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.
NLS forms advisory committee for digital transition
With the design and development of digital talking books, machines, and containers nearly complete, the National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped (NLS), Library of Congress, is planning the next stage of the digital project--implementation. Beginning in 2008, NLS will phase in the production and distribution of digital talking books and players while phasing out recorded cassettes and C-1 analog talking-book machines. NLS has organized the Digital Transition Advisory Committee to advise the process during its pivotal first three years. The committee, made up of consumer representatives and regional and state librarians, will meet for the first time on January 30, 2007, in Washington, D.C., to discuss key issues.
"We have reached an important point in the digital project. Our focus is shifting from design and development to production and distribution," said Frank Kurt Cylke, NLS director. "We are eager to get digital audiobooks into the hands of our patrons."
The advisory committee will serve three primary purposes. First, it will be a channel for informing user groups, the network of cooperating regional libraries, and state librarians about NLS's plans for distributing digital talking books and players. Key stakeholders will thus know what to expect when implementation begins. Second, committee participants will review distribution plans to ensure that no significant considerations are overlooked. Finally, members will offer new and emerging ideas for improving the transition process.
This Digital Transition Advisory Committee succeeds the Digital Long-Term Planning Group, which was tasked with advising NLS on the design and development process for digital talking books and players. The planning group completed its assignment. The advisory committee will help to move the transition process forward.
The fourteen-member committee includes consumer representatives from the American Council of the Blind, the Blinded Veterans Association, and the National Federation of the Blind. Regional librarians representing the Midlands, Northern, Southern, and Western Conferences and a representative from the Consortium of User Libraries will also serve on the committee. Additionally, the group includes six state librarians from different parts of the country.
Taking the lead
Carolyn Sung, chief of the NLS Network Division, will chair the advisory committee. The Network Division offers direct service and support to NLS's network of cooperating libraries. Because it maintains regular contact with the libraries, it is the most logical choice for channeling communication about the digital transition.
"The role of the Network Division is ultimately to help librarians to do their work and to provide them with the resources they need," said Sung. "Our goal is to ensure that librarians nationwide continue to be informed about the transition so that they can adequately prepare to provide digital offerings to patrons in 2008."
The Network Division has been engaged in the digital project from the beginning. Steve Prine, assistant chief of the Network Division, serves on NLS's Digital Audio Development (DAD) executive committee, which has focused on the development of the player and cartridge, and he, along with Sung, will be presenting relevant issues to the implementation committee at the inaugural meeting.
The advisory committee will be presented with a full progress report on the development of the digital player, cartridge, and container. The state of the digital book download project and other automation concerns will also be addressed. The main focus of the meeting, however, will be to discuss distribution plans.
After the transition period in 2012, NLS will revisit the distribution system issues. The organization will consider whether to continue mass-duplication of all digital titles or adopt a hybrid system, in which the most popular titles will be mass produced and less popular titles will be duplicated on demand. The cost of digital duplication is expected to decrease steadily over the next years, and implementation of a hybrid system may not be cost-efficient by 2012.
Among the transition issues to be discussed at the advisory committee meeting are book and player distribution, shelving, duplication, circulation system modifications, machine distributing and monitoring issues, and copy allotment.
According to Prine, successful implementation across the network is based on librarians fully understanding the new dynamics and processes associated with the digital program. "The digital transition will be a complex process, but we're confident that with adequate preparation the implementation will be seamless," noted Prine.
Members of the Digital Transition Advisory Committee
- Chris Gray, American Council of the Blind
- George Brummell, Blinded Veterans Association
- David Andrews, National Federation of the Blind
- Lissa Shanahan, Indiana Regional Library, Midlands Conference
- Jill Lewis, Maryland Regional Library, Northern Conference
- Ruth Hemphill, Tennessee Regional Library, Southern Conference
- Bessie Oakes, Utah Regional Library, Western Conference
- Karen Keninger, Iowa Regional Library, Consortium of User Libraries
- Irene Padilla, Maryland State Department of Education Division of Library Development and Services
- Robert Maier, Massachusetts Board of Library Commissioners
- Michael York, New Hampshire State Library
- Doris Ott, North Dakota State Library
- Peggy Rudd, Texas State Library and Archives Commission
- Donna Jones Morris, Utah State Library Division
NLS submits request to fund digital transition
As the digital transition project progresses toward its 2008 initiation date, the National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped (NLS), Library of Congress, is pursuing its plan for a successful launch. A formal funding request has been submitted to Congress by the Library of Congress to support a four-year transition plan. NLS has requested $76.4 million to support the production and distribution of digital talking books (DTBs), digital players, flash-memory cartridges, and containers. If approved, funds will be disbursed in four equal increments.
