The National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped (NLS), Library of Congress, has completed initial usability testing on functional prototypes for the digital talking-book player and flash memory cartridge. In September, twenty-six patrons from the Library for the Blind and Physically Handicapped in Rocky Hill, Connecticut, conducted hands-on examinations of the functional prototypes. The tests were designed to evaluate how well the machine meets patron requirements. All participants were pleased with machine performance, providing NLS clearance to advance to the next stage of development.

"Our patrons’ positive evaluation is an encouraging validation of the design at this stage. The feedback received from these tests will keep development of the digital player moving in the right direction," says Frank Kurt Cylke, NLS director.

Both blind and physically impaired patrons of various ages and abilities participated in the usability tests. To collect useful and accurate data about machine performance, the testing took place in real-life settings where reading would typically occur. Users evaluated the machine in diverse environments, including their homes, retirement centers, and at the library. Patrons with physical challenges evaluated the machines at the Trace Research and Development Center in Madison, Wisconsin, where they subjected players to tests similar to those conducted by blind users.

NLS patron testing digital talking-book player.
Caption:Functional prototypes of the new players and cartridges are user-friendly with easy-to-discern markings.

"Children, teens, adults, and seniors with both advanced and basic skills were all accounted for during testing. Some patrons evaluated functional prototypes for basic players, while others examined the more intricate features of the advanced machine," notes Connecticut regional librarian Carol Taylor, who recruited participants for the usability tests.


A product’s functionality and its ease-of-use are often affected by its design. To assess how functional the prototype’s design was, participants evaluated a range of player features. The player’s obvious navigation features—for example, the longer you hold the fast-forward button the further you move ahead in the book—added to ease-of-use, as did the tactile buttons and color-coding design features.

Functional prototypes of the new player and cartridges.
Caption: Functional prototypes of the new players and cartridges are user-friendly with easy-to-discern markings.

As patrons usually read on their own, NLS was interested in how easy the players were to operate without outside assistance. For that reason, participants received only braille and large-print instruction cards. If they encountered challenges, users could access audible help through the player’s key identifier function, which narrates the actions of each button as it is pressed. Overall patrons encountered no major problems operating the machine on their own.

According to Jeff Witt, the National Federation of the Blind’s program manager for accessibility issues, who directed this round of tests, patrons were ultimately pleased with the functional prototype’s performance and were confident that the machine met their needs.


Armed with important patron feedback, NLS will make any necessary refinements to the functional prototype before conducting a second round of usability tests in February 2007. Once NLS is satisfied with the prototype, it will develop a preproduction prototype that will resemble the final digital talking-book machine. Following further tests and refinement to the preproduction prototype, the digital talking-book player and cartridge will head to the final stage of the process—production.

Praise Profile

NLS continues to receive positive, unsolicited feedback on the digital talking-book player and cartridge from both patrons and regional libraries. Here is the latest noteworthy comment NLS would like to share: "The high contrast of the machine and the cartridge and the bright colors of the buttons will be an instant hit with our seniors. We finally have a design that appears to be simple, practical, and easy to use, with all the necessary options but without the confusing complexity created by the options and layout of the C-1." John D. Hall, Director, Arkansas Regional Library for the Blind

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Digital Talking Book (DTB) Milestones


Start 1/12/04
Finish 10/1/08
Milestone Start Date
Digital data management system development 11/1/2004
Distribution system implementation 10/1/2006
Flash cartridge production 3/1/2007
Flash cartridge duplication 2/1/2007
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  Fax: (202) 707-1690

To view the strategic business plan on the Web visit