The Download of Web Books and Magazines
Wouldn't it be nice to sample a digital talking book (DTB) on your computer before checking it out to read? And nicer still to download the entire book for use right away? National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped (NLS), The Library of Congress thinks so. For this reason, NLS is exploring ways to make resources downloadable and available to patrons.
"We plan to build an NLS online library of digital talking books," says Frank Kurt Cylke, NLS director. "Offering downloadable audio books that reflect our collection will enable us to serve our patrons in a new way."
NLS first began providing downloadable content six years ago, making braille books and magazines available in electronic form through Web-Braille. "Braille files are smaller than audio files and hosting them was a feasible option for our current system," says Judy Dixon, NLS consumer relations officer.
Patrons can signup for free access to the Web-Braille files. They can search the NLS online catalog or scan the current issue of Braille Book Review for links to the latest titles. Web-Braille files may be read online or downloaded for embossing or reading with a refreshable braille display.
"We were able to use an existing archive of digital braille titles to create the original online braille library for NLS patrons," says Dixon. "Since then, it's been a real team effort. We've added music scores and six of our network libraries have contributed hundreds of titles to the cause."
It's been a great success. Nearly 4,000 patrons use Web-Braille to access 7,200 book titles and more than 600 musical scores that range from popular songs to the classical masters. Harpers, Rolling Stone, Martha Stewart Living and 26 other magazines are available for download, as is this year's Major League Baseball schedule and five other sports schedules.
Introducing the Pilot Programs
One year ago, NLS launched a web magazine pilot with three audio magazines: U.S. News and World Report, Smart Computing, and selected issues of People. Nearly 50 technically adept patrons are testing the system.
Patrons may select magazines by title and issue date. Then they may download the entire magazine or just select articles. The audio magazine files are compressed to accelerate the download process. Readers can then navigate the magazine by article, section, and in some cases, by subsection. The magazines can be read right on the computer or transferred to a commercially-available player that is capable of playing digital talking books.
Here's an example of how the magazines are prepared for the NLS web site. Every Monday, an NLS producer acquires a copy of U.S. News and World Report. It is narrated and produced in DTB format on Tuesday and posted on the site by Wednesday.
In December 2004, NLS joined the Unabridged project for a one-year pilot to test the usability of downloadable books. At its launch, Unabridged provided a collection of 250 narrated audio books. However, plans are to have 400 by the end of 2005. Blind and sighted members of NLS staff are evaluating the use and process of downloadable digital audio books, to better understand the needs and wants of patrons, as well as to explore the possibilities related to content protection and distribution. Participation in the NLS portion of the Unabridged project is, at this time, available exclusively to NLS staff.
NLS staff, as well as patrons in the states participating in the pilot project, can download audio books to PCs using a Windows Media Audio-based content and delivery system from OverDrive, Inc., a digital content solutions provider for publishers and retailers.
Participating network libraries include the Mid-Illinois Talking Book Center, Colorado Talking Book Library, Delaware Library for the Blind and Physically Handicapped, Talking Book Program of the New Hampshire State Library, and the Oregon State Library, Talking Book and Braille Services.
NLS is also pursing a venture with the Online Computer Library Center (OCLC) to test their NetLibrary product as a means of accessing downloadable audio books. As with the Unabridged project, use will be limited to NLS staff.
"The NetLibrary pilot is another example of how NLS is testing web delivery options for capacity and usability," says Neil Bernstein, an NLS information technology specialist. NetLibrary currently houses 405 audio book titles-including 78 language sets.
In discussion with vendors now, NLS is searching for a partner with a proven track record of delivering audio books over the Internet. "The final offering will build on the knowledge gained from Web-Braille, web magazines, and the other internal pilot projects," says Michael Moodie, NLS deputy director.
NLS is building downloadable offerings through the analog-to-digital conversion project, which involves converting existing audio cassette books to digital format, as well as producing new titles.
When ready, the NLS download system will provide a large and diverse collection of titles that will allow a cross-section of users access to downloadable digital books. NLS plans include a digital collection of 20,000 book titles, and a wide selection of magazines by 2008.
"NLS recognizes the importance of quality technical support and is committed to providing it," says Jean M. Moss, NLS digital projects coordinator. "Now that the plan for downloadable audio books and magazines is in motion, we are pursuing an aggressive schedule to test and develop the best online products for our patrons."
Please note: Participants for NLS pilot programs have already been identified. Public participation will be available after testing is completed.
Finding Out What Patrons Want
NLS is seeking information from all aspects of these projects to guide its development process. What is to be determined?
Some examples are:
- How do patrons use the system?
- How many books do individuals download?
- What kinds of books are checked out?
- What time of day is download occurring?
- Is a high-speed connection or a dial-up modem used?
NLS also wishes to understand the demographics of the participants.
- Are they younger or older?
And, how will patrons read the books once downloaded?
- On a computer or on portable playback devices?
- Where are books read?
- What kind of computer equipment is used?
In addition, NLS will obtain information on the accessibility and usability of the different download systems.