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NLS: That All May Read

Alternatives for Future Operations of the Books for the Blind Program

Section 4 - Major NLS Short-Term Tasks

Several major tasks should be performed by NLS in the near future, i.e., within a short-term planning horizon during the current transition to the digital-based system, in order for NLS to chart a proper course over a long-range planning horizon.  These tasks are listed below, while longer-term tasks and goals that cannot be undertaken until the transition is completed are presented in Sections 5 and 6.

4.1 Assess Program User Needs and Resources

While NLS knows the age and disability demographics of its current program users (or about 95 percent of them) from the CMLS database, and their reading preferences from the Copy Allotment process and CMLS periodical subscriptions, it does not know several important characteristics that are required to plan the course of future program operations.  The most recent comprehensive survey of program users was completed in January 2004 and used data from 2003; this baseline is dated, and it is imperative that this information be updated.  The characteristics of interest for current program users include, but may not be limited to:

Additionally, forecasts of important characteristics of future program users should be made after estimates for current program users are available since the user population will change over time.

Some of this information may be gleaned from the Collection Development Advisory Group by requesting that it address specifically as many of the above questions as possible.  Alternatively, a focus group(s) could be used to collect some of this information, one variation of which is to include individuals who are eligible for the program and who use the program, and individuals who are eligible but do not use the program.  For certain information, however, such as what proportion of program users has one characteristic or another, a survey must be conducted rather than using a focus group, likely using a sample size of slightly over 400 users, unless estimates for multiple subpopulations (e.g., users under age 65 and over age 65) are sought, in which case larger samples would be required.

Two other possibilities for obtaining information on current program readership may be somewhat useful, albeit not as useful as the information cited above.  The first of these is the 2010 Decennial Census and the second is the most recent or upcoming American Community Survey.  In each case, the questions asked of the survey respondents on the questionnaires (in the case of the Decennial Census, the long-form questionnaire) could be reviewed first to determine if a proxy population can be defined (e.g., those who are blind, or blind or disabled, or disabled, etc.) and second to determine if any useful information is solicited and collected (e.g., do you have broadband?).

4.2 Assess the Impact of Broadband Access, BARD, DTBMs, and DB Mass-Duplication

An important question to be answered is how will BARD delivery of audiobooks as a program option, increasing availability of broadband Internet access to program users, and increasing availability of DTBMs to program users simultaneously affect the production requirements for DBs on cartridges in the years ahead.  A related question is how much BARD capacity must grow, driven by increased DTBM and broadband availability to users and increased acceptance of BARD, in order to plan for the timing of such capacity expansion.

An evaluation should be performed that models various feasible scenarios for broadband access by program users, availability of DTBMs, acceptance level and use of BARD, and DB cartridge production.  In such a model, the availability of DTBMs would likely be set to the NLS planned production quantities for the near future as a baseline, with various values within probable ranges used for the proportion of program users with broadband and acceptance/use level of BARD, with DB cartridge-production quantities as model outputs.  Alternatively, DB cartridge-production quantities could be an input variable to the model, but the former is more likely.  In any event, the objective would be to plan simultaneously for the likely expansion of BARD download activity and the likely contraction of DB cartridge-production quantities in future years.

4.3 Assess Additional Roles for Public Libraries

NLS will perform an assessment of the potential roles that those public libraries not already participating in the Books for the Blind Program as network libraries could play in the future system.  As cited in Section 3, this would involve an assessment of both capabilities, i.e., which program functions could public libraries feasibly and logically perform, and intentions, i.e., what additional services (e.g., audiobooks) are planned for implementation over the upcoming years in public libraries.

To accurately assess both the capabilities and intentions of the public libraries may be difficult given the number of libraries and their diversity, but it should at least be attempted.  It may be that a survey will be necessary, although communications with professional associations and literature reviews of their research may provide data with sufficient specificity for NLS planning purposes.

4.4 Communicate NLS Objectives to Network Libraries

NLS must continue to communicate its objectives for future operations of the Books for the Blind Program to the cooperating network of libraries in a consistent and ongoing manner.  Ongoing contact with network libraries by NLS should be continued in order to identify current or envisioned problems in operations during and after the transition to the new digital system.  NLS should, forthwith, work with network libraries that are having problems distributing DTBMs in a timely manner, and should promulgate the following advice to libraries regarding distribution of DTBMs: send to all new users; send to E-1 users; send advanced digital players to students; send to users who have used the program the longest; send to users who use the service the most; and begin distribution to institutions.

4.5 Advise and Assist Network Libraries Regarding Economic Problems

NLS has identified possible options to address the economic problems currently facing network libraries.  This is being  accomplished by working though the network libraries, one-by-one, in order to identify specific fiscal problems that are obstacles to service.  Once these problems are identified, NLS should share those specific concerns with the network libraries’ administering agencies.  NLS should also identify possible funding sources for network libraries to utilize to acquire more staffing if required, including grant funding that may be customized by state.  Efforts in this regard began in July 2010, when Advocacy Toolkits developed by NLS that contain fundraising tips for obtaining public funds were promulgatged to network libraries.

4.6 Assist Network Libraries in Marketing the Digital System

NLS continues to assist network libraries with public education efforts, including marketing the new digital talking-book system. The firm Fleishman-Hillard has been awarded a contract to conduct a national campaign promoting the digital talking-book player. The campaign is built around the celebration of the 80th anniversary of the program, which will take place on March 3, 2011. Network libraries will be provided a toolkit to work with media at the local level. In addition, NLS has provided images of the digital system and images of patrons using the books and players online for network libraries to browse and download for their public education needs. In addition, a new poster series featuring the latter images was developed and is being distributed on a staggered schedule over the next three years. NLS has produced background modular displays and banners featuring these images that libraries may also borrow. The network is kept apprised of marketing activities and opportunities through media service bulletins, network bulletins, and operations alerts.

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Posted on 2011-03-14