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Digital Talking Books: Progress to Date

Twenty Steps to Next-Generation NLS Technology

May 2002

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Summary

When do we change the system?

What do we change to?

How do we know it's better?

Background

This paper outlines steps to take in the design and implementation of next-generation NLS technology. Two factors motivate change: cost and patron expectations. As digital methods supplant analog in the consumer entertainment market, technology approaching obsolescence, i.e., cassette tape, may become expensive, and patrons are likely to demand features available with digital technology. Access to a future system will be via two routes: electronic communications and postal delivery of players and recorded material. This summary focuses on replacing about 700,000 cassette-tape players with digital players, an undertaking in which there are major cost and risk factors. Before and during replacement of players, software-only players and establishment of a software infrastructure are planned. We see delivery at the outset via mass-duplication at contractors' sites, and duplication-on-demand at specialized centers, followed by postal delivery to patrons. In the long term, however, we see media inexpensive enough to allow postal delivery of disposable units containing multiple titles.

To the extent that a list format allows, I present the steps in a roughly chronological order of dependency. Many activities, however, occur in parallel. I offer the three-question summary above in deceptively simple terms, hoping to interest the reader in perusing the outline below to find out how complex the process really is. The key to success is to manage risk at every step by pursuing as many options at one time as the budget allows. To distinguish primarily between low-risk and high-risk activities, I divide the 20 steps into two sequential phases: design and implementation. (In this paper "digital talking book" (DTB) also refers to magazines.)

Design phase:

11 steps, 5 years, system approach, low cost, low risk, high visibility.

  1. Define and prioritize digital talking-book (DTB) features.
    1. Propose mandatory, desirable, and specialized categories.
    2. Use the National Information Standards Organization (NISO) process involving community of users, librarians, advocacy groups, manufacturers, producers, international borrowers, and lenders.
  2. Simulate a DTB player using a personal computer.
    1. Test feasibility and patron interest in specific features.
    2. Discover and refine user-control preferences.
    3. Monitor and test parallel efforts.
  3. Develop a computer-based, life-cycle, cost-analysis (LCC) model for the NLS system and for candidate digital systems.
    1. Build an historical cost data set through annual updates of the model (mandated in NLS LCC policy).
    2. Examine and forecast long-term trends.
    3. Estimate critical decision points.
    4. Determine the cost range where DTB adoption is advisable.
  4. Design and build prototype digital-collection archiving and access systems, and stock with legacy and new-production titles.
    1. For legacy titles, write or buy software to convert familiar NLS analog products to NISO-compliant digital files, select titles, and convert them to NISO format.
    2. Design and implement a system for short-term storage of digital review copies.
    3. Design and build a local area network to support in-house production of digital books. Expand to support experiments that provide access to a large collection of digital works.
    4. Design and build a long-term archive of DTB files.
  5. Select an acceptable copyright protection system.
    1. Consider a system approved for consumer entertainment.
    2. If A is not acceptable, design and propose a minimum-cost acceptable system, in consultation with publishers.
    3. Obtain NISO concurrence, test decoding at three times real-time.
  6. Develop computer software for DTB production and presentation.
    1. Develop expertise with the digital audio recording process.
    2. Build software "authoring tools" to enable DTB production by volunteers and professionals.
    3. Begin digital mastering with concurrent text linking in NISO format.
    4. Compare concurrent audio/text linking with software linking.
    5. Build modular playback software for multiple platforms.
    6. Establish a DTB software facility for maintenance and configuration control.
  7. Develop software to test conformance of players and DTBs with the NISO standard.
    1. Develop a suite of sample DTBs that exercise and demonstrate player features.
    2. Develop software to test and certify NISO compliance of DTBs.
  8. Examine distribution methods from a systems perspective, focusing on cost and convenience.
    1. Design mixed electronic and media delivery systems such as:
      • Postal delivery of media, mass-duplicated at contractors' sites or duplicated on demand at specialized facilities.
      • Electronic delivery direct to patrons from regional centers and, for special cases, from a national center.
    2. When considering cost, include regional production, storage, and packaging.
    3. When considering convenience, include ease of operation by patrons, librarians, machine-lending agencies (MLAs), volunteer producers, and international borrowers.
    4. In an options paper express technological choices. Use the cost-analysis tool developed in step 3.
  9. Select or design players that best meet the NISO DTB standard.
    1. Where feasible, use components of popular entertainment hardware to control cost and promote acceptance.
    2. Design and test user interfaces required for NISO DTB compliance.
  10. Build multiple prototype players.
    1. Evaluate and compare each to find user preferences.
    2. Evaluate and compare each to assess effects on regional libraries, MLAs, postal delivery, manufacturers, duplicators, contract studios, volunteer studios, and repair organizations.
  11. Design and implement prototype testing to determine life-cycle cost.
    1. Predict theoretical reliability (mean time between failures), and test for actual performance; identify vulnerable components.
    2. Develop a maintenance plan that specifies:
      • Which components can be repaired;
      • Which components must be replaced;
      • Range, depth, positioning, and value of repair parts.
    3. Predict life-cycle cost (dollars per patron per year) and forecast the payback point, using the cost model developed in step 3 above.

Implementation phase:

9 steps, 5 years, high risk, high cost, high visibility.

  1. Narrow player and media choices by selecting via decision matrix.
    1. For the players chosen, refine cost estimates and design of packaging, storage, and maintenance. Get postal approval for packaging.
    2. For the chosen media refine cost estimates and design of packaging and storage. Get postal approval of packaging.
    3. Consider safety, pest control, and pilfering.
  2. Design and test catalog-access and ordering systems that interested patrons will use.
    1. Consider patron privacy and library personnel resources.
    2. Automate updated catalogs from NLS.
  3. Design and test circulation and inventory-management software for libraries, MLAs, and NLS.
    1. For audit, build in self-identification of players.
    2. Build in statistical reporting that ensures patron privacy.
  4. Design and test software for international lending.
    1. Ensure that international copyright requirements are met.
    2. Design and test software for conversion of books to international formats.
    3. Test electronic and media delivery methods.
  5. Evaluate player manufacturers and communications providers.
    1. Begin the engineering, manufacturing, and development (EMD) phase.
    2. Qualify manufacturers who have sufficient production capacity available.
    3. Establish methods to guarantee the best value in communications.
    4. Award manufacturing and communications contracts.
  6. Operate digital and cassette systems simultaneously.
    1. Scale back production of cassette book machines.
    2. Produce digital players for field evaluation.
  7. Full-scale production and deployment of digital equipment.
    1. Set up QA process at manufacturers.
    2. Set up QA process at warranty repair and volunteer repair facilities.
    3. Cease production of cassette players, but for ten years continue repair.
  8. Establish a method for continuous patron evaluation of the new system.
    1. Update player software in response to patron preferences and library support needs.
    2. Establish a maintenance process for player and software documentation; include configuration control.
  9. Establish a method for continuous evaluation of infrastructure.
    1. Include librarians, MLAs, international institutional borrowers, and lenders.
    2. Include configuration control.

John Cookson
Head, Engineering Section

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