Braille Book Review

November-December 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, 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 providing 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 [Florida], 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

NLS Flash, July 2007, volume 3, issue 7

Library of Congress prepares digital talking-book systems contracting schedule

The National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped (NLS), Library of Congress, has made substantial progress in engaging production contractors for the digital talking-book (DB) system, thus moving the transition closer to fruition. NLS is in various stages of contracting for production of the digital player, flash cartridge, flash cartridge container, and the player shipping container. All four efforts are essential to implementing the digital system.

A progress report. Digital talking-book machine NLS is currently in the final stretch of preparing a request for proposals (RFP) to identify a manufacturer to produce digital players. The player must be built according to the technical data package that outlines all materials specifications and software requirements. The technical data package will be available this August. At that time, NLS will release an RFP. Proposals, which will be accepted for one month, will be assessed on multiple criteria, including cost, manufacturing approaches, and how well required design specifications are met. NLS expects to award a contract for player production in late 2007.

"Issuing the player RFP will be a major advancement in our digital transition," says Michael Katzmann, chief of the Materials Development Division. "It is imperative that we intensively evaluate all proposals to be sure that we make the award to a responsible, reliable, and capable contractor."

Before the player is mass produced, it will go through pilot and prelaunch tests. During the pilot stage, two hundred prototypes will be produced and tested. One hundred prototypes will be tested by consumers. Of those, fifty machines will be tested by patrons at the Connecticut State Library for the Blind and Physically Handicapped in Rocky Hill. Another fifty will be assessed by participants in the current NLS Internet download pilot program. Additionally, one hundred prototypes will undergo internal testing by experts in NLS's Quality Assurance Section. Testing will evaluate whether the machine meets all required technical specifications. Necessary modifications will be implemented as needed.

When the contract is awarded for player production, one hundred machines will be used as a baseline, while five thousand units will be used for wider, prelaunch testing. Those exams will assess the production line and quality control processes, as well as component supply chain procurement process. Testing will occur at eight regional libraries across the United States—southern California, Florida, Iowa, Massachusetts, Missouri, New York City, Texas, and Utah. Blind and physically handicapped users will intensely examine the players and recommend any needed changes. Mass production will begin approximately three months after prelaunch testing.

Flash cartridges. NLS is also close to producing flash cartridges. In late June, an RFP was issued for the manufacture of flash cartridges. NLS has determined the physical dimensions of the cartridge, but the contractor will be responsible for creating the internal design to meet the functional requirements. NLS accepted proposals through mid-July. Over the next few months, NLS will evaluate the proposals and select a contractor.

Contracting progress has also been made on the flash cartridge's container. NLS has identified a contractor to produce the containers. Battelle, the lead design-phase contractor, has transferred the design plans to the contractor. In March 2008, NLS plans to produce an initial batch of container prototypes. The containers will undergo extensive usability testing in April 2008 to ensure they hold up in transit. Testing will consist of actual long-distance mailing. NLS will evaluate the usability test results and implement any modifications that are needed. By May 2008, NLS expects to initiate full production of the cartridge container.

Patrons will benefit from the flash cartridge container's functional, yet sleek design. Battelle worked with NLS to finalize the flash cartridge-container specifications during recent engineering and critical design reviews. The container is similar to the cassette container, though slightly longer and wider, half the thickness, and blue in color. The container is designed to hold the flash cartridge in one position, which will make the flash cartridge easier to remove and replace. Straps with snap fasteners tightly seal the lid. Both features will prevent the flash cartridge from shifting during mailing. A compartment on the back of the container will securely house the mailing card, on which essential information about the book is printed. And because of its improved durability, it will be able to withstand the hazards of transit and hand use.

Player shipping box. Another important piece of the digital system is the player's shipping container or box. To ensure the players get from library to patron in perfect condition, NLS will produce a specially designed box for the player. The corrugated cardboard box will be durable to endure several transits. It will also be easy to open, featuring interlocking flaps that fold to hold the player securely. The flaps will pop out for easy removal of the machine. As the player manufacturer will produce the boxes as well, it will be done on the same time line as player production. The player and shipping box RFP will be the last one NLS issues as part of the digital system.

"These digital system contracts are vital to the successful completion of the digital transition," noted Frank Kurt Cylke, NLS director. "As the momentum builds, we're closing in on the day in 2008 when we can place digital talking books in patrons' hands."

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

In process

-Distribution system implementation
-Flash-cartridge contracting/production
-Flash-cartridge duplication
-Manufacture initial lot of DB containers and labels
-Full player production

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.

Cell phone software

In early 2007 the Code Factory released Mobile Speak, a screen reader for mobile phones that allows access to most of the phone's functions. For more information, visit WWW.MOBILESPEAK.COM.

New traveler web site provides excerpts from popular travel guidebooks and newspaper travel sections in a braille format, free to registered users. For more information or to register, visit

First digital library for Spanish-speaking readers

Tiflolibros is the first digital library for Spanish-speaking blind readers. Created in 1999 by a group of blind friends who wanted to exchange digital books, the library now has more than twenty thousand books available in Spanish and more than three thousand patrons in America, Europe, and Asia.

Registration is free, but there is a recommended donation of $50 every six months to support the library's operation. To register, send an e-mail to . For more information, visit

Federal student aid information available in audio, on CD, and online

The U.S. Department of Education has updated its audio recording of information on federal student aid for postsecondary education for blind and visually impaired students. Audio Highlights, formerly the Student Aid Audio Guide, also provides additional resources, such as web sites and braille and print publications.

Students can request free copies of Audio Highlights by contacting the Department of Education's Federal Student Aid Information Center at 1-800-433-3243. Text and audio versions can be read online at

Verbal imaging and touch tours at the Rubin Museum of Art

The Rubin Museum of Art in New York City, the first museum in the Western World dedicated to the art of the Himalayas and surrounding regions, offers verbal imaging and touch tours for blind and visually impaired visitors. The one-hour tours are free with museum admission. Individual and group tours are available. Book a tour two weeks in advance by calling Emilie Dufor at (212) 620-5000 ext. 345 or sending an e-mail to

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