A challenging project such as the digital transition undertaken by the National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped (NLS), Library of Congress, requires multiple levels of expertise in order to succeed. NLS has assembled top talent across technical specialties in addition to its own digital team. With the number of contractors involved in a project of this magnitude, NLS relies on its digital contracts coordinator, Alice Baker, to keep the lines of communication open.

"Building a digital talking-book system requires specific technical and engineering expertise. For that reason, we have contracted various experts in the field of accessible technology to assist in transitioning to a digital collection," says Frank Kurt Cylke, NLS director. "It's important that NLS work closely with contractors to ensure that projects proceed on schedule and meet goals."

Battelle, a leading technology innovation firm, has been contracted to manage the design and development of the digital talking-book player and media. Battelle has subcontracted with HumanWare, innovators in digital talking-book technology, to support them in designing the DTB player's software as well as coordinating usability tests associated with the digital project. Battelle also turned to the University of Wisconsin's Trace Research and Development Center for their expertise in accessibility issues specific to physically handicapped people. The National Federation of the Blind is another subcontractor involved in user needs and product usability testing. Their expertise in the field of assistive-technology product development has proven very useful in the design process.

ManTech Advanced Systems International, another member of the NLS contractor team, has focused on the development of strategic plans related to distributing DTBs. The company conducted a distribution system study examining the best means of circulating digital talking books. The study concluded that a hybrid system of mass production and duplication on demand would work best gradually implemented.

To complement NLS's talented engineering department, NLS summoned Dr. Donald L. Piper out of retirement. As the research and development director at the global, broad-based healthcare company Abbott Laboratories, Piper oversaw the development and production of an innovative glucose monitoring system known as FreeStyle and FreeStyle Flash. Now NLS is relying on his expertise for a variety of technical issues, including how to transition the DTB player from design to mass production.

While each contractor and subcontractor works on separate pieces of the digital project, their work is of equal importance to the overall goal of developing a top-quality digital talking-book system.


With so much work compressed into a short period of time, it is important to keep projects running on schedule so that NLS meets its 2008 goal. Baker oversees and coordinates contractor assignments. Her job is to ensure that they plan adequately, deliver high-quality work, and meet deadlines. Often, she facilitates the flow of information between various project teams enabling projects to move smoothly, dovetailing where necessary.

"I get contractors the information they need and I help them prioritize. But much of my work involves coordinating decisions and ensuring that things get done," notes Baker. "It's gratifying work because it's helping to build a digital talking-book system that will satisfy the information and recreational needs of many thousands of blind and physically handicapped readers for many years."

Keeping track of the various activities assigned to contractors and subcontractors and monitoring their workflow requires multitasking and organizational skill. It also involves a strategic understanding of the digital project's various, interrelated pieces and what is needed to move them forward. With a law degree from the University of Oregon School of Law, advanced courses in information sciences, and a wealth of contract management experience, Baker has the skill and determination to bring the project to fruition.

The successful completion of the digital talking-book system ultimately comes down to teamwork between NLS and its contractors. The digital contract coordinator works hard to maintain strong working relationships between NLS and its outside experts.


In addition to coordinating current efforts, the digital contracts coordinator must also lay the groundwork for future work. Currently, Baker and her colleagues are in the process of coordinating the writing of two requests for proposals (RFPs) to obtain contractors to manufacture the digital talking-book player and the cartridge.

The process involves identifying the right skills for the job and requires considerations from major concepts to minute details in constructing the RFP. Various teams are working together to write the draft, including staff from Battelle, the NLS digital team, the Library of Congress's contracting office, and the Office of General Counsel. Battelle must ensure that its designs for the player and cartridge are conveyed fully and exactly, and that all the issues involved in manufacturing the design are factored into the request.

"As we think about a new technology and moving toward the future, we need to exercise caution and do plenty of research to make sure that we find good craftsmen to build the digital system, " says Baker.

Digital Related Contractors

American Foundation for the Blind
American Printing House for the Blind
BAE Systems
Battelle Memorial Institute

  • HumanWare
  • National Federation of the Blind
  • Trace Research and Development Center

Canadian National Institute for the Blind
Carolina Talking Books
Carpathia Hosting, Inc.
Insight for the blind
LC Industries, Inc.
Man Tech International
Minnetonka Software, Inc.
Multistate Center East
Potomac Talking Books
Raid Incorporated
Retrieval Systems
Talking Book Publishers
Telex Communications

David Andrews
Tom Diaz
Michael Moodie
Donald Pieper
Dorothea Salo
Avi Shapiro


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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 flash cartridge development 3/1/2005
Design DTB containers and labels 6/1/2005
Web-Book pilot 6/1/2005
Prepare DTBs for distribution 10/1/2005
Distribution system implementation 10/1/2006
Flash cartridge production 3/1/2007
Flash cartridge duplication 5/1/2007
Manufacture initial lot of DTB conatiners 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