Final report : April 2, 2007
Section 1 - Introduction
The National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped (NLS) of the Library of Congress (LOC) administers a free library service to approximately 525,000 eligible residents of the US and US citizens living overseas who cannot read, hold or handle print media because of visual and/or physical disabilities. Under a special exemption of the US copyright laws and with the cooperation of authors and publishers who grant permission to use non-covered copyrighted works in the program, NLS selects and produces annually about 2,000 full-length audio book titles and 43 audio magazines in a specialized 4-Track, 15/16 ips recorded cassette (RC) format. NLS has produced annually about 42,000 specially-designed Cassette Book Machines (CBM) which enable readers in the program to play the recorded cassette books and magazines produced in specialized format (the production of CBMs ceased in March, 2007).
A cooperating nationwide network of 57 regional (RL) and 75 subregional (SRL) libraries currently store approximately 19,400,000 and loan about 19,000,000 RC books per year to readers in the program, while about 3,500,000 copies of cassette magazines are provided annually from manufacturers on a one-way, disposable circulation basis. Operations in network libraries are supported by a combination of federal, state, local and private funding, while NLS contracts with manufacturers for the provision of direct circulation magazines. Virtually all circulation of books and machines, and all circulation of magazines, is on a mail-order basis which is performed by the US Postal Service (USPS) and the costs of which are covered under a special Congressional appropriation for the same ("Free Matter for the Blind").
Cassette technology has been the backbone of the program for almost 30 years, but it has become outdated in several respects and is nearing the end of its useful life. NLS has therefore determined to implement digital audio technology as the framework of the future system, has performed extensive research, and determined that the first digital audio book distribution system will be based upon a high-density, solid-state, Flash Memory medium, using a "one-book, one-object" circulation protocol (i.e., as is currently used), with books being delivered to readers and returned from readers via the USPS. The transition to this system is planned to begin in FY2008 and will require approximately four years to complete.
The Digital Talking Book (DTB), Digital Talking Book Machine (DTBM), and DTB container for the future distribution system are currently being designed, and prequalifications of potential mass-producers are being evaluated. All new audio book title masters are being produced in digital format, as have all titles beginning in FY 2004 (with some produced in digital format as early as FY 2002), and an additional 8,000 titles in cassette format are being converted to digital format via analog-to-digital conversion. The specifics of the encryption schema required to provide copyright protection for program materials are being developed. A pilot test for Internet-delivery of digital audio magazines has been completed, and a similar pilot test for digital audio books is currently ongoing.
In FY 2000, NLS began using a Life Cycle Cost (LCC) model developed under contract by Northrop to assist in the management of the free national library program. This model is effectively a Decision Support System (DSS) which utilizes various source data as inputs, most of which are updated annually, most of which are internal to NLS (including NLS contractors), but some of which are obtained from external sources. It provides NLS management with year-to-year comparisons of costs and activities crucial to operation of the program and is also used, to some extent, as a forecasting tool.
The LCC model encompasses the operations of the current RC-based delivery system. However, beginning in FY 2008 NLS will begin the implementation of the DTB delivery system, which will include the use of DTBs, DTBMs, and DTB containers. During the planned 4-year transition, the digital and cassette-based systems will operate concurrently, after which the digital system will effectively replace the cassette-based system.
Because of these impending changes to operations, NLS requires that the existing LCC model be used to evaluate the operations of the envisioned future flash memory-based digital delivery system. An update of the LCC model in order to incorporate and model this future digital system has also been recommended by the Government Accountability Office (GAO). Such an update would not, however, include Internet-based delivery of program content since that is not facilitated by the LCC model.
The objectives of this task were to use the existing Microsoft Excel-based LCC model and make modifications as appropriate while retaining the fundamental configuration of the present model. This was to include the update of the model for the current RC-based system ("Baseline") to a FY2005 basis (the most current version of the model prior to the performance of this task was updated for FY2004), as well as the development of the source data and scenario for the future digital system ("Alternative"). Lastly, the model was to be updated with the source datasets for both the Baseline and Alternative systems, and all model output reports and the model itself provided to NLS. The final product desired by NLS was an LCC model incorporating the updated (FY2005 time base) RC Baseline system and the Alternative All Mass-Duplication flash memory-based digital delivery system.
To this end, the following work was performed:
- Attended Kickoff Meeting - We met initially with relevant NLS staff to discuss project objectives and schedule, clarified any ambiguities, established protocols, and exchanged contact information.
- Reviewed Final RFP for Development of Model - We reviewed the final RFP used for the contract with Northrop for development of the LCC model.
- Reviewed Current Model - We reviewed, at a high-level, the functioning of the LCC model itself.
- Reviewed Documentation for the Model - We performed a cursory review of the final documentation and reports for the LCC model provided to NLS by Northrop.
- Reviewed Logic Changes Made by NLS – We reviewed changes made to the model by NLS since it was provided by Northrop. Such changes did not include the annual update of Element values.
- Met with NLS Staff – We interviewed NLS staff cited by NLS as relevant to the task.
- Performed Analyses as Required - Analyses were performed as required to develop the source datasets for the Baseline and Alternative systems, which are presented in the tables contained in Appendices A and Appendices B of the report, respectively.
- Input Source Datasets and Run Model – Source datasets for both the Baseline (current RC-based) and Alternative (future flash memory, All Mass-Duplication, DTB-based) systems were input to the LCC model, and all output reports produced by the model were generated. These output reports are contained in Appendices C of the report.
Several points regarding the scope of this report, major assumptions made, and limitations encountered are listed below.
- The task had a very short period of performance and modest level-of-effort. ManTech worked closely with NLS in order to try and maximize the value of the effort, and believes that this has largely been achieved. While the addition of a Monte Carlo analysis capability and incorporation of a discount rate into the LCC, both suggested by NLS staff, are desirable enhancements, task resources did not allow such development.
- Because the model had not yet been updated for the Baseline system to a FY2005 time base when the task began, nor had all the data necessary for the Baseline source dataset been collected and compiled when the task began, NLS directed ManTech to perform this task, which was accomplished. This work necessitated an audit of the work already performed by NLS staff (who have since left NLS) because a “checklist” of the status of that update was not available, and thus consumed about half of the total effort on the task.
- The designs of the DTBM, DTB, and DTB container are ongoing and not yet completed. Assumed values for LCC data Elements associated with these products are stated where applicable along with the rationale for the same.
- It was assumed that future production of new audio book titles by NLS and demand for audio book copies system-wide will be about the same as that for the current system. Future demand for playback machines was also assumed to be the same as that for the current system.