Found: Digital Talking-book Distribution Solution

Is it possible to have the best of both worlds? It is when it comes to digital talking-book distribution. The National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped (NLS), Library of Congress, ended the first phase of its distribution-system study last month by selecting an option that combines mass duplication and on-demand duplication of titles. The NLS Digital Long-Term Planning Group supported this solution.

"Our top priority was finding an efficient distribution process that suits flash technology and is functional for NLS, network libraries, and patrons," says Frank Kurt Cylke, NLS director. "After careful consideration of various options, it's clear that a mixed option is the most sensible solution. It should meet the needs of the entire network."

The study, conducted by ManTech Advanced Systems International, recommends that digital talking books be mass produced for the first two to three years. When duplication technology is able to support on-demand production, a hybrid system-combining mass duplication and on-demand duplication-will be introduced.

When the new system is fully implemented, high-circulation titles will be mass duplicated and shipped to libraries for local storage and loan. Less popular titles will be produced on-demand and distributed from duplication centers. High-circulation titles will be weeded as their popularity wanes and will migrate to on-demand production to reduce storage build-up and make way for new titles.

According to Michael Moodie, NLS deputy director, the benefits of a hybrid solution far outnumbered those of other systems. "The shift of some distribution to duplication centers focuses staff resources on reader advisory services. It also reduces the number of cartridges required. These factors translate into cost savings for both NLS and regional libraries," says Moodie. "The only drawback of the hybrid is that it's more complex from an operational standpoint."

A Winning Combination

Choosing between the mass-duplication and hybrid options was a rigorous process. Each system's impact on NLS, network librarians, and patrons was closely considered. Extensive circulation data collected from nine libraries-all varying in size, location, and information system used-ensured that many factors affecting distribution were assessed. Each system was evaluated for such factors as cost efficiency, operational complexity, storage utilization, and quality of service.

ManTech presented its findings to the Planning Group-comprising patrons, state and network librarians, and NLS staff-to gauge whether the process would work well for all parties involved. Group members assessed the evaluation factors used to select the hybrid model and found them to be adequate. The committee also considered the grouping of titles for mass or on-demand duplication.

"The group ultimately accepted the final recommendations," said Jerry Ducrest, ManTech subcontractor. "They were receptive to the hybrid system as long as it is implemented correctly."

The new system will affect librarians minimally at first, as they continue to handle all distribution. Once the hybrid system is implemented, an estimated 20 percent of circulation would move from network library to on-demand center responsibility. Impact also depends on how easily a library's existing circulation system interfaces with the new model. Patrons will continue to order books through their libraries without any noticeable impact.

Bridge to the Future

The move to the hybrid model will be smooth, systematic, and gradual. An extensive transition plan will bridge NLS to the future process. The research-driven plan will be developed alongside system design during the second phase of the distribution study. The plan will address operational issues such as distributing players, balancing quantities of cassettes and digital talking books, and the designing of automated systems. The plan is scheduled for completion in the summer of 2006.

Eager to move forward, the Planning Group discussed key transition issues and goals in their recent meeting. Considerable attention was given to how talking-book players would be distributed during the first few years. The group discussed this issue at length and NLS will develop guidelines based on its input.

The Planning Group will continue to advise on the transition process in the coming year. "The Digital Long-Term Planning Group's input is very helpful in developing a transition plan that will be functional for the entire network," noted Moodie. "NLS will issue recommendations based on the committee's feedback."

Hybrid Highlights

When the digital talking-books program rolls out in 2008, it will be via a mass duplication system. NLS will then introduce a hybrid model two to three years later, combining mass and on-demand duplication. Here is how it will work once implemented:

Mass Duplication
  • High-circulation titles
  • About 20 percent of the total collection and nearly 80 percent of total circulation
  • will be mass produced and distributed to libraries for storage and circulation to patrons
  • Low-circulation titles
  • The balance of the collection yet only 20 percent of circulation
  • Duplicated on demand at distribution centers; patrons will continue to place orders for books through their local library

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Digital Talking Book (DTB) Milestones


Start 1/12/04
Finish 10/1/08
Milestone Start Date
Web-Magazine Pilot 1/12/2004
Digital data management system development 11/01/2004
Player and medium development 03/01/2005
Distribution system design and transition planning Phase II 09/19/2005
Design DTB containers and labels 06/01/2005
Web-Book pilot 06/01/2005
Prepare for DTB distribution 10/01/2005
Manufacture initial lot of DTB containers and labels 09/01/2006
Distribution system implementation 10/01/2006
Circulation systems implementation 10/01/2006
Media production 03/01/2007
Media duplication 05/01/2007
Full player production 09/01/2007


For Information on the NLS Digital Project contact:

Jean M. Moss, Digital Projects Coordinator
[email protected]  Fax: (202) 707-1690

To view the strategic business plan on the Web visit