September 2009 VOLUME 5 - ISSUE 2


After two decades of research and planning, design and production, testing and modifications, the National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped (NLS), Library of Congress, is ready to begin mass distribution of its digital talking-book system.

A prelaunch test was successfully completed in July 2009. NLS delivered 5,000 digital talking-book players and nearly 18,000 copies of 54 digital talking-book titles to 8 participating libraries across the country and to JBI International of New York City. These libraries then distributed the players and books to a select group of their most active patrons.

Only six of the talking-book players were returned because of operational issues during the ten-week test. Other problems identified with the system included ink on the book-cartridge labels that sometimes smeared with handling, mailing container cards that fell from their slots, and two battery-operated players that turned themselves on after being turned off. These problems have been addressed.

“The prelaunch verified that the materials developed for the digital transition have been appropriately designed, thoroughly tested, and are being properly produced,” said Michael Katzmann, chief of the NLS Materials Development Division.


As of August 1, 2009, Shinano-Kenshi Co., the manufacturