Prelaunch test ushers in digital rollout

quality checkers
NLS quality assurance specialist Bob Mainhart (center) and NLS production control specialist Michelle Spezzacatena (second from left) review the final test of the digital talking-book player (lower right) on the production line at Shinano-Kenshi. Spezzacatena and Mainhart have been working with staff on site at the facility in Japan since May 28, 2009, overseeing production and communicating regularly with NLS staff in Washington, D.C.

To avoid any unforeseen challenges during the transition to the digital talking-book system, NLS conducted a test of the digital talking books, book mailing containers, and players. “The purpose of the prelaunch test was to identify problems that should be fixed before we go into mass-production mode,” said Steve Prine, assistant chief of the NLS Network Division. “This is a real-world test of the system in use to discover any latent issues.”

Weeks of testing confirmed that there were only minor issues to contend with on the materials side of the transition process. Only 6 of the 5,000 players shipped were returned. Problems identified for correction included ink on the book-cartridge labels that tended to smear with handling, mailing cards that fell out of the cartridge containers too easily, and battery-operated players that turned themselves on after being turned off.

“The prelaunch verified that the materials developed for the digital transition have been appropriately designed, thoroughly tested, and properly produced. Participants reported only minor issues that would not significantly affect delivery schedules,” said Michael Katzmann, chief of the NLS Materials Development Division. “The prelaunch also emphasized the importance of libraries having policies and procedures in place to address such issues as storage and distribution throughout the digital transition process.”

Five thousand digital talking-book players and nearly 18,000 copies of 54 digital book titles were shipped to eight libraries across the four network regions and to JBI International of New York. Libraries in California, Florida, Iowa, Massachusetts, Missouri, New York, Texas, and Utah participated in the prelaunch and were tasked with delivering 544 players—444 standard and 100 advanced models—to their patrons in a timely and effective manner. The test began in the first week of May 2009 and continued for ten weeks, through July 17.

“Libraries that were most successful in getting their machines out quickly to patrons had distribution policies in place before receiving their players, had distribution lists, and were proactive in their outreach to patron communities,” said MaryBeth Wise, co-coordinator of the NLS prelaunch effort.

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Massachusetts and Miami-Dade libraries receive national awards

“The democratization of our society comes through access to information,” said Representative Edward J. Markey (D–MA) during the Network Library of the Year Award ceremony at the Library of Congress on June 19, 2009. 

The congressman’s remark highlighted the reason for the occasion—recognizing the importance of the work of those libraries serving blind and physically handicapped readers. This year NLS presented the Network Library of the Year Award to the Perkins Braille and Talking Book Library of Watertown, Massachusetts, and the Network Subregional Library of the Year Award to Miami-Dade Public Library System Talking Books Library Service in Florida.

Left to right are NLS Network Division chief Carolyn Sung, commissioner of the Massachusetts Board of Library Commissioners Irving Zangwill, Perkins Library director Kim Charlson and Jubilee, Perkins School for the Blind president Steven M. Rothstein, Library of Congress director for Partnerships and Outreach Programs Kathryn Mendenhall, and NLS director Kurt Cylke.

Both Perkins and Miami-Dade libraries were selected for exceeding the American Library Association Revised Standards and Guidelines of Service for the Library of Congress Network of Libraries for the Blind and Physically Handicapped, for demonstrating innovation in providing service, and for sustaining a record of patron satisfaction. 

Congressman Markey, who represents the district in which Perkins is located, said the library is “known around the world as a cutting-edge institution.” In remarks printed in the Congressional Record, he said, “The Perkins Braille and Talking Book Library . . . has distinguished itself as a leader in providing innovative literary accessibility.”

Perkins library director Kim Charlson accepted the Network Library of the Year Award on behalf of Perkins staff—a “team of twenty-eight people who believe 100 percent in what they are doing and that they make a difference.”

Rep. Markey
Congressman Edward J. Markey
(D-MA) praised the staff of the
Perkins library during his address.

Steven M. Rothstein, president of the Perkins School for the Blind, and Irving Zangwill, commissioner, Massachusetts Board of Library Commissioners, also spoke at the luncheon. A tribute to the organization from Senator Edward Kennedy (D–MA) was read.

Letters from Senator Mel Martinez (R–FL) and Representative Kendrick B. Meek (D–FL17) commending the Miami-Dade Library on its recognition as the Network Subregional Library of the Year were also read. Senator Martinez noted, “As leaders in outreach and mentorship, there is no doubt you deserve this prestigious honor.”

Barbara Moyer, Miami-Dade Talking Books manager, thanked NLS for the Network Subregional Library of the Year award and introduced Raymond Santiago, director of the Miami-Dade Public Library System. “Barbara is an example of a staffer who knows what to do,” said Santiago. He noted that the subregional librarian serves a very diverse community “with dignity, with pride, and with love.”

