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NLS: That All May Read

NLS Patron Survey (2003)

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2.0 Study Background

The National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped (NLS), Library of Congress (LOC) operates a national library program for persons who are unable to read or use printed materials as a result of temporary or permanent visual or physical limitations.  Through its Talking Book program, NLS libraries circulate over 23 million braille or recorded books and magazines to nearly 500,000 patrons. 

The majority of NLS’s Talking Books are analog cassettes that are played on NLS-distributed playback devices.  This format has been a reliable and cost-effective method for distributing recorded books and magazines; however today’s vast multi-media technology options have far surpassed analog cassette technology. Consequently, NLS plans to introduce digital playback devices for its audio books and magazines within the next 5 years. 

In making its transition to digital Talking Book format, NLS faces decisions about hardware design, medium, and distribution systems. Inevitably, NLS must consider practical matters such as cost, durability, and availability of appropriate technology. The equipment and delivery systems, however, also must be well-suited to the people who will use them. To make good design decisions, NLS needs more information about its patrons’ abilities and preferences. The NLS Patron Survey will ultimately help staff anticipate (and proactively address) problems using the new equipment that users might have, identify possible barriers to user acceptance, and design the new equipment so it will address users’ reading needs.

Results from the telephone survey of a representative sample of NLS Talking Book subscribers will provide the information needed to identify distinguishing characteristics and demographics expected to affect subscribers’ preferences in digital audio playback devices. The study will identify factors that are likely to affect the use and appeal of the new playback device, such as age and technological savvy, since different types of users will likely prefer and/or require different features, capabilities and operational approaches and will have different barriers to use.  Information on the needs of Talking Book subscribers gathered from the telephone survey will provide guidance to NLS and the future developer of the new digital playback device.

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Posted on 2006-05-30