With the launch of digital talking books and players less than a year away, the National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped (NLS), Library of Congress, is preparing the network of cooperating libraries for the transition. The Digital Transition Advisory Committee, established to advise NLS and to help communicate distribution plans to librarians and patrons, is playing an important role in the preparations. The group met for the first time on January 30-31 to discuss the draft transition plans and develop methods of informing the network agencies about them.

"NLS wishes to ensure network libraries have all the resources necessary for a successful digital conversion," says NLS director Frank Kurt Cylke. "The recent meeting provided an invaluable opportunity to inform committee members about current distribution plans, seek their advice, and address challenges libraries may face as they begin distributing players and circulating digital audiobooks."

The committee, which succeeds the Digital Long-Term Planning Group, examined a range of issues. Following presentations on the current transition budget, the digital transition timeline, and the status of digital talking-book development, the committee considered how resource availability at the time of implementation might affect libraries. More specifically, the group discussed how individual library funding will impact book and player distribution, shelving options, title duplication, circulation system modifications, and digital book copy allotment.

Due to technical and cost-related factors, NLS has altered its original plans for digital audiobook distribution. Instead of immediately implementing a hybrid model—mass producing popular titles while duplicating low-demand titles on an as-needed basis—NLS has determined to mass duplicate all digital book titles. An efficient hybrid system is not yet feasible because effective duplication-on-demand technologies are as yet insufficiently refined, and diverse library circulation systems would be unprepared to sustain the disruptions duplication-on-demand implementation would be likely to entail. NLS plans to revisit hybrid-system development concepts once full mass duplication implementation has been accomplished—approximately three to five years after the primary system has been launched and adjusted.

The committee also discussed copy allotment issues. The cost of flash-memory cartridges, which is likely to drop significantly during the next several years, will play a key role in determining the number of copies of individual titles available to libraries throughout the transition. After some discussion, the committee agreed that possible temporary copy allotment reductions could probably be offset though careful management of such variables as declining cartridge costs, cartridge recycling, the use of interlibrary loan, and perhaps some innovative short-term centralized storage strategies.

The NLS equipment control officer briefed the Digital Transition Advisory Committee on NLS policies concerning digital talking-book machine distribution. National readership levels will determine the number of players each regional library will receive. Regional libraries will decide how to allot players to subregional libraries.

As for player distribution to patrons, veterans and Ten-Squared Talking-Book Club members (those readers more than 100 years of age) will receive first consideration. Beyond these priorities, each network library must establish its own lending policies.

Other issues the committee addressed included: the learning curve associated with operating new technology; the need to develop a tracking system to ensure the safe return of the digital devices; digital-book shelving requirements; future digital-book download capabilities; digital magazine format; distinguishing advanced from basic players; and demonstrating the new players at 2008 consumer conventions. The group agreed to revisit each topic in detail in the coming months.

In addition to discussing the challenges libraries may experience during implementation, the committee looked at effective ways by which network library staff could be kept up to date on transition developments. Because funding and technology-related factors will affect player distribution throughout the transition, it is especially important to keep libraries appraised of changes throughout the process. The committee proposed various communication efforts to facilitate the flow of information. These included online instruction and discussion sessions, and a communication plan to supplement the Flash newsletter.

Communication with patrons was an important issue for the group. Members were particularly concerned with how to address misconceptions patrons may have regarding production and allocation of digital players—a process that will occur over a four-year period beginning in 2008. NLS agreed to the committee’s request to circulate the current digital transition timeline among libraries and patrons. The committee further decided to share this information with patrons through local communication channels.

NLS Network Division chief and committee chair Carolyn Sung said that, "the central goal is to get the new talking books and players into our patrons’ hands as efficiently as possible. Flexibility and open communication channels are fundamental to making that happen."

Finally, the committee considered how to inform patrons of digital title availability. After some discussion, the group agreed that the current method of announcing new cassette titles—through listings in the bimonthly patron publication Talking Book Topics—should be supplemented with a special notation to indicate the availability of the books in digital format.

At the end of the first Digital Transition Advisory Committee meeting, NLS was better equipped to move forward with two distribution-related projects. During the upcoming prelaunch test, patrons selected by eight regional libraries will test prototypes of the digital talking books and players. Also, NLS will examine digital copy allotment of older book titles. Both projects will ensure that distribution plans stay on course.

Members of the Digital Transition Advisory Committee

Consumer Groups

  • Chris Gray, American Council of the Blind
  • George Brummell, Blinded Veterans Association
  • David Andrews, National Federation of the Blind

Network Libraries

  • Lissa Shanahan , Indiana Regional Library, Midlands Conference
  • Jill Lewis, Maryland Regional Library, Northern Conference
  • Ruth Hemphill, Tennessee Regional Library, Southern Conference
  • Bessie Oakes, Utah Regional Library, Western Conference
  • Karen Keninger, Iowa Regional Library, Consortium of User Libraries

State Libraries

  • Irene Padilla, Maryland State Department of Education Division of Library Development and Services
  • Robert Maier, Massachusetts Board of Library Commissioners
  • Michael York, New Hampshire State Library
  • Doris Ott, North Dakota State Library
  • Peggy Rudd, Texas State Library and Archives Commission
  • Donna Jones Morris, Utah State Library Division

Digitial Talking Book Player.

Weighing two pounds, the new digital talking-book machines are smaller and lighter than current cassette players. The tactile buttons, color-coded and shaped to facilitate user-ease, are just one feature that will enhance reading pleasure. The basic model shown here varies only slightly from the advanced version, which includes additional buttons for the advanced navigation functions. The flash cartridge featured on the right will, in 95 percent of cases, hold an entire book.

Flash Archive

Other Newsletters

Digital Talking Book (DTB) Milestones


Start 1/12/04
Finish 10/1/08
Milestone Start Date
Distribution system implementation 10/2006
Flash cartridge production 3/2007
Flash cartridge duplication 5/2007
Manufacture initial lot of DTB containers and labels 8/2007
Full player production 9/2007


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