Braille Book Review

September-October 2007

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, May 2007, volume 3, issue 5

Library of Congress finalizes digital system design and prepares for production

The National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped (NLS), Library of Congress, has recently completed two reviews: one for engineering design and the other for critical design. Both are essential steps toward finalizing the digital talking-book system's technical specifications. During these important development phases, NLS examined technical specifications for the digital player, book, and mailing containers to ensure they operate properly and meet all required specifications. The system passed inspection and NLS has advanced to the manufacturing stage.

"We're pleased to have completed the engineering and critical design reviews," said Frank Kurt Cylke, NLS director. "These assessments confirm that our designs for the key components of the digital system are functional and can be built with confidence. With these milestones behind us, we will move forward to produce and test preproduction prototypes."

Engineering the perfect design

The engineering design review, conducted in early April, followed patron testing of functional prototypes and subsequent refinements to the digital player. Michael Katzmann, chief of the Materials Development Division, led the review and was joined by a team that included NLS engineer Peter Woo, contractor Don Pieper, and representatives from both Battelle and HumanWare.

During the engineering design review, all technical and mechanical specifications of the player, cartridge, and containers were examined to ensure that each function performed optimally. The team checked and finalized a range of elements, including the player's battery and electromagnetic compatibility. NLS tested the battery to confirm that the device would retain power even if electricity falls below normal levels. NLS was also interested in how long the battery stored power and whether the battery would recharge itself properly under low power. Engineers were pleased with the battery's performance and approved its specifications.

The Federal Communication Commission's standards for electromagnetic compatibility are among the many specifications the digital player must meet. Specifically, the machine's emissions and functionality cannot be disrupted by outside electrical interference, such as AM or FM radio emissions. The player's electrostatic discharge is another important issue. The machine must resist sparks and outside static charges and be able to reset itself should it encounter static. NLS engaged an independent lab to test the player's electromagnetic compatibility. The tests revealed that the machine does meet FCC standards.

Critical design review

With the engineering design issues settled, NLS moved on to the next stage of the preproduction process, critical design review. Conducted in late April, the review provided an opportunity for all parties involved in design and development of the digital system to conduct a full audit of every aspect of the machine and cartridge design.

"The critical design review is essentially a top-to-bottom review of the design so far to ensure it meets NLS expectations and standards. It really helps us hone the design and resolve any software and mechanical problems that could potentially disrupt manufacturing," noted Katzmann.

The critical design review confirmed that all designs are operational and ready for production. NLS can now provide manufacturers with a technical data package that will guide them in building the player.

Moving forward

NLS will soon open a bidding process to identify a contractor to manufacture digital players. Once a contractor is identified, Battelle will transfer all design plans as well as provide 250 preproduction prototypes for distribution to selected individuals and agencies for additional testing. Following this testing, the manufacturer will produce 5,000 machines for field testing.

Flash, June 2007, volume 3, issue 6

Digital talking-book transition provides opportunity to reassess collection building for Library of Congress patrons

As the National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped (NLS), Library of Congress, progresses towards the transition to digital talking books, the Collection Development Section is taking the opportunity to reassess the collections and revisit the principles that have guided book acquisition for the past seventy-five years. Although the collection development policy may be revised, the standard of service will remain constant, with NLS dedicated to providing the best possible resources for its patrons.

Each year, the NLS Collection Development Advisory Group, convenes to assess the state of the collections and to consider opportunities for improvement. At the conclusion of the May 23-25, 2007 meeting, the group presented NLS with recommendations to strengthen its collections and also commended the organization for its ongoing commitment to enhancing its patrons' reading experience.

"As we proceed with the digital transition, the Collection Development Section will continue to host this annual meeting to ensure that our collections remain current and relevant to our patrons. It's a great forum for discussing ways to improve, expand, and diversify our offerings," says NLS director Frank Kurt Cylke.

NLS has always responded to patrons' comments and suggestions, and the Collection Development Advisory Group was instituted in 1977 to provide a formal annual method for obtaining advice from around the country. The group consists of four network librarians, four readers-at-large, a children and young adults librarian, and a representative from each of three consumer organizations--the American Council of the Blind, the Blinded Veterans Association, and the National Federation of the Blind. The advisory group advocates for the preferences and concerns of patrons.

The three-day meeting began with an introductory orientation to educate the group about current issues in book selection and production and to provide a general overview of NLS operations. Following a day and a half of discussions of patron concerns, the committee members presented their findings to the NLS director and staff in an open forum.

A job well done

The committee commended NLS for several aspects of its service, including its ongoing progress with the digital initiative and its effectiveness in communicating information about this project to its constituents. Members further commended NLS staff for preserving classic titles--both fiction and nonfiction--as they move through the digitization process. The group was impressed by the program's ongoing commitment to improving adult reading materials, books for juvenile reading programs, and continuing to complete series in genre fiction.