Kennedy letter

“NLS commends the Perkins and Miami-Dade libraries for their efforts to surpass quality standards for timeliness, innovation, and responsiveness,” said Kurt Cylke, NLS director. “Through enhanced programs and community partnerships these libraries engage blind and physically handicapped patrons and connect them to a place where reading is accessible and enjoyable.”

Perkins library, which has provided service since 1835, circulated 442,935 braille and recorded books and magazines and loaned 5,027 playback machines and accessories to 22,814 patrons in 2008.  An ardent promoter of braille literacy, the library provides teachers, students, and community groups with braille-awareness kits containing embossed materials and handouts. Patrons may borrow braillewriters for short-term use through Perkins’s Brailler Loan Program or have machines repaired through the Brailler Repair Program.

The Miami-Dade Public Library System Talking Books Library Service circulated 91,304 braille and recorded items to 3,981 patrons in 2008, and library staff participated in 91 community outreach events that reached 16,070 individuals at activities such as the Mayor’s Initiative on Aging and the Miami Children’s Museum All Kids Included Festival. The library’s Braille Literacy Initiative sponsors braille-awareness events and also distributes print/braille and braille materials to readers.

NLS created the Network Library Award in 2004 to recognize outstanding accomplishments of the 122 libraries serving blind and physically handicapped individuals across the country and in U.S. territories.  These state, local, and privately funded agencies circulate NLS-produced materials and provide other services to eligible readers in their communities. 

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NLS opens Braille and Audio Reading Download (BARD) to individual patrons

After almost three years of operating successfully as a pilot, the NLS download site, Braille and Audio Reading Download (BARD), has moved into a new phase. The permanent version of BARD was launched on April 30, 2009, offering NLS patrons unlimited access to more than fifteen thousand digital audiobooks and nearly one thousand issues of forty audio magazines. Braille books and magazines are currently available online through the NLS Web-Braille service.

Any NLS patron in good standing who has access to a high-speed Internet connection can use BARD. NLS recommends that users have basic computer and Internet skills, such as filling out online forms and downloading and unzipping files, before applying for the service. To gain access to BARD, patrons must fill out the application available at

BARD users can read digital talking books downloaded from the site with the NLS digital talking-book player or any one of the five commercial players available. The third-party players range in price from $300 to $1,400.

Using the service

The BARD main page offers multiple methods for searching the digital talking-book collection. Users can select a link to find recently added (within the past thirty days) books or to find the most popular books. Patrons also can search the entire online digital collection for a specific title, author’s last name, narrator, keyword, book title, or subject. Patrons can find magazines by title or by selecting a link to recently added issues (listed alphabetically).

On the main page, patrons can also update their account settings, such as changing their password or registering a new player, and find instructions or answers to frequently asked questions by selecting the help link.

BARD displays similar information for each title that appears in NLS’s bimonthly publication Talking Book Topics. The information will be arranged on the page based on whether the user conducts a general search or uses specific browsing options. For example, if the patron browses the author, the books will be sorted alphabetically by the author’s last name, which appears first, followed by the book title, narrator, reading time, and subject category, then the annotation, and finally a link to the audio file. After selecting a title and downloading the file, the user transfers the book to an external memory device. The patron can then read the book using either the NLS digital player or one of the commercial players.

BARD main page

Behind the scenes

According to NLS automation officer Michael Martys, the driving force behind the site’s design was three-fold: simplicity, usability, and accessibility. “We required the site to be simple and yet provide the necessary functions, be usable by patrons, and be accessible to those using screen readers and magnifiers,” he said. NLS staff operated the BARD site in pilot mode for an extended period of time to allow for input from patrons who tested the service.

“During the pilot phase, we received a lot of feedback and incorporated that into BARD,” Martys added.

NLS uploads an average of sixty books and fifteen magazine issues to BARD weekly. Once the NLS Quality Assurance Section (QAS) approves a book or magazine, the Automation Office receives the file and saves it for the next weekly upload. “We are moving toward a continuous (real-time) system in which materials will be transferred to the BARD site as soon as they are approved by QAS,” said Martys.

As of August 1, 6,853 patrons were registered to use BARD. NLS will continue to add features to make the site easier to use, more robust, and faster; and add content weekly, including books, magazine issues, and—as soon as technically feasible—braille materials.

BARD users can search the entire NLS collection by typing in any search term in a text box. BARD also features drop-down boxes, or “combo” boxes, with which users can browse for books by author, title, or subject, and for magazines by title. Links to recently added books and magazine issues are also provided.

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Collection Development Advisory Group recommendations

The NLS Collection Development Advisory Group met in Washington, D.C., May 20–22, 2009, to discuss and develop recommendations for NLS book and magazine selection. During the three-day meeting, nine members of the group, who represent NLS patrons, librarians, and consumer organizations from around the country, heard updates on the prelaunch of the NLS digital talking-book system, enjoyed a rooftop Cinco de Mayo cookout, and deliberated before presenting nineteen recommendations.