"This funding request is based on the thorough research and analysis of projected costs by NLS experts, our consultants, and contractors working on the digital program. Careful assessment of the upcoming stages of the program led to the conclusion that $76.4 million will be required to support the transition through completion, ensuring little disruption in service to patrons," said Frank Kurt Cylke, NLS director. "We are hopeful that our request will be met so that we may successfully achieve the project's goals."
The digital project, in progress for more than a decade, will update talking-book technology by replacing cassette books and players with flash-based digital talking books and players. Three main factors spurred the transition to digital-improved patron service, patron expectations, and cassette obsolescence. Digital talking books will greatly enhance the reading experience, offering users crisper, clearer audio; significant navigation capabilities; and greater convenience. The new players are lighter and smaller and, in 95 percent of cases, one cartridge will hold a complete book. Finally, NLS is moving toward digital because analog technology has become outdated, and cassettes and player parts are increasingly expensive and difficult to locate. Unlike the cassette player, the digital player contains no moving parts, making it more reliable and less susceptible to mechanical failure.
Benefits of digital technology
Digital technology offers multiple benefits! The player's smaller and lighter frame makes the machine more portable and provides patrons more options in where they choose to read. The machine is also user-friendly, because of the shape, tactility, and color markings of the player's buttons; the ease with which cartridges may be inserted and ejected; and optimal audio help features. This last function enables patrons to access audio instructions on machine use at the touch of a button, allowing them to read independently. Equipped with an extended-life battery, the digital player also runs longer-approximately sixteen hours-and is more cost efficient for NLS to maintain and repair. The flash platform can be easily adapted for use by basic, advanced, and download users.
Readers are likely to enjoy the digital talking book's superior audio quality. The system's improved navigation capabilities will offer patrons greater control over the reading process. The digital talking-book cartridge can sustain a surprising degree of abuse and still continue to function efficiently. Furthermore, once a title is no longer in high demand, cartridges may be reloaded and recirculated with no degradation in sound quality or performance.
To ensure that the digital player meets the needs of its users and to guarantee compliance with intellectual property law, NLS has chosen to provide a player built to its own specifications.
The digital player and flash cartridge are based on open standards developed by the National Information Standards Organization (NISO) so that NLS can obtain products from a number of sources instead of a single provider, ensuring that the devices are always available. While the system complies with open standards, it adheres to a legislated special format to protect its intellectual property.
The digital machine also has the advantage of being significantly more durable than the cassette player, resulting in a longer lifespan. Built to endure rough handling and transit through the mail system, even three-foot drops, the player also features easy-to-clean surfaces so it is easy for patrons to maintain and may be reissued over its long lifespan.
The player's controls facilitate use by both blind and physically handicapped readers. The buttons are easy to discover and appropriately sized. In most cases the shape denotes their function and they are labeled in both print and braille.
Digital production and distribution
Taking the digital player from concept to manufacturing was a team effort. NLS has engaged the expertise of industry leaders in product design and development and in the fields of blindness and physical disability research to ensure the best player for our users. The process has involved extensive user testing of the player's hardware and software.
As the digital talking-book's design and development stage draws to a close, NLS is planning for the production and distribution phase. Over the course of four years, NLS will phase out cassette books and players as it phases in digital talking books and digital players.
In 2008, NLS will initiate production of flash-memory machines as well as duplication and distribution of digital talking-book cartridges. From 2009 to 2010, NLS will increase production of digital books while continuing to provide some cassette titles. NLS will stop producing cassette books entirely in 2011. NLS plans to produce enough digital titles and players between 2008 and 2011 to sustain the digital program without service disruptions.
