Site Map Search the Catalog Kids Zone Find a Library FAQ
Sign Up Contact Us
Home > Technical
Writings > Digital
Talking Books, Planning for the Future > 20 Steps
NLS Technical Writings
Digital Talking Books: Planning for the Future
Twenty Steps to Next-Generation NLS Technology
In designing and implementing next-generation technology for the National Library
Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped, we must address the following
- When do we change?
- When a new system becomes cheaper than the current cassette system.
- What do we change to?
- A standard based on what patrons and providers tell us.
- A digital system that we thoroughly test using computer software.
- How will we know it's cheaper?
- We look at every cost in a digital system versus every cost in our current
This is a summary of steps that must be taken to design and implement next-generation
NLS technology. Two factors motivate change: cost and patron expectations. As
digital methods supplant analog methods in the consumer entertainment market,
older technology becomes obsolete and expensive. Furthermore, features available
only with digital technology are likely to be in demand by patrons. Future system
access will likely be via two routes: electronic communication of book data
and postal delivery of media and players. (In this section, "digital talking
book" [DTB] and "book data" include magazines.)
In this summary, we focus on replacing about 672,000 cassette tape players
with digital players. This move involves a major cost risk. Before replacing
all the tape players, we plan to develop and provide software-only players and
accompanying software. The book data (the media) are likely to be distributed
through regional centers, which will, in turn, distribute them by mail or provide
direct electronic connections to patrons.
To the extent that a list format allows, the steps are presented in order of
dependency, which is roughly chronological. Many activities, however, are done
concurrently. While the introduction above is framed in deceptively simple terms,
scanning the outline below will help the reader realize how complex the process
really is. The key to success is managing risk at every step by pursuing multiple
The design phase, discussed in detail in an earlier section, comprises eleven
steps and will require about five years. The hallmarks of the design phase will
be a system approach, low cost, low risk, and high visibility.
- Define and prioritize digital talking-book (DTB) features.
- Propose mandatory, desirable, and specialized categories.
Use National Information Standards Organization (NISO)
process involving community of users, librarians, advocacy groups, manufacturers,
producers, international borrowers, and lenders.
- Simulate a DTB using a personal computer.
- Test feasibility and patron interest in features.
- Develop and refine user control preferences.
For risk control, build several simulations based
on different software approaches.
- Develop a computer-based cost-analysis tool for the NLS
system and candidate digital systems.
- Build a historical cost data set.
- Examine and forecast long-term trends.
- Estimate critical decision points.
Determine cost range within which DTB adoption is
- When the book simulation is stable, make it available to
- With NISO approval, make changes suggested by evaluators.
Develop software to test and certify NISO compliance
- Design and build a prototype digital collection-accessing
and -archiving system.
- Write software to convert familiar NLS analog products
to NISO-compliant digital files; select titles and convert them to NISO
While strictly limiting the number of subscribers,
open the system to remote access for further evaluation as a model for
- Select an acceptable copyright protection system.
- Propose the use of a system accepted for consumer entertainment
such as the Content Scrambling System for digital video discs.
- If A is not acceptable, consult publishers, and design
and propose a minimum-cost acceptable system.
Obtain NISO concurrence; test real-time decoding.
- Develop DTB computer software for production and presentation.
- Build authoring tools for DTB production by both volunteers
- Begin digital mastering with concurrent text linking
in NISO format.
- Compare concurrent audio/text linking with software
- Build modular playback software for multiple platforms.
Establish DTB software facility for maintenance configuration
- Examine distribution methods from a systems perspective,
focusing on cost and convenience.
- Design mixed electronic and media-delivery systems
- Electronic delivery direct to patrons from regional centers and,
for special cases, from a national center.
- Postal delivery of media made at regional centers and, for special
cases, of media made at a national center.
- When considering costs, include regional production,
storage, and packaging.
- When considering convenience, include ease of system
operation and use by patrons, librarians, machine-lending agencies (MLAs),
volunteer producers, and international borrowers.
Write options paper expressing technological choices
in a decision matrix; use cost-analysis tool developed in step 3.
- Select players that best express the features in the NISO
digital talking-book standard.
- For cost control and acceptance, use components of
popular entertainment hardware where feasible.
Design and test user interfaces required for NISO
- Build multiple prototypes.
- Implement an evaluation plan to find user preference.
Implement an evaluation plan to assess effects on
regional libraries, MLAs, postal delivery, manufacturers, duplicators,
contract studios, volunteer studios, and repair organizations.
- Design and implement prototype testing to determine life-cycle
- Predict theoretical reliability (mean time between
failures) and test for actual performance; identify vulnerable components.
- Develop a maintenance plan that specifies
- Which components can be repaired.
- Which components must be replaced.
- Range, depth, positioning, and value of spare parts.
Predict life-cycle cost (dollars per patron, per
year) and forecast the pay-back point using the cost model developed
in step 3.
The implementation phase, discussed in detail in the next section, comprises
nine steps and will require about five years. This phase will be characterized
by high risk, high cost, and high visibility.
Narrow player and media choices by selection via decision
- For the chosen players, refine cost estimates and
package design, storage, and maintenance; get postal approval for packaging.
- For the chosen media, refine cost estimates and package
design and storage; get postal approval for packaging.
Consider safety, pest control, and pilfering.
- Design and test catalog access and ordering system.
- Consider patron privacy and library personnel resources.
Automate catalog update from NLS.
- Design and test circulation- and inventory-management software
for libraries, MLAs, and NLS.
- Build in self-identification of players (for audit
Build in statistical reporting that ensures patron
- Design and test software for international lending.
- Ensure that international copyright requirements are
- Design and test software for conversion of books to
Test electronic and media delivery methods.
- Evaluate player manufacturers and communications providers.
- Qualify manufacturers with sufficient and available
- Establish methods for getting the best value in communications.
- Ensure that all government procurement regulations
Award manufacturing and communications contracts.
- Operate digital and cassette systems simultaneously.
- Scale back production of cassette book machines.
- Produce 1,000 to 5,000 digital players for field evaluation.
Further evaluate electronic delivery, at least to
- Begin full-scale production and deployment of digital equipment.
- Set up QA process at manufacturer(s).
- Set up QA process at warranty repair and volunteer
Cease production of cassette players; continue repair
for ten years.
- Establish a method for continuous patron evaluation of
the new system.
- Update player software in response to patron preferences
and library support needs.
Establish maintenance process for player and software
documentation; include configuration control.
- Establish a method for continuous evaluation of infrastructure.
- Include librarians, MLAs, international borrowers,
- Include configuration control.
John Cookson, Head, Engineering Section
prologue planning NISO activity
i: details in implementation appendix
ii: overview of contracting approach