October 10, 2002 Library of Congress to put Audio Magazines Online for Blind and Physically Handicapped Users

Press Contact: Audrey Fischer (202) 707-0022
Public Contact: Robert Fistick (202) 707-9279

Library patrons who are blind or physically handicapped can soon access selected audio magazines on the Internet thanks to new digital technology at the Library of Congress. In a pilot test to be launched in 2003, selected eligible readers will have access to periodicals produced by the national audio magazine program of the National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped (NLS) in the Library of Congress.

The national audio magazine program currently produces 44 magazine titles in a special audio cassette format. These include Good Housekeeping, National Geographic, Sports Illustrated and U.S. News and World Report. Selected titles will be converted to digital audio files suitable for mounting on the NLS Web site. Eligible readers will be provided with electronic identifications and passwords.

"NLS continues to integrate digital technology into the national reading program in a structured, cost-effective and innovative manner," said NLS Director Frank Kurt Cylke. "Internet delivery of audio magazines is part of a long-range plan to incorporate digital distribution methods into all aspects of the program."

The production of audio magazines on the Internet will allow NLS to test the use of the national standard for digital talking books that was recently adopted by the American National Standards Institute and the National Information Standards Organization (ANSI/NISO Z39.86-2002). Audio versions of magazines are comprised of relatively small digital files and will allow NLS to prepare for the more challenging task of producing digital talking books that will contain significantly larger files.

NLS is in the midst of a full-scale transition from analog audio cassettes to digital talking books, a project that will involve converting approximately 30,000 titles (about 10 percent of NLS' collection) from analog tape recordings to master digital recordings and developing a digital playback device to replace the four-track tape player that has been in service for nearly three decades. NLS has approximately 730,000 audio cassette players available for use worldwide today and maintains an inventory of 23 million cassettes containing audio books and magazines that it circulates free of charge to blind and physically handicapped readers. The digital talking book is anticipated to be nationally available by 2008.

NLS also distributes braille books and magazines on the Internet through its Web-Braille system. Today, more than 2,300 eligible individuals, libraries and schools can access more than 5,000 braille book titles for download or use online with a computer and a braille output device. NLS releases about 50 new braille book titles per month as well as current issues of 25 braille magazines, all of which are immediately available online to users.


PR 02-140
ISSN 0731-3527