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We are nearly there, a digital odyssey

Issued July 2001

An address to conventions of
American Council of the Blind, Des Moines, Iowa; July 2, 2001
National Federation of the Blind, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania: July 5, 2001

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

Introductory Comments

It is good to be back with you in Convention. The Library of Congress staff members with me have been and will be at the NLS booth to meet and talk with you about library matters. Following my comments, I will be available to discuss our digital work in any level of detail you may wish.

Before I get to my main purpose for being here today, I wish to share with you a few facts about reading and the sighted population. The Washington Post on May 14 ran an article by Linton Weeks that was subtitled, "More and More Americans Who Can Read are Choosing Not To." Mr. Weeks cited a survey firm--the "NDP Group." They stated that

". . . this country is reading printed versions of books, magazines and newspapers less and less. In 1991, more than half of all Americans read one-half hour or more every day. By 1999, that had dropped to 45 percent.
"Further, a 1999 Gallup Poll found that only 7 percent of Americans were voracious readers, reading more than a book a week, while some 59 percent said they had read fewer than 10 books in the previous year. Though book clubs seem popular now, only 6 percent of those who read belong to one. The number of people who don't read at all, the poll concluded, has been rising for the past 20 years."

In sum, more than 30 percent of the American population is functionally illiterate and those that can read and comprehend are doing so at a rapidly decreasing rate.

Why do I raise this? Because users of the talking-book program read an average of 30+ books and magazines a year--many read hundreds of titles.

This is why it is vital that our library service be continuously improved, to meet the needs of a demanding clientele--among the group you members of the National Federation of the Blind.

We Are Nearly There

Now for "We Are Nearly There" -- Being a federal bureaucrat and especially attentive to facts and truth as such, I find it an obligation to define "We" and "Nearly There." We, of course, is the National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped of the Library of Congress and "Nearly There" means Digital Talking Books (DTBs) will be issued starting no later than seven years from now--2008.

With this said publicly, and with full accountability, I will now talk a bit about what we are currently doing and how things are moving.

First, NISO standard work has been virtually completed! Following a formal vote by the NISO membership, the document will be fully available for all to use. We have been informed that the DAISY effort will adopt it as their standard. So--there we are.

A Digital Talking Book (DTB) simulator is being stabilized.

Our Life Cycle Cost Model is being updated.

Flash memory scenarios are being evaluated.

Analog book titles are being selected for conversion to digital. One thousand have been identified and are in process. One thousand will be selected every year.

Digital books are being produced in the NLS recording studio.

Selected Digital Books in NLS Studio

Books approved by Quality Assurance and sent for duplication (3 of 5):

Books sent to Quality Assurance (6 of 14):

Books in production in the Studio (8 of 13):

Perhaps the most exciting work in progress is our Cooperative Agreement with the Industrial Designers Society of America (IDSA) to the point of conducting a Digital Audio Player Student Design Competition in which industrial design students are tasked with developing digital audio playback devices designed to overcome physical and environmental access limitations. The IDSA agrees to provide, and LC/NLS agrees to fund to the extent authorized by law, the management services indicated in the Revised Proposal for Data Entry Device Competition. The Competition shall be conducted in accordance with the Competition Official Rules, which have been agreed upon.

We will be encouraging industrial design students in developing possible "skin jobs." The students will, in effect, design the box in which the solid state flash memory stick will be placed and which together--box and stick--will comprise the Digital Talking Book Player. The contest will commence in the spring term of the next school year and will close in May with the awarding of prizes. To publicize the competition:

The First Place winner will receive a $5,000 award. Second and third place prizes will be awarded, as will a $ prize for the faculty advisor of the first place winner. What NLS will get are ideas--not a final product.

By now you have the idea. We are well on the way to the Digital Talking Book. We expect to begin issuing them in seven years--2008.


Before I conclude, just a few words about Web-Braille--our existing digital library effort.

Web-Braille, NLS braille books on the Internet, continues to grow and is receiving an enthusiastic response from users. With nearly 1,500 users and almost 3,800 titles, Web-Braille is now a permanent part of the NLS program.

Initially, Web-Braille users could only locate books on the site by searching a series of static pages that listed the 2,600 titles first mounted on the system. After installing a new NLS online catalog with enhanced capabilities, links were added to the catalog records for all books available in Web-Braille. Users can now use the full power of the NLS catalog to search by title, author, subject, etc., while limiting their search to Web-Braille books. The site contains instructions for such searches.

Following the successful pilot test of Web-Braille magazine distribution, as of May 1, 2001, NLS has made braille magazines a regular part of Web-Braille. Braille magazine contractors are now required to transfer grade 2 files to the site within one working day after shipment of the embossed copies is completed.

For older books, NLS will pilot test the creation of Web-Braille files by scanning embossed braille with optical braille-recognition software. If the pilot proves successful, NLS will begin adding selected pre-BR 8800 titles to the site, focusing on classic children's titles and missing components of series.

Thank you and do know that. . . . . "We are Nearly There!"

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Posted on 2010-11-12