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NLS Press Release

Digital Talking Book Standard Approved

For Immediate Release:
March 15, 2002
Contact: Robert E. Fistick
(202) 707-9279 or

The National Information Standards Organization (NISO) announced today that the national standard for the Digital Talking Book (ANSI/NISO Z39.86-2002) has been approved. A Digital Talking Book (DTB) is a collection of electronic files arranged to present information to the blind and physically handicapped reader via alternative media. The most common medium will be human speech. However, a DTB produced in accordance with the new standard can include a file containing the contents of the document in text form, thereby permitting output via synthetic speech, refreshable braille display devices, or visual display in large print.

The NISO DTB standard, whose development was coordinated by the Library of Congress's National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped (NLS), will make electronic resources presented in DTB format more accessible to print-disabled readers worldwide. "The five-year effort was completed by an international committee representing a broad range of stakeholders dedicated to providing alternative-format materials to print-disabled readers," explained Patricia Harris, NISO Executive Director. The standards project was coordinated by Michael M. Moodie, NLS Research and Development Officer, who chaired and organized the NISO Digital Talking Book Committee's meetings and work groups from its inception in 1997 through the final approval of the standard by the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) on March 6, 2002. "This standard will facilitate the efficient presentation of information through a variety of alternative media and will make it easier for readers to navigate the digital world," Moodie said.

The international community partners with NLS in this complex effort are the Association of Specialized and Cooperative Library Agencies (of the American Library Association); American Council of the Blind; American Foundation for the Blind; American Printing House for the Blind; Blinded Veterans Association; Canadian National Institute for the Blind; the DAISY Consortium; Hadley School for the Blind; Assistive Devices Industry Office Industry Canada; IsSound Corporation; National Federation of the Blind; Recording for the Blind and Dyslexic; Talking Book Publishers, Inc.; Telex Communications, Inc.; VisuAide, Inc.; and the World Blind Union.

"The ANSI/NISO DTB standard is built on specifications and needs formulated by blind and visually impaired users who were heavily involved in every aspect of the development effort," Harris said. She noted that "during the development process, the full committee met eleven times across the United States and Canada and smaller working groups met countless times in person and via conference calls and e-mail."

In explaining the importance of the DTB standard, Moodie said, "it makes possible a powerful, flexible reading system that easily adapts to different types of documents and different user needs. It provides a framework under which a person or agency can create DTBs ranging from a very simple novel to a long, complex reference work or textbook. The standard was built as far as possible on existing standards and specifications, so programming skills and software tools developed for other purposes can be applied to the DTB world."

"The real beauty of the DTB standard is that it allows users great flexibility in how they read those DTBs some will want a straight, linear reading experience, while others will need sophisticated functions that allow random access to sections of the DTB, the ability to turn on or off elected elements (e.g., footnotes), and the capability to set bookmarks, highlight portions of text, or do keyword searches," Moodie said.

According to Frank Kurt Cylke, NLS Director, "The bottom line is that this single standard addresses the requirements of a range of agencies serving users with a wide variety of reading needs. It is truly a universal standard that will benefit the blind community for generations to come."

The International Coalition of Access Engineers and Specialists (ICAES) named NISO as one of the winners of their 2001 Collaboration and Coordination Award for its work in developing the DTB specifications.

This standard, like all NISO standards is available for downloading free from the NISO web site

Additional Facts About NISO and NLS

About NISO

The National Information Standards Organization (NISO) is the only U.S. group accredited by the American National Standards Institute to develop and promote voluntary technical standards for use in information delivery services for libraries, publishers, and related information technology organizations. All NISO standards are developed by consensus under the guidance of experts and practitioners in the field to meet the needs of both the information user and the producer. For information about NISO's current standardization interests and membership possibilities, please visit the NISO web site at

About NLS

Over the past seventy years, the National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped (NLS), Library of Congress, has been a leader in provision of library services to blind and physically handicapped individuals. Each year it distributes 23 million books and magazines to a readership of more than 759,000 individuals who cannot read regular print for visual or physical reasons. NLS functions as the largest and frequently only source of recreational and information reading materials and services for a segment of the population who cannot readily use the print materials of public libraries. The NLS International Union Catalog contains 382,000 titles in 22 million copies. The average reader borrows 40 recorded books and magazines a year. As an integral part of the Library of Congress, NLS every year selects, produces, catalogs, and distributes 2,000 full-length books and magazines in 2,000,000 braille and recorded copies. Reading materials are distributed to a cooperating network of 141 regional and subregional libraries where they are circulated to eligible borrowers. Reading materials and playback machines are provided free to borrowers and returned to libraries by postage-free mail. For additional information about NLS, please visit its web site:

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Posted on 2011-01-10