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Our Digital World

Issued July 2000

An address to conventions of
American Council of the Blind, July 2000
National Federation of the Blind, July 2000

by Frank Kurt Cylke, Director, National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped , Library of Congress

Introductory Comments

Good morning! Well, here we are once again meeting in convention to discuss the talking-book program. As usual, I have brought several National Library Service staff with me to be at our booth and to meet and talk with any of you who wish to learn a bit more in depth about any of our activities. Following my comments we will be available to discuss our digital work in any level of detail you may wish. If any of you wish to consider book topics, please do come to the room noted in the program. I am actually starved for book talk and am looking for an excuse any excuse to chat about Harry Potter or Ishmael the biblical, literary or ape figure as you wish.

But back to those with me this year. Please find them at our table and do feel free to ask away.


Now to our Digital World. Last year I told you we began work in earnest on developing a digital audio program. We have, and we are well into the effort.

As you all most certainly know, NLS produces approximately 2,000 talking book titles in 1,000 copies, and 45 audio magazines per year on specially formatted cassette tape for distribution to nearly 730,000 qualified individuals. Cassette books and specially designed players are delivered by the U.S. Postal Service from a network of cooperating libraries. To control the cost of technical obsolescence and to meet patron and congressional expectations, NLS will replace the existing analog system with a digital system over the next ten years.

The increasing prevalence, popularity, and economy of digital electronics motivates us to plan for the implementation of a completely digital audio service within the decade. This process means using digital methods throughout the production and distribution stream, from studio recording of digital original masters and digital collection management to digital product distribution and digital playback. The complexity and cost of the transition are consequences of size. We annually circulate about 23,000,000 audio books and magazines and support the use of more than 700,000 cassette and disc units.

The transition to digital is high risk! In response, we have developed a master plan and have made significant progress in its implementation. Before I go any further, I will detail our schedule for introducing digital mastering (recording) in all of our studios to demonstrate that we are serious and have publicly committed ourselves.

  1. Inform C&L of intention to require original digital masters from all paid contractors--February 2000.
  2. Announce in CBD and send letters to current producers; send letters to volunteer producers--February 2000.
  3. Initiate drafting of specifications--February 2000.
  4. Draft specifications ready for review--May 2000.
  5. Share specifications with producers--June 2000.
  6. Hold recorded producers conference--July 2000.
  7. Finalize draft specifications--October 2000.
  8. Prepare audio book Invitation-For-Bid Statement of Work to include a percentage of original digital master recordings as noted--January 2001.
  9. Issue Invitation-For-Bid for original digital master recordings-- August 2001.
  10. Award contracts--October 2001.
  11. Production--Minimum of 10% contract titles as digital masters-- December 2001.
  12. Production--Minimum of 50% contract titles as digital masters-- December 2002.
  13. Production--100% of contract titles as digital masters--December 2003.

The thirteen steps were noted so that you could get a taste for the complexity of the work involved. In sum, it means that by December 2003 one hundred percent of our audio books will be recorded digitally. You will still be receiving analog cassette tapes but the masters will be digital and ready for future digital implementation.

Concurrently, we are pursuing a life cycle cost modeling effort. In the simplest terms, we must know the costs of providing service using our existing analog technology. We must be able to project the costs out ten years, and we must be able to estimate the cost of a digital alternative. To this end, we have engaged a commercial firm with expertise in cost modeling to build a software tool that will enable us to make the required estimates and support decision-making. The firm is Northrop Grumman.

I will now give you a feel for what we are examining. Our data dictionary holds 98 identifiers. All 98 are described, given a value, and identified in detail.

What I have just listed deals only with life cycle costs of our existing books, equipment, and service. We are now able to compare different digital delivery systems against it and determine future action. Our first life cycle cost comparison will be against compact disk books and sound reproducers. After this, we must figure in your feelings -- user feelings -- and discover how user-friendly the equipment can be. This, of course, is as important as the costs or even more so.

The last step in the transition process is to gradually replace cassette players with portable digital playback devices. This final step in the transition will be built upon changes to digital production, storage, and distribution methods that are made far in advance of providing digital players. Our plans are to have a digitally mastered collection of about 10,000 titles available no later than 2008.

Now, why did I go through all these mind-numbing items today? Simply to show you that we are actively pursuing a digital transfer, that we are contemplating all aspects required in a change, that there is no simple answer, and that we cannot just jump into a digital CD, for example.

Our problem as you have heard me say often is a $150 million problem. It must be addressed with care. The program that replaces our current analog program must cost no more than that and must be more efficient and useful to you the user.

So, I now say thank you for staying with me. Do come to visit with us for more in-depth discussion after this session.

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Posted on 2010-11-12