Good design is often the result of good planning and evaluation. The National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped (NLS), Library of Congress, has gone to great lengths to ensure its designs for the digital talking-book player and cartridge and their mailing containers are fully functional when built. One major component of this ongoing effort is the preliminary design review, during which NLS evaluates all design components to be sure that they meet the requirements for usability, portability, and durability. This review is necessary before the testing and analysis of functional prototypes can begin. During the June 2006 review, NLS approved all system designs and granted permission to move forward with functional prototypes.

"NLS is pleased to have successfully completed the preliminary design review," says NLS director Frank Kurt Cylke. "This is an exciting development that indicates the design process is on target and that we are prepared to develop functional prototypes, advancing NLS closer to realizing a fully digitized talking-book program in 2008."


The review team included NLS staff and representatives from Battelle and HumanWare. Throughout the review process, all worked to ensure that designs translate into functional prototypes that operate correctly and are user-friendly.

To that end, NLS examined a variety of issues during the review, such as usability. The team evaluated cartridge design for ease of handling and insertion and they assessed the adequacy of the print/braille labeling. Tactility and shape of the player’s buttons, and other markings were also examined.

When analyzing designs for the mailing containers, the team demanded plans that would allow for the production of prototypes capable of withstanding extreme temperature and other adverse conditions caused by shipping, weather, and other uncontrolled situations.

The preliminary design review follows multiple rounds of user needs testing, patron usability testing, and refinements to the DTB system.

NLS digital contracts coordinator Alice Baker is pleased that the review was successful and that the designs were satisfactory and on target. "All the hard work and months of effort have yielded a design that can be built and tested with confidence."


With the design review complete, NLS moves forward with the next stage of the process: production of functional prototypes. Battelle is currently charged with the task of manufacturing prototypes for 50 players, 90 cartridges, and 150 cartridge containers.

During this multiple-phase process, engineers will finalize the design drawings and build the prototypes. At the same time, they will test player circuit boards, USB connectors, and speaker components to determine which will work best.

To assess durability, prototypes will be tested in simulated real-world scenarios. They will be dropped from varying heights onto a range of surfaces, scratched, spilled on, and subjected to temperature extremes—all to ensure that the equipment will be able to withstand daily wear and tear when they come off the production line. Other prototypes will be treated more gently, tested in the less extreme conditions of patrons’ homes.

NLS expects to receive the first prototypes in September, but the pre-production stage of the design process does not commence until November, when—after more usability testing—NLS will be fully prepared to conduct the critical final design review. This is the last review prior to building preproduction prototypes.



Contractor’s checklist

Week of August 21

Week of August 28

Week of September 4

Week of September 11

Week of September 18

Week of September 25

Week of October 2

Week of October 9

Week of October 16


NLS progress review

Following a review of ongoing digital efforts the inspector general, Library of Congress, issued the remarks below on August 23, 2006.

. . .[O]ur survey revealed that NLS is effectively managing its plans to:

  • develop a digital playback machine and related equipment,
  • test and validate the new playback machine throughout its evolution from design to full production, and
  • produce 20,000 talking-book titles in digital format by the time the new playback machine becomes available in FY 2008 . . .

Flash Archive

Other Newsletters

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 11/1/2004
Web-Book pilot 6/1/2005
Distribution system implementation 10/1/2006
Flash cartridge production 3/1/2007
Flash cartridge duplication 5/1/2007
Manufacture initial lot of DTB containers and labels 8/1/2007
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