The National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped (NLS), Library of Congress has made steady progress toward converting the analog talking-book collection to a digital format. Four thousand titles have been produced since 2004. The agency will produce nearly two thousand born-digital and three thousand converted talking books annually.

NLS staff, Clarke and Herndon, build the digital collection.
Photo caption: Digital talking-book production begins with selecting and ordering the print books that will be narrated in digital format. NLS computer assistant Norma Clarke updates data records for the latest print books received as Jim Herndon, head of the Collection Development Section, looks on.

There are two types of DTBs: born and converted. Born refers to new books that are recorded digitally whereas converted DTBs are audiobooks from the current analog collection that have been changed to digital format.

"We've made noticeable strides in the digital conversion project that will transform the way our patrons experience audiobooks," says Frank Kurt Cylke, NLS director. "The advanced navigation capabilities and audio quality made possible through flash technology will enhance the way they read and access information.

Building a digital library is a multistage process that relies on the teamwork of NLS sections, particularly the Collection Development Section, the Production Control Section, and the Quality Assurance Section. "While each office is responsible for a separate part of the process, they all share the same goal of delivering the highest-quality product possible," Cylke says.


The first stop for a digital book on the path to completion is the Collection Development Section, where librarians decide which books will be added to the collection. They spend much of their time scouring book reviews and bestseller lists, monitoring publishing trends, and assessing patron reading tastes before choosing the titles to be added each week. Selected titles must be well-reviewed in prominent national sources, have literary merit, and be published in print.

"The challenge is to build a well-rounded reserve of titles that meets the informational and recreational needs of a diverse readership," says Jim Herndon who heads the section. That often means balancing two common philosophies of collection development - satisfying popular demand for current trends and providing literature that stands the test of time. "Because we have to satisfy many reading tastes; we abide by the same philosophy as any library - we try to find a happy medium between the two," Herndon says.

After a book is selected, a short description of the book is written to be used in Talking Book Topics and the International Union Catalog. The librarians prioritize the book for production and suggest where digital markers should be placed to help patrons navigate the recording. They also establish an initial catalogue record for each book, which is updated as it travels through production.

Books for digital conversion undergo a slightly different process than their born counterparts. "They are chosen using the practices we designed to select books across the literary spectrum," Herndon says. "Since 2001, we have converted 6,500 toward our goal of 10,000."

The book then moves to the Production Control Section where it is assigned to a contractor for conversion into a digital talking book. Each title is assigned to a producer along with a deadline based on the book's word count and complexity. A narrator records the book and the production staff marks key navigation points within the book such as the start of a new chapter. "The process is more involved than recording cassettes because of the added navigation features," says John Bryant, head of the Production Control Section.

By 2008, the collection will contain twenty thousand titles, evenly split between born and converted titles.


All books are reviewed by the Quality Assurance Section to verify that they adhere to NLS's high technical, artistic, and structural standards. They are inspected for audio flaws such as background noise and improper audio volume; and navigation flaws such as incorrect announcements and markers.

Narration and pronunciation are monitored to ensure that the content is well-represented. The cartridge and packaging, when determined, will be tested for size and sturdiness and other physical characteristics. These quality assurance assessments take three to five days, depending on the complexity of the book.

Books that fail to pass the two rounds of inspection are returned to producers for correction. "Mediocrity is never acceptable," says Robert Fistick, acting chief, materials development division. "NLS is committed to providing patrons with only the highest quality product. The checks are quite elaborate," he says. "It's much more complicated to quality-check DTBs because digital technology enables more navigation and accessibility features than does analog, and every feature of the recording must be evaluated."

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Digital Talking Book (DTB) Milestones


Start 1/12/04
Finish 10/1/08
Milestone Date
Web-Magazine Pilot 1/12/2004
Digital data management system development 11/1/2004
Player and medium development 3/1/2005
Distribution system design and transition planning 3/15/2005
Design DTB containers and labels 6/1/2005
Web-Book pilot 6/1/2005
Prepare for DTB distribution 10/1/2005
Circulation systems design 12/1/2005
Manufacture initial lot of DTB containers and labels 9/1/2006
Distribution system implementation 10/1/2006
Circulation systems implementation 10/1/2006
Media production 3/1/2007
Media duplication 5/1/2007
Full player production 9/1/2007


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