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NLS Press Release

1.5 Millionth Cassette Book Machine Marks End of an Era in Service to Blind Community

For Immediate Release:
March 16, 2007
Contact: Jane Caulton
(202) 707-0521 or jcau@loc.gov

1.5 Millionth Cassette Book Machine Marks End of an Era in Service to Blind Community

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped (NLS), Library of Congress, produced its last analog cassette book machine on February 17, 2007, signaling the advent of Digital Talking Books.

During a ceremony held on March 1 in Blue Earth, Minnesota, Telex Communications, Inc. presented NLS with the milestone player—the 1,248,113th manufactured by the company since 1983.

Since 1969, 1.5 million cassette book machines (CBMs) have been manufactured and distributed to more than 25 million NLS patrons. These machines were designed to play audiocassettes recorded at 15/16 inches per second (ips) on 4-track tapes, allowing up to six hours of playback time per cassette.

Though many enhancements have been made to cassette book machines over the years, dramatic advances in technology have prompted NLS to move to a digital system using flash-memory technology to improve services to its patrons.

"Analog audiocassette and cassette book machine technology has been the backbone of the NLS system, but it is outdated and nearing the end of its useful life," said NLS director Frank Kurt Cylke. "Our patrons have heightened expectations of service improvements, especially those who are tech savvy. Their expectations along with the impending obsolescence of key elements of analog technology warrant the conversion to a digital system. Digital talking-book machine technology will replace audiocassette technology just as audiocassette technology replaced its predecessor, rigid disc technology."

NLS expects to launch the digital audio system in 2008. The new system will include solid state, flash-memory playback machines that will be about one-third the size of the current machine and will play digital audiobooks provided on flash-memory cartridges. The system will provide better audio quality, be more durable, be more reliable, and consume less power. In addition cartridges will allow longer playing time and practically eliminate the need to change cartridges, as is often required with audiocassettes.

C-1 No. 1248113, the last CBM, is expected to be in service until the digital transition is complete. Indeed 58 percent of CBMs are still in use after ten years.

"Though production of the CBM has ceased, NLS will continue to provide CBMs, from our existing inventory, and cassette audiobooks to our patrons during the transition to digital talking books and players," said NLS chief of Materials and Development Division Michael Katzmann. "The use of CBMs will decline rapidly with the introduction of the digital player, however we expect some patrons to continue using CBMs beyond 2012."

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Posted on 2011-01-10