Selected recommendations

  • Making books in complete series available in digital format as quickly as possible during the analog-to-digital transition. When analog masters are no longer available, titles should be prioritized for rerecording to complete each series. Existing series with missing titles should be identified and completed as quickly as possible.
  • Incorporating new titles in languages other than Spanish (e.g., Russian) and producing and distributing an updated list of recently acquired foreign-language titles.
  • Prioritizing production of juvenile books appearing on the American Library Association’s (ALA) Notable Books lists (specifically Newbery, Newbery Honor, Schneider, Coretta Scott King, and Michael Printz awards), as well as those on bestseller, publishers’ best, and state awards lists.
  • Increasing the diversity of braille books. The group added that it will be providing specific titles from reader requests that may reveal reading-interest trends.


Collection Development Section head Ed O’Reilly said that though his staff was tackling the issue of completing series in digital format quickly, many factors complicate their efforts, including missing or deteriorated analog masters. He also pointed out that each book that is rerecorded displaces another book, so NLS is cautious about making conversion commitments to series whose popularity is waning.

O’Reilly also announced that the long-awaited hiring of a full-time foreign-language librarian was imminent and that one of the new librarian’s first tasks would be to assess and prioritize needs for foreign-language materials throughout the network. An updated catalog of books in Spanish is also a priority.

In addressing prioritization of ALA Notable Books, O’Reilly explained that cost was an important issue: formally assigning “priority” status to books entails significantly increased production costs. He added that NLS does prioritize award-winning juvenile titles whenever possible.

O’Reilly welcomed the group’s offer to provide specific braille titles requested by patrons and added that Collection Development will try to be responsive to any changing reading trends that are noted.

The group commended NLS for the successful prelaunch of the digital program. It also thanked NLS staff for increasing the selection of uncontracted braille books and for producing introductory language books such as Spanish for Dummies. Members also welcomed new NLS staff librarian Jill Garcia.

Collection Development Advisory Group, 2009

Consumer organization representatives:
Judy Jackson—American Council of the Blind
Peter Davis*—Blinded Veterans Association
Sean Whalen*—National Federation of the Blind

René Perrance—Midlands Conference
Carol A. Taylor—Northern Conference
Jerry Reynolds—Southern Conference
Keri E. Putnam—Western Conference
Rachel Gould—Children’s/Young Adult Librarian  

*Did not attend.

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GE Senior Volunteers reach milestone of 60,000th talking-book player repair

GE Senior Volunteers Dick Meyer (left), one of the program founders, and Bernie Burdick (center), present NLS director Kurt Cylke with the 60,000th talking-book machine repaired by the GE group.

The GE Senior Volunteers were recognized for their twenty-year contribution to the talking-book program at a luncheon held in the Sharonville Convention Center in Ohio on March 17, 2009. The repair group celebrated its milestone 60,000th talking-book machine repair by presenting the machine to NLS director Kurt Cylke. The 60,001st machine was presented to John Mitchell, executive director of the Cincinnati Association for the Blind and Visually Impaired (CABVI), and the 60,002nd machine went to Jim Buchman from the State Library of Ohio.

(photo caption) GE Senior Volunteers Dick Meyer (left), one of the program founders, and Bernie Burdick (center), present NLS director Kurt Cylke with the 60,000th talking-book machine repaired by the GE group.

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The Program

The National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped of the Library of Congress publishes books and magazines in braille and in recorded form on discs and cassettes for readers who cannot hold, handle, or see well enough to read conventional print because of a temporary or permanent visual or physical handicap.

Through a national network of state and local libraries, the materials are loaned free to eligible readers in the United States and to U.S. citizens living abroad. Materials are sent to readers and returned by postage-free mail.

Books and Magazines

Readers may borrow all types of popular-interest books including bestsellers, classics, mysteries, westerns, poetry, history, biographies, religious literature, children's books, and foreign-language materials. Readers may also subscribe to more than seventy popular magazines in braille and recorded formats.

Special Equipment

Special equipment needed to play the discs and cassettes, which are recorded at slower than conventional speeds, is loaned indefinitely to readers. An amplifier with headphone is available for blind and physically handicapped readers who are also certified as hearing impaired. Other devices are provided to aid readers with mobility impairments in using playback machines.


You are eligible for the Library of Congress program if:

How to Apply

You may request an application by writing NLS or calling toll-free 1-800-424-9100, and your name will be referred to your cooperating library.

News is published quarterly by:

National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped
Library of Congress
Washington, DC 20542

All correspondence should be addressed to the attention of Publications and Media Section. To change address or cancel subscription, please enclose mailing label.

Editor: Ingrid Davitt

Writers: Lina Dutky, Yvonne French, Corriece Gwynn, Paula Higgins, Sabreen Madyun, and Wilson McBee.

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Issues in 2009

April to June