days and new titles will be available online before they reach libraries.

Independence is another hallmark of online download. Participants will have greater control over their reading processes: they will be free to select titles, which they may download and read at their convenience.

Patrons also have the freedom to collect their favorite reading materials. Once downloaded, a title is essentially theirs to keep. There are no return restrictions associated with the book or magazine, so readers may essentially build their own personal libraries. Countdown to launch Much must be done before project launch. Getting the job done in time will require expert multitasking. Work is simultaneously focused on three major areas of development: patron selection, collection development, and DTB preparation.

Pilot participants have been selected based on specific criteria. Testers will be skilled in computer use, so that they may readily learn the new technical tasks that will be required for this Internet-based mode. In addition, they must have a high-speed Internet connection as well as proper software and hardware systems.

It is also important that participants be genuinely interested in the project and committed to seeing it through. The more engaged participants are, the better the insights will be. Because the project is research-driven, there will be a degree of rigor. Participants must be willing to read regularly and complete a series of surveys on such issues as title collection, usability, program features, and personal preferences.

The NLS Collection Development Section is building a rich and varied pilot collection that patrons will find useful and appealing. It will feature a mix of fiction and nonfiction, bestsellers and classics, and works in specific genres. More complex titles with higher navigation capabilities, such as computer books and cookbooks, will also be added because they offer another level of insight into usability.

"Six months into the program, we expect to add 1,500 more titles to the collection," says Baker.

DTB preparation is perhaps the most labor-intensive task ahead. Digital audio files for each title must be prepared in a format suitable for download. Michael Martys's team must first develop a computer system that will do the work. Once the system is in place, it will take the computers roughly seven weeks, running day and night, to finish the conversion. At this time, security protocol will be added to the DTBs so that the books can only be read using an NLS player.

The project team understands the significance of the pilot and is excited to move forward. "Download is the wave of the future," says Baker. Bernstein, Martys, and Baker are eager to fine- tune this service so that patrons can soon enjoy new opportunities in talking-book reading.

Flash, March 2006, volume 2, issue 4

Updated strategic business plan affirms conversion progress and future direction

Since issuing its Strategic Business Plan for the Implementation of Digital Systems in December 2003, the National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped (NLS), Library of Congress, has come a long way in establishing a digital system. Even so, a significant amount of work remains. NLS will issue shortly an updated Business Plan that reviews progress to date and maps out the road ahead. The report shows that the transition strategy remains solid, sensible, and on schedule as the transformation heads toward the finish line.

"In the relatively short period of time since transition work began, we have accomplished much," says Frank Kurt Cylke, NLS director. "Steady progress in a number of key projects is an indication that our strategy is sound and that the transition is on target."

A fluid and flexible strategy has helped the transition project stay on course. "The updated Business Plan affirms that the decisions we made regarding the transition in 2003 are still viable," observes Michael Moodie, NLS deputy director. "Having built in flexibility, we are able to apply our learning to the entire process and update the plan accordingly. This is critically important as we plan another busy year of transition preparation." Strategy focuses on four key areas Considerable effort recently has been aimed at paving the way to a smooth transition that will affect patrons only minimally. NLS's transition strategy has focused on advancing as many pieces of the project as possible until flash technology becomes affordable in 2008. Once NLS purchases the technology, all facets of the transition will be operative within three to five years.

In the past two years, there has been considerable movement in the following key implementation areas: selection of the medium, development of the digital talking-book (DTB) master collection and Internet delivery process, and design of the products. Accomplishments in each of these areas' timelines help the transition stay on track.

The accomplishments highlighted in the updated plan were preceded by considerable work. "Ultimately, the updated plan will be useful not only as a barometer of our progress, but also as a resource to help patrons and librarians stay informed regarding the program's evolution," says Moodie.

Flash decision

In December 2004, NLS affirmed flash memory as its technology of choice for the next- generation talking book. After serious consideration of various technologies, such as the CD-ROM and miniature hard drive, NLS determined that only flash met its strict requirements. NLS favors the cartridge's user-friendliness, durability, reusability, and portability. Another winning asset is its efficient duplication, which will be beneficial to both large-scale producers and network librarians duplicating local materials.

Master development

At the same time, NLS has moved to develop a DTB master collection. DTB masters consist of digital audio files that are combined with navigation and security files to make the DTB playable on the new machine.

