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Digital Talking Books: Progress to Date

Nine Tasks to Implement the Use of Digital Talking Books

May 2002

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In the July 1998 pamphlet Digital Talking Books: Planning for the Future, nine steps for implementing digital talking books (DTB) were described, and these steps have changed little since planning began.

Task 12: Narrow player and media choices by selecting via decision matrix.

This task aims to narrow the player and media choices using a decision matrix--that is, a mathematical model used to help select from among a range of possibilities. Such a model will help NLS decision makers determine the best available technology. The model will be the basis for a development options paper ensuring the selection of the best technology.

In addition, NLS will refine the cost estimates obtained in the early life-cycle cost model. Cost estimates will include packaging, storage, and maintenance for the DTB alternatives. NLS is currently studying the impact of duplication and logistics on regional libraries and MLAs through a group called the Digital Long-Term Planning Group. NLS will also examine costs both to the states and to the federal government (U.S. Postal Service and NLS). For packaging, NLS will be directly responsible to obtain postal concurrence. In addition, NLS will have to examine the product from safety, pilfering, and pest-control perspectives early in the DTB systems development.

Task 13: Design and test a catalog-access and ordering system that interested patrons will use.

This task will include NLS review of patrons' privacy issues and network library personnel resources. To ensure proper design, NLS must base the system on what is currently in the field so as to avoid integration problems. Integrating two different systems can be technically challenging, because requirements and definitions may not be the same and can sometimes change in both systems. NLS will examine ways to automate the catalog and then provide configuration control in order to ensure that no anomalies are introduced into the system.

Task 14: Design and test circulation and inventory management software for libraries, MLAs, and NLS.

In this task, NLS will review inclusion of a means of self identification, for audit purposes, in players. Players should also have self diagnostic tests (also known as built-in test) circuitry to facilitate repair by maintenance personnel and help point to where both the hardware and/or software errors are. In addition, the errors should be reportable to NLS, while ensuring patron privacy. Error reports would be similar to the current reporting procedure, but with extra fields to handle digital statistics.

Task 15: Design and test software for international lending.

This task will entail NLS's requirement to obtain publishers' international copyright requirements.

Task 16: Evaluate the players and media produced by manufacturers and communications providers.

One of the most important steps, this one requires contracting for the DTB Engineering and Manufacturing Development (EMD) phase. The process necessitates drafting a DTB request for proposal (RFP) for industry comment prior to RFP formal release. After receipt of industry feedback on the draft RFP, NLS will consider conducting an industry-government forum. Based on the feedback from such a forum, NLS will issue a formal RFP for industrial competition.

Whether or not the RFP will be a cost or fixed-price contract is yet to be determined. It is important to allow a three-year minimum for EMD before full production begins (see step 17). EMD normally occurs after the R&D "bread board" testing is completed and NLS is comfortable that the technology works for the DTB application. One of the three years is needed to allow time to conduct the various engineering reviews and configuration-audit checks of the contractor. Included in the checks before NLS starts "bending metal" to produce the DTB system are: formal engineering reviews upon completion of system design, preliminary design, and critical design reviews. Another two years are needed to build and then test the system-first in a developmental mode (contractor in-house testing) and then in the final patron (operational) mode.

Throughout the EMD and production process, the NLS Engineering Change Control Board will convene, as necessary, to identify design or manufacturing flaws in units that fail to meet specifications. NLS will recommend to the contractor that these be corrected, usually under warranty repair. If, on one hand, the Library is at fault, NLS will pay for the repairs and recall units already in the field. On the other hand, if the contractor failed to follow specifications, the contractor must remedy the situation at no cost to the government.

Task 17: Operate parallel digital and cassette systems simultaneously.

NLS will have a transition period of several years from analog to digital technology and will eventually begin scaling back the production of cassette book machines (CBM) in order to have funding available for the new technology. When to shut off CBM manufacture will entail serious consideration, because there is a point where manufacture without sufficient quantity becomes inefficient. In this phase, initially two design and then twenty EMD samples will be tested, first from a developmental, later an operational standpoint to ensure that the DTB works according to design, and can be produced in an assembly line. A significant number of units will be distributed to patrons for field evaluation of reliability and patron acceptance.

Task 18: Begin full scale production and deployment of digital equipment.

In this step, NLS will set up quality assurance at the manufacturer, who will provide two hundred production samples for examination by NLS. NLS representatives will travel twice per month to the manufacturer until production is firmly established with near zero defect. Once the line is mature, the inspection visits can be reduced to monthly. NLS will also need to work with the repair volunteers (the General Electric Elfuns and the Telephone Pioneers of America), helping them understand the new DTB unit's maished with the manufacturers in coordination with the libraries. Although NLS will eventually cease production of cassettes and machines, it will continue to repair them through lifetime buys of repair parts for ten years or until parts supplies are exhausted.

Task 19: Establish a method for continuous patron evaluation of the new system.

The patron evaluation method will include ways to update the software in response to patron preferences and library-support needs. Development might be done by the NLS National Audio Equipment Advisory Committee, or perhaps by a separate digital committee, as long as updated accurate information is ensured. NLS will also establish a maintenance process for player and software documentation, including configuration control.

Task 20: Establish a method of continuous system evaluation of infrastructure.

This method, to include input from the libraries and MLAs, will also include configuration control. Continuous evaluation can be done in conjunction with the libraries and their regional conferences.

Wells B. Kormann
Chief, Materials Development Division

Prologue --- Twenty Steps to Next-Generation NLS Technology --- Work Accomplished to Date --- Nine Tasks to Implement the Use of Digital Talking Books --- Digital Braille: Web-Braille Puts Braille Books on the Internet --- Bibliography

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Posted on 2013-06-28