Collection recommendations

Spanish-speaking readers are an important audience to the program, and NLS plans to produce more books to reach this growing constituency. The committee recommended that NLS continue to produce Spanish-language books, but with a changed emphasis from literary fiction to nonfiction works about self-help, personal investment, citizenship, and family activities. NLS strongly agrees with this recommendation and plans to broaden the Spanish-language collection.

The committee recommended that NLS develop an ongoing survey in print, audio, and braille formats to assess readers' current needs and preferences. NLS concedes that more information will be needed, particularly in light of the digital audiobook market. NLS staff want to know how the proliferation of audio materials from both commercial and public-sector sources may affect patrons' reading decisions, and in what ways, if any, the expanding options should impact NLS collection-building policies.

The committee also suggested that NLS increase the use of tactile graphics in braille books, especially in children's titles. Thanks to the technological advances in braille production methods, NLS will be able to include more tactile graphics--such as maps, depictions of animals, stars, and planets, and other objects that lend themselves to tactile representation—in braille books.

In response to the committee's recommendation to expand the diversity of the collection by using alternative bestseller lists as part of the title-selection process, NLS plans to consult lists from more diverse publications, such as Essence magazine, in order to offer titles that are consistent with the backgrounds of its patrons.

Children's books also offer an opportunity for extending the program's reach. The committee recommended that the NLS Kids Zone web page inform users about the availability of children's bibliographies from cooperating regional libraries. Additionally, the committee recommended that the NLS children's librarian develop additional bibliographies for Kids Zone. NLS considers bibliographies to be useful to young readers and is currently moving forward with plans to broaden the Kids Zone.

"The 2007 Collection Development Advisory Group meeting was a model of civility, good judgment, and constructive criticism that was greatly appreciated," says Edmund O'Reilly, acting head of the Collection Development Section. "The group's suggestions will be carefully considered and will guide us in our efforts to reexamine our collection-building precepts. The participants identified a number of interesting possibilities for the future, and we've already begun implementing some of their recommendations."

In preparation for the digital launch, NLS has selected 20,000 retrospective titles to be produced for four years. Many of the titles will be available when NLS initiates the service in 2008.

Members of the 2007 Collection Development Advisory Group
Consumer organization representatives
- Otis Stephens, American Council of the Blind
- Peter Davis, Blinded Veterans Association
- Anil Lewis, National Federation of the Blind

- Teresa Haifley, Midlands Conference
- David Stewart, Northern Conference
- Chet Avery, Southern Conference
- Fred Riggers, Western Conference

- Sharon Ruda, Illinois State Library Talking Book and Braille Service, Midlands Conference
- Patricia Schubert, Manatee Talking Book Library, Southern Conference
- Catherine Rubin, Maryland State Library for the Blind and Physically Handicapped, Northern Conference
- Scott Scholz, Nebraska Library Commission, Western Conference
- Sharon Rawlins, New Jersey Library for the Blind and Physically Handicapped, Children/Young Adult

Digital Talking Book (DB) Milestones

- Defined and prioritized DB features
- Coordinated development and publication of Specifications for the Digital Talking Book (ANSI/NISO Z39.86)
- Simulated a DB 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 DB production and presentation
- Developed software to test conformance of players and DBs 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, II
- Preliminary design review
- Player and flash-cartridge developed
- DB containers and labels designed
- 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 (10/2006)
Flash-cartridge contracting/production (3/2007)
Flash-cartridge duplication (7/2007)
Manufacture initial lot of DB containers and labels (8/2007)
Full player production (12/2007)

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:


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.

Dealing with Vision Loss book available

Dealing with Vision Loss, a book by Fred Olver for people coping with diminished sight, offers information on how to manage life issues such as transportation, finances, independence, and entertainment. The book is available for purchase in large print, audiocassette, and digital download. For more information visit or e-mail the author at To purchase a book by phone call 1-888-280-7715.

Access the Internet via telephone

Customers of the company InternetSpeech use the patented netEcho technology to access Internet web sites and e-mail by phone. Users are able to browse web sites, send e-mail, search specific words, and buy items on the Internet. InternetSpeech offers several monthly service plans that range in price from $14 to $74 per month, after an initial set-up fee of $20 to $26. For more information call 877-312-4638 or 408-532-8460 or visit

Descriptive-video movies for sale

AudioVision sells movies described for listening by vision-restricted individuals. Titles are available in DVD, VHS, or audio-only CD formats. More than five hundred titles are available for purchase. Content ranges from comedies and thrillers from the 1930s and 1940s to recent art house and suspense releases. DVDs are sold for $29.95, VHS tapes for $24.95, and CDs for $14.95. Libraries that sign a minimum purchase agreement with AudioVision receive a 20 percent discount on retail prices. To purchase movies, visit or call 1-866-297-7623.

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