Since issuing its Strategic Business Plan for Implementation of Digital Systems in December 2003, the National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped (NLS), Library of Congress, has come a long way in establishing a digital system. Even so, a significant amount of work remains. NLS will issue shortly an updated Business Plan that reviews progress to date and maps out the road ahead. The report shows that the transition strategy remains solid, sensible, and on schedule as the transformation heads toward the finish line.

"In the relatively short period of time since transition work began, we have accomplished much," says Frank Kurt Cylke, NLS director. "Steady progress in a number of key projects is an indication that our strategy is sound and that the transition is on target."

A fluid and flexible strategy has helped the transition project stay on course. "The updated Business Plan affirms that the decisions we made regarding the transition in 2003 are still viable," observes Michael Moodie, NLS deputy director. "Having built in flexibility, we are able to apply our learning to the entire process and update the plan accordingly. This is critically important as we plan another busy year of transition preparation."


Considerable effort recently has been aimed at paving the way to a smooth transition that will affect patrons only minimally. NLS's transition strategy has focused on advancing as many pieces of the project as possible until flash technology becomes affordable in 2008. Once NLS purchases the technology all facets of the transition will be operative within three to five years.

In the past two years, there has been considerable movement in the following key implementation areas: selection of the medium, development of the digital talking-book (DTB) master collection and Internet delivery process, and design of the products. Accomplishments in each of these area's timeline help the transition stay on track.

The accomplishments highlighted in the updated plan were preceded by considerable work. "Ultimately, the updated plan will be useful not only as a barometer of our progress, but also as a resource to help patrons and librarians stay informed regarding the program's evolution," says Moodie.


In December 2004, NLS affirmed flash memory as its technology of choice for the next- generation talking book. After serious consideration of various technologies, such as the CD-ROM and miniature hard drive, NLS determined that only flash met its strict requirements. NLS favors the cartridge's user-friendliness, durability, reusability, and portability. Another winning asset is its efficient duplication, which will be beneficial to both large-scale producers and network librarians duplicating local materials.


At the same time, NLS has moved to develop a DTB master collection. DTB masters consist of digital audio files that are combined with navigation and security files to make the DTB playable on the new machine.

NLS will spend the next two years building the base collection of twenty-thousand masters, the cornerstone of the initial DTB offering. Titles will include ten thousand "born digital" books-new titles produced directly in a digital format-and ten thousand existing analog titles that are converted to digital format. To achieve its conversion goal over the next few years, NLS will continue to produce roughly two thousand "born digital" titles and to convert approximately 1,500 to 1,600 existing analog titles to digital annually.


Staying on the cutting edge of technology, NLS is also looking to the Internet as an additional content-delivery system for the future. NLS's goal is to offer its patrons digital books through Internet download in 2007. This mode of delivery will enhance the accessibility and flexibility of the service, offering patrons with appropriate skills and equipment both instant access to their favorite titles and use of NLS DTBs prior to the 2008 launch.

Since January 2004, NLS has been actively engaged in a magazine pilot program to test the functionality of Internet delivery. The pilot project has already yielded useful information for implementation planning. NLS plans to expand the number of magazines and to add books as well. The expanded pilot program is set to launch early this year.


The design of the digital talking-book machine (DTBM) and the mailing cartridge is the fourth key area of strategic focus in the digital transition. Each product has advanced considerably since initial design work began in March 2005. Following multiple patron usability tests and a series of refinements, prototypes have been developed.

NLS is currently engaged in the second stage of product development. Design and engineering refinements will continue well into this phase, culminating in early 2007 with the development of specifications and preproduction prototypes for beta testing.

Manufacturing contracts are slated for later in 2007 with full production beginning in 2008.


As progress was made across the four strategic areas of focus, maintaining cost efficiency was a key goal throughout the Strategic Business Plan and a central selling point of flash technology. In addition to examining program progress, the updated plan takes a closer look at how digital cost savings should impact the network libraries and NLS.

For instance, network libraries should experience savings, as costs for both DTB and player operations will be lower. Estimates suggest that regional libraries could cumulatively save more than $7 million per year in book operations and more than $2 million per year in machine operations.

Overall, compared to the current system, NLS is projected to save approximately $3 million annually under the digital program.

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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 11/1/2004
Player and medium development 3/1/2005
Distribution system design and transition planning—Phase II 9/19/2005
Design DTB containers and labels 6/1/2005
Web-Book pilot 6/1/2005
Prepare DTBs for distribution 10/1/2005
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