[picture of the digital talking-book player]
Weighing only 2 pounds, the new digital talking-book machines are smaller and lighter than current cassette players. The tactile buttons, color-coded and shaped to facilitate user ease, are just one feature that will enhance reading pleasure. The basic model shown here varies only slightly from the advanced version, which includes additional buttons for the advanced navigation functions. The flash cartridge featured on the right will, in 95 percent of cases, hold an entire book, reducing the number of moving parts to keep track of.
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 study
-- Distribution flash cartridge study
-- Player and flash-cartridge design contract awarded
-- Distribution-system design contract awarded
-- Distribution-system design contract Phase I and II
-- Preliminary design review
-- Player and flash cartridge developed
-- Designed DTB containers and labels
-- Web-Magazine pilot concluded
-- Web-Book pilot launched
-- Digital data management system designed
START 1/12/04 - FINISH 10/1/08
The following ongoing projects, set to conclude in 2008, are shown with start dates in parentheses.
Distribution system implementation 10/1/06
Flash-cartridge production 3/1/07
Flash-cartridge duplication 5/1/07
Manufacture initial lot of DTB containers and labels 8/1/07
Full player production 9/1/07
For information on the NLS digital project Contact:
Jean M. Moss
Digital Projects Coordinator
firstname.lastname@example.org Fax: (202) 707-1690
To view the Strategic Business Plan on the Web visit:
The following announcements 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.
Free Mystic Seaport passes
The National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped has renewed its membership with Mystic Seaport's association of public libraries and is once again offering NLS patrons use of a free one-day seaport pass. The seaport is a world-renowned, not-for-profit historical and educational institution occupying thirty-seven acres on the Mystic River, near New London, Connecticut. Highlights of the site include restored tall ships, tours by shipwrights and craftsmen, and a variety of exhibit galleries. The pass entitles two adults and three children or grandchildren under eighteen to free admission to Mystic Seaport on the day of the week specified on the pass. The opportunity is available year-round. The pass will be sent by express delivery and will include a prepaid return envelope.
If interested, e-mail email@example.com or fax (202) 707-0712, attention Mystic Pass Coordinator, Publications and Media Section. Include your name, street address, telephone number, and the date and day of the week you wish to visit Mystic Seaport. For visitor information, including accessibility details, membership opportunities, directions, lodging, and more, go to www.mysticseaport.org.
EMAX software lets users read and respond to e-mail over the phone
EMAX, a new service available from Electronic Virtual Assistant or EVA, reads e-mail messages to users over the telephone. Users may respond to e-mail messages verbally, and these responses will be recorded and sent as digital sound files. To avoid listening to spam or unwanted e-mails, subscribers may set up a "wanted" e-mail list for EMAX to read. The EMAX service is available to subscribers at the price of $19.95 per month with a thirty-day free trial. More information is available on the Internet at www.evanow.com/emax/ or by phone at 1-877-447-3382.
Ziegler magazine commemorates a century of service
The Matilda Ziegler Magazine for the Blind, the general-interest monthly that Helen Keller called "one of the most wonderful boons in the history of mankind," marked a century of publication with a special edition on March 2007. The magazine is available to any legally blind person at no charge and is available in contracted braille, on four-track/half-speed cassette, by e-mail, and online at www.matildaziegler.org. The magazine can be reached by phone at (212) 242-0263.
The anniversary issue contains items reprinted from the magazine's inaugural issue, including newspaper articles about the publication's founding and congratulatory letters from Helen Keller and former U.S. presidents Grover Cleveland and Theodore Roosevelt.
The magazine was founded by Matilda Ziegler, who lived from 1841 to 1932, and used her inheritance to establish and endow a foundation for the publication. The magazine reprints articles from four daily newspapers including the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, the Christian Science Monitor, and the Washington Post, and thirty magazines such as Time, Redbook, People, Oprah, and the Saturday Evening Post. Today, the magazine, popularly known as "the Ziegler," is read by individuals in ninety-one countries.
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