July 8, 1998 National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped Issues Report on Digital Talking Books

Press Contact: Guy Lamolinara (202) 707-9217

Digital Talking Books: Planning for the Future, a 72-page report outlining both the scope of activity and steps required to develop digital talking books for America's talking-book program, has been released by the National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped (NLS) of the Library of Congress. The report's seven articles provide details and discusses consumer involvement in technology planning and design.

The 67-year-old NLS talking-book program currently uses audio cassette playback technology developed in the 1960s and improved upon in following decades to serve the program's nationwide readership of nearly 800,000. NLS also produces books and magazines in braille, as well as magazines in flexible-disc audio format. A change to digital technology will dramatically enhance the flexibility of NLS reading formats in the future.

Announcing this historic technological effort, NLS Director Frank Kurt Cylke said, "Ever-changing audio technology requires that the Library of Congress always be aware of developments and prepare carefully for any systemic changes that may be desired or required. Because any major change in the program will affect nearly 3 million eligible users and require several hundred million dollars in investment, any proposal for change must be carefully reviewed and evaluated. Our approach is to have managers, engineers, technicians, librarians and users bring varying perspectives and talents to bear on the challenge."

The National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped is working with nearly 20 other organizations to develop a national digital talking-book standard through the National Information Standards Organization (NISO). NISO is the only organization accredited by the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) to develop technical standards for libraries and information services.

Michael M. Moodie, NLS research and development officer, who is coordinating the NISO digital talking-book standard effort, said, "The NISO standard will address digital talking-book features, file specifications, user control of playback devices, production issues and copyright protection schemes. This project has attracted a highly skilled and committed group of individuals from patron- advocacy organizations, media producers (both volunteer and commercial), schools for the blind, accessibility experts, hardware and software producers and libraries."

Mr. Moodie and John Cookson, head of the NLS Engineering Section, in their article "Planning for the Future" conclude that "moving from our current system to a digital one will be a challenging and exciting process. ... Because our users are a very diverse and widely dispersed population with special needs and evolving expectations, our service is intrinsically complex. Risk is inherent in building a future based on technologies that have continuously changing capabilities and costs."

Copies of Digital Talking Books: Planning for the Future are available in braille and large print and on recorded cassette and computer diskette from the Reference Section, National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped, Library of Congress, Washington, DC 20542-4960. Telephone: (202) 707-5100; fax: (202) 707-0712.


PR 98-105
ISSN 0731-3527