Home> Press release archive > NLS Submits Funding Request to Cover Digital Transition Through 2011

NLS Press Release


For Immediate Release:
March 13, 2007
Contact: Robert E. Fistick
(202) 707-9279 or [email protected]


Funds will be used toward production and distribution of digital talking books and players

WASHINGTON, DC— In preparation for the digital program’s 2008 launch, the National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped (NLS), Library of Congress, recently submitted a funding request to Congress to support its four-year digital transition plan. NLS requested $76.4 million to aid in production and distribution of digital talking books, digital players, flash-memory cartridges, and containers. If approved, the funds will be disbursed in four equal increments.

"This funding request is based on thorough research and analysis of projected costs by NLS experts, consultants, and contractors working on the digital program. Our careful assessment of upcoming program stages led us to conclude that $76.4 million will be required to support the transition through completion and ensure little service disruption to patrons," said Frank Kurt Cylke, NLS director. "We are hopeful our request will be met so we may successfully achieve the project’s goals."

NLS is transitioning to digital because flash technology will greatly improve patron service. Digital talking books will offer users improved audio and significant navigation capabilities. The new machines will also be smaller, lighter, and in 95 percent of cases, one cartridge will hold a complete book. Further, analog technology has become outdated with cassettes and player parts increasingly expensive and difficult to locate. Unlike the cassette player, digital players contain no moving parts making them more reliable and less susceptible to mechanical failure.

To ensure the new digital talking book machines meet blind and physically handicapped user needs, and to guarantee intellectual property law compliance, NLS opted to build a player to its own specifications. An NLS-specific player offers many benefits. Because the digital player and flash cartridge are based on open standards developed by the National Information Standards Organization (NISO), NLS can readily obtain products from multiple providers, making certain the devices are available when needed. While the system complies with open standards, it also adheres to a legislated special format to protect its intellectual property. The digital players can also better withstand rough handling and transit through the mail system, resulting in longer lifespan. Additionally, with easy-to-clean surfaces, patrons can better maintain the machines and libraries can reissue them.

From 2008 to 2011, NLS will phase out cassette books and players while phasing in digital talking books and players. In 2008, NLS will initiate production of flash-memory machines as well as digital talking book production, duplication, and distribution. From 2009 to 2010, NLS will increase digital talking book production while continuing to provide some cassette titles. Cassette book production will stop entirely in 2011. NLS plans to produce enough digital titles and players between 2008 and 2011 to sustain the digital program without service disruptions.

More than 23 million copies of recorded and braille books and magazines were circulated to a readership of 799,718 in 2004. The International Union Catalog provides access to 423,500 titles (19 million copies). Audiobook readers borrow an average of 31 books and magazines a year. Braille readers average 20 books and magazines a year.

An overview of the NLS digital talking-book project may be found in Current Strategic Business Plan for the Implementation of Digital Systems at www.loc.gov/nls/businessplan2006.html. For enrollment information, visit www.loc.gov/nls or call 1-888-NLS-READ (1-888-657-7323).

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Posted on 2011-01-10