Braille Book Review

July-August 2006

In Brief

The following information is reprinted from two issues of NLS Flash, a newsletter created to bring current information on NLS progress in digital technology to patrons, library staff, and other interested individuals.

Flash, April 2006, volume 2, issue 5

NLS defines its needs for a digital asset management system

The National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped (NLS) is committed to ensuring that its digital talking-book (DTB) collection is easily accessible. Organization is a key in facilitating usability. During the next year, NLS will focus on developing a Digital Asset Management System (DAMS) to arrange and store its digital titles. NLS is currently defining the system's requirements, which will guide the selection of a contractor to build the system.

Frank Kurt Cylke, NLS director, perceives that "the Digital Asset Management System is a major piece of the digital project. In order to manage the digital collection with the same efficiency as the cassette collection, we are taking advantage of new technology that will support digital management."

DAMS consists of multiple functions that operate together to form a system. It is essentially advanced software that electronically manages large volumes of information or data like the digital talking-book collection for maximum efficiency and ease of handling. DAMS will also engage in various functions central to sustaining a digital collection. NLS automation officer Michael Martys, DAMS project manager, is currently working on defining requirements.

How it will work

DAMS will serve many needs. In addition to managing the collection's content, the system must also facilitate collection accessibility and some aspects of DTB production.

"DAMS is a complex system with a simple goal-to make DTBs easily accessible to NLS patrons and librarians," says Martys. "All of its various functions ultimately work together to achieve that end."

DAMS will support online access to the collection, estimated to be in excess of about 20,000 titles. When patrons submit a title download request, the software will communicate with other NLS computer information systems to fill that order.

Another important DAMS task will be to archive the digital collection. The archive will include both a playable version of the DTB and the master recordings. Efficient archiving provides organized, secure, and centralized storage.

According to Martys, some of the project's top challenges have been finding a storage mode that could accommodate NLS's sizable collection as well as afford users immediate access to the collection. It's a tall order, but DAMS will be customized in an effort to meet those needs.

It will also serve the communication and production needs of a duplication-on-demand (DOD) system, in which titles are duplicated by request at special centers. The program will collect special orders from network libraries and forward them to DOD centers for fulfillment. The DOD centers will then download the requested titles from the DAMS and duplicate copies onto flash-memory cartridges for the libraries.

DAMS will also provide NLS personnel with statistics and data on its internal operations. NLS will use this information to monitor and maintain the system and ensure that it runs smoothly.

Next steps

DAMS will be a focal point in the NLS digital project over the next two years. Once Martys and his team finish defining the system's requirements, they will begin the important work of finding the right contractor to do the job. That search will continue through the end of the year. In early 2007, focus will shift to installing DAMS.

Pilot project to test DAMS functions

Recently NLS began a research and development project to create software that will emulate some of the functions of the Digital Asset Management System (DAMS). The project will test fundamental concepts involved in the development of DAMS. Facilitating title download, production, distribution, and archiving are among DAMS functions that will be tested.

Loading NLS's digital collection, stored on an estimated 160,000 CDs, onto a computer is one of the greatest challenges automation officer Michael Martys and his team face. "If we stacked these CDs one on top of the other, the pile would tower nearly three hundred feet over the Washington Monument," said Martys. NLS engineers are considering the possibility of using robots to help in this process.

Once the titles are loaded and checked by a specially designed computer program, they are encoded with AMR-WB+, a software tool that can compress files to one-thirtieth of their original size with virtually no perceptible loss of sound quality. After the files are loaded and encoded, the system applies copyright protection and converts the files into ZIP format for easy download from the Web.

Flash, May 2006, volume 2, issue 6

NLS conference highlights key features of digital talking-book player Curl up with a good book, drift off to sleep worry-free-the National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped (NLS), Library of Congress, has you covered. Sleep mode-a new feature available on the digital talking-book machine (DTBM)-will enable patrons to set a timer that automatically turns off the player after a specified period. This feature is one of many innovative improvements to the player that were discussed at an NLS conference in Portland, Maine, earlier this month.

"As we approach 2008, the player is drawing nearer to its final form and it's important that we update patrons and librarians on the progress of its design," says Frank Kurt Cylke, NLS director. "The conference offered a great opportunity to discuss key features of the player and collect librarian feedback. We're very pleased by the machine's positive reception."

Several player issues were discussed, including usability, portability, and durability. Users can look forward to a machine designed to meet their needs in all those areas. But can a player this versatile still be user-friendly? NLS wouldn't have it any other way.

"Our goal in designing the new players-and in conducting usability tests-has been not only to enhance the machine's performance but also to determine which features can best simplify its use," says Michael Moodie, NLS deputy director. "Without question, our patrons' input has been absolutely essential to this process."

A machine that does more than play books The digital talking-book system affords numerous advantages to users. Chief among these are enhanced audio quality and navigation features. Users will experience crisper, clearer sound when reading their favorite books.

The easy-to-use players offer various navigation features to meet different user requirements and reading styles. Thanks to the automatic bookmark function, patrons need not be concerned with losing their place when they stop reading. The bookmark remembers where users left off in the book even if the machine is turned off. Not even removing the flash cartridge from the player will disrupt this function.

Instructions and audio prompts, available in English or Spanish, are embedded in all machines. The network librarian will select the correct language before sending the players to the users. Users can access instructions any time they need assistance. Machine buttons are very easy to press and will identify themselves and their functions when patrons enable the key-identifier function.

