The National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped (NLS), Library of Congress, has made substantial progress in engaging production contractors for the digital talking-book (DB) system, thus moving the transition closer to fruition. NLS is in various stages of contracting for production of the digital player, flash cartridge, flash cartridge container, and the player shipping container. All four efforts are essential to implementing the digital system.


Digital Talking Book Machine

NLS is currently in the final stretch of preparing a request for proposals (RFP) to identify a manufacturer to produce digital players. The player must be built according to the technical data package that outlines all materials specifications and software requirements. The technical data package will be available this August. At that time, NLS will release an RFP. Proposals, which will be accepted for one month, will be assessed on multiple criteria, including cost, manufacturing approaches, and how well required design specifications are met. NLS expects to award a contract for player production in late 2007.

"Issuing the player RFP will be a major advancement in our digital transition," says Michael Katzmann, chief of the Materials Development Division. "It is imperative that we intensively evaluate all proposals to be sure that we make the award to a responsible, reliable and capable contractor."

Before the player is mass produced, it will go through pilot and prelaunch tests. During the pilot stage, two hundred prototypes will be produced and tested. One hundred prototypes will be tested by consumers. Of those, fifty machines will be tested by patrons at the Connecticut State Library for the Blind and Physically Handicapped in Rocky Hill. Another fifty will be assessed by participants in the current NLS Internet download pilot program. Additionally, one hundred prototypes will undergo internal testing by experts in NLS’s Quality Assurance Section. Testing will evaluate whether the machine meets all required technical specifications. Necessary modifications will be implemented as needed.

When the contract is awarded for player production, one hundred machines will be used as a baseline, while five thousand units will be used for wider, prelaunch testing. Those exams will assess the production line and quality control processes, as well as component supply chain procurement process. Testing will occur at eight regional libraries across the United States— southern California, Florida, Iowa, Massachusetts, Missouri, New York City, Texas, and Utah. Blind and physically handicapped users will intensely examine the players and recommend any needed changes. Mass production will begin approximately three months after prelaunch testing.

Flash Cartridges

NLS is also close to producing flash cartridges. In late June, an RFP was issued for the manufacture of flash cartridges. NLS has determined the physical dimensions of the cartridge, but the contractor will be responsible for creating the internal design to meet the functional requirements. NLS accepted proposals through mid-July. Over the next few months, NLS will evaluate the proposals and select a contractor.

Contracting progress has also been made on the flash cartridge’s container. NLS has identified a contractor to produce the containers. Battelle, the lead design-phase contractor, has transferred the design plans to the contractor. In March 2008, NLS plans to produce an initial batch of container prototypes. The containers will undergo extensive usability testing in April 2008 to ensure they hold up in transit. Testing will consist of actual long-distance mailing. NLS will evaluate the usability test results and implement any modifications that are needed. By May 2008, NLS expects to initiate full production of the cartridge container.

Patrons will benefit from the flash cartridge container’s functional, yet sleek design. Battelle worked with NLS to finalize the flash cartridge-container specifications during recent engineering and critical design reviews. The container is similar to the cassette container, though slightly longer and wider, half the thickness, and blue in color. The container is designed to hold the flash cartridge in one position, which will make the flash cartridge easier to remove and replace. Straps with snap fasteners tightly seal the lid. Both features will prevent the flash cartridge from shifting during mailing. A compartment on the back of the container will securely house the mailing card, on which essential information about the book is printed. And because of its improved durability, it will be able to withstand the hazards of transit and hand use.

Player Shipping Box

Another important piece of the digital system is the player’s shipping container or box. To ensure the players get from library to patron in perfect condition, NLS will produce a specially designed box for the player. The corrugated cardboard box will be durable to endure several transits. It will also be easy to open, featuring interlocking flaps that fold to hold the player securely. The flaps will pop out for easy removal of the machine. As the player manufacturer will produce the boxes as well, it will be done on the same timeline as player production. The player and shipping box RFP will be the last one NLS issues as part of the digital system.

"These digital system contracts are vital to the successful completion of the digital transition,” noted Frank Kurt Cylke, NLS director. “As the momentum builds, we’re closing in on the day in 2008 when we can place digital talking books in patrons’ hands."

The next generation digital talking-book player, cartridge, and cartridge container.
  The next generation digital talking-book player, and cartridge container.  

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Digital Talking Book (DTB) Milestones



Distribution system implementation
Flash-cartridge contracting/production
Flash-cartridge duplication
Manufacture initial lot of DB containers and labels
Full player production


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