NLS will spend the next two years building the base collection of twenty-thousand masters, the cornerstone of the initial DTB offering. Titles will include ten thousand "born digital" books new titles produced directly in a digital format and ten thousand existing analog titles that are converted to digital format. To achieve its conversion goal over the next few years, NLS will continue to produce roughly two thousand "born digital" titles and to convert approximately 1,500 to 1,600 existing analog titles to digital annually.

Download on the future

Staying on the cutting edge of technology, NLS is also looking to the Internet as an additional content-delivery system for the future. NLS's goal is to offer its patrons digital books through Internet download in 2007. This mode of delivery will enhance the accessibility and flexibility of the service, offering patrons with appropriate skills and equipment both instant access to their favorite titles and use of NLS DTBs prior to the 2008 launch.

Since January 2004, NLS has been actively engaged in a magazine pilot program to test the functionality of Internet delivery. The pilot project has already yielded useful information for implementation planning. NLS plans to expand the number of magazines and to add books as well. The expanded pilot program is set to launch early this year.

Design for success

The design of the digital talking-book machine (DTBM) and the mailing cartridge is the fourth key area of strategic focus in the digital transition. Each product has advanced considerably since initial design work began in March 2005. Following multiple patron usability tests and a series of refinements, prototypes have been developed.

NLS is currently engaged in the second stage of product development. Design and engineering refinements will continue well into this phase, culminating in early 2007 with the development of specifications and preproduction prototypes for beta testing. Manufacturing contracts are slated for later in 2007 with full production beginning in 2008. Cost efficiency As progress was made across the four strategic areas of focus, maintaining cost efficiency was a key goal throughout the Strategic Business Plan and a central selling point of flash technology. In addition to examining program progress, the updated plan takes a closer look at how digital cost savings should impact the network libraries and NLS.

For instance, network libraries should experience savings, as costs for both DTB and player operations will be lower. Estimates suggest that regional libraries could cumulatively save more than $7 million per year in book operations and more than $2 million per year in machine operations.

Overall, compared to the current system, NLS expects to save approximately $3 million annually under the digital program.

Digital Talking Book (DTB) Milestones

-Defined and prioritized DTB features
-Coordinated development and publication of Specifications for the Digital Talking Book (ANSI/NISO Z39.86)
-Simulated a DTB player using personal computer
-Developed a computer-based, life-cycle cost analysis (LCC) model for the NLS system and for candidate digital systems
-Developed computer software for DTB production and presentation
-Developed software to test conformance of players and DTBs with the ANSI/NISO standard
-User survey
-Player transition
-Distribution medium study
-Player and medium design contract awarded
-Distribution system design contract awarded
-Distribution system design contract Phase I

Start 1/12/04 Finish 10/1/08 The following ongoing projects, set to conclude in 2008, are shown with start dates in parentheses. Web-Magazine pilot (1/12/04)
Digital data management system development (11/1/04)
Player and medium development (3/1/05)
Design DTB containers and labels (6/1/05)
Web-Book pilot (6/1/05)
Distribution system design and transition planning Phase II (9/19/05)
Prepare DTBs for distribution (10/1/05)
Manufacture initial lot of DTB containers and labels (9/1/06)
Distribution system implementation (10/1/06)
Circulation systems implementation (10/1/06)
Media production (3/1/07)
Media duplication (5/1/07)
Full player production (9/1/07)

For information on the NLS digital project contact: Jean M. Moss
Digital Projects Coordinator
Fax: (202) 707-1690

To view the Strategic Business Plan on the Web visit:

To view the Flash newsletters on the Web visit:


The following announcement may be of interest to readers. The National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped reserves the right to publish announcements selectively, as space permits. Items mentioned, however, are not part of the NLS program, and their listing does not imply endorsement.

National Medicare handbook available in alternative formats

The Department of Health and Human Services Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services handbook Medicare and You 2006 is now available in alternative formats and Spanish. To receive a copy of the handbook on audiocassette, in braille, or in large print, call 1-800-633-4227 or visit online. TTY users should call 1-877-486-2048. All formats except braille are available in Spanish.

Braille edition of Guideposts magazine cost reduction

Guideposts magazine is available in braille for $3 an issue or $36 a year (for twelve issues). The price has been reduced from $7 an issue. To order, call Clovernook Center for the Blind and Visually Impaired at 1-888-234-7156, extension 2244. Individual copies and yearly subscriptions are available.

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