Each time users turn on the power or load new cartridges, the player will announce the book's title. Patrons can also check the machine to determine approximately how much of the book they've read and how much remains. Should readers wish to skip ahead or review what they've read, they can fast-forward or rewind through text quickly. The player announces these actions when they occur. In addition, advanced readers can move instantly from chapter to chapter.

To facilitate usability, cartridge labels will include key information in braille and very large print. Users will also say goodbye to lugging around numerous cassettes containing their reading materials. Almost any title in the NLS collection will fit on a single flash cartridge.

The player's new look will also accommodate readers who are on the go. The streamlined dark charcoal gray machine is smaller and lighter-one-third the size and less than half the weight of the current player-and includes a built-in handle designed to be easily grasped. This portability will make enjoying books in different locations more convenient.

Players will also operate on rechargeable batteries that support fifteen hours of play time. The machine will verbally warn readers to charge the batteries when they are low to avoid an unexpected loss of power. Patrons can also check the device at any time to determine how much battery time remains.

Serving a diverse audience

Refinements to the digital talking-book machine are guided by an understanding of patrons' diverse preferences. "The improved design and features," notes Moodie, "will enable DTBMs to better respond to the needs of all patrons and greatly enhance their reading pleasure."

Furthermore, patrons can read as quickly or slowly as they wish by adjusting the machine's speed control. Narration pitch will not change regardless of speed selected.

Color-coding makes the new players more user-friendly to those with low vision. High-contrast color will be applied to frequently used controls, such as volume, play, stop, rewind, and fast-forward, and to a standard-sized stereo headphone jack. Tactile markings and braille labels will also make buttons easily distinguishable. Color-coding extends to flash cartridges, which are white to contrast with the charcoal gray machines. The cartridges will be slightly smaller than cassettes and easy to load into the player.

NLS additionally requires that the new players be compatible with remote control devices so that physically handicapped users may read with more ease. Devices to make remote control possible can be attached through a special USB port.

Built to last

Patrons wouldn't benefit much if the new players required frequent repairs. Durability is therefore an absolute must. Built to survive ten years of daily use without repair, the players will not disappoint. Sealed controls prevent liquids from entering, making players spill-resistant. The dark materials and smooth construction of the players provide the added benefit of not easily trapping or showing dirt.

Machines will even withstand a three-foot drop on all sides and edges onto a concrete floor-not to be tried at home. Durability extends to the flash cartridges, which also resist breaking and survive temperature extremes they're subjected to when delivered by mail in hot and cold climates.

Digital Talking Book (DTB) Milestones Completed
-Defined and prioritized DTB features
-Coordinated development and publication of Specifications for the Digital Talking Book (ANSI/NISO Z39.86)
-Simulated a DTB player using personal computer
-Developed a computer-based, life-cycle cost analysis (LCC) model for the NLS system and for candidate digital systems
-Developed computer software for DTB production and presentation
-Developed software to test conformance of players and DTBs with the ANSI/NISO standard
-User survey
-Player transition
-Distribution medium study
-Player and medium design contract awarded
-Distribution system design contract awarded
-Distribution system design contract Phase I completed

Start 1/12/04 Finish 10/1/08

The following ongoing projects, set to conclude in 2008, are shown with start dates in parentheses. -Web-Magazine pilot (1/12/04)
-Digital data management system development (11/1/04)
-Player and flash cartridge development (3/1/05)
-Distribution system design and transition planning Phase II (9/19/05)
-Design DTB containers and labels (6/1/05)
-Web-Book pilot (6/1/05)
-Prepare DTBs for distribution (10/1/05)
-Distribution system implementation (10/1/06)
-Flash cartridge production (3/1/07)
-Flash cartridge duplication (5/1/07)
-Manufacture initial lot of DTB containers and labels (8/1/07)
-Full player production (9/1/07)

For information on the NLS digital project contact:
Jean M. Moss
Digital Projects Coordinator
Fax: (202) 707-1690

To view the Strategic Business Plan on the Web visit:

To view the Flash newsletters on the Web visit:


The following announcement may be of interest to readers. The National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped reserves the right to publish announcements selectively, as space permits. Items mentioned, however, are not part of the NLS program, and their listing does not imply endorsement.

InfoEyes online reference service

Network librarians are now available online to answer reference questions. InfoEyes is a cooperative project in which NLS network librarians from eight states-Illinois, Maryland, Pennsylvania, Minnesota, Maine, New York, Massachusetts, and Washington-work together to respond to patrons' questions over the Internet. InfoEyes assists a diverse population, including students, teachers, parents who are helping children with homework, and curious general readers.

Any eligible patron with a computer and an Internet connection can visit the InfoEyes web site at Upon accessing the site, visitors may ask a question by e-mail or set up a time to chat live with a reference librarian. To e-mail a question, select that link on the web page, enter your e-mail address and question, and click the "Ask" button. An InfoEyes librarian will respond to your question.

To chat live with a librarian, you must have a computer with a sound card, microphone, speakers, and the free, special voice-chat software. You can also communicate with a librarian via text-chat. After selecting the live option, you will be able to schedule a time to meet with a librarian one-on-one in an online chat room. Once you are in the chat room, the librarian will discuss your question, help you find sources, and even browse web pages with you.

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