May 15, 2007 National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped Makes Room for Digital Talking Books
Network Libraries No Longer Retain Recorded Discs
Press Contact: Donna Urschel (202) 707-1639; Jane Caulton (202) 707-0521
Marking the end of an era and preparing for the onset of digital talking books, the National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped (NLS), Library of Congress, announced that it will no longer require its network libraries to retain copies of books on recorded discs. “Recorded rigid discs were the original technology that made the wonders of talking books available to the blind and physically handicapped community,” said Frank Kurt Cylke, NLS director. “Their retirement signals another milestone in the transition to digital talking books, an initiative that will open up new technical possibilities for blind and physically handicapped readers.” Rigid disc books were the technology that inaugurated the Library’s talking-book program in October 1934. The following year, the Library made 27 titles ready for distribution to blind readers through a network of 24 regional libraries across the United States. The Bible, historical documents such as the Constitution and several Shakespeare plays were among the first talking books produced for the Library of Congress program. These 12-inch recorded discs played at 33-1/3 rpm. The talking-book record continued to be improved throughout the history of the program, culminating with the introduction of 8-1/3 rpm records in 1973. With digital talking books expected to be released in 2008, NLS is retiring recorded disc books. Next year, the organization plans to release 650 new titles on flash-memory cartridges to its national network of 131 cooperating libraries. Additionally, it will offer 18,000 titles converted to digital from its analog collection. The cassette collection — introduced in 1969 — currently includes 50,739 titles, 5,300 foreign language titles and 2,300 music titles. The titles selected for digital conversion also include classics such as the Bible, Shakespeare plays and titles considered the greatest books of the 20th century. NLS also anticipates producing 60,000 digital talking-book players through 2008, and— based on the availability of funding — an increase in annual production. NLS patrons will still have access to recorded disc books, which will be archived at NLS warehouses in the Cincinnati and Salt Lake City. Network libraries will follow established guidelines for discarding recorded discs. NLS administers the free program that lends materials to residents of the United States who are blind or physically handicapped. Materials include braille and recorded books and magazines, music scores in braille and large print, and specially designed audio playback equipment. The 131 network libraries — throughout the United States, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, Guam and the Virgin Islands — provide direct service to eligible individuals and institutions. Eligible American citizens living abroad also participate in the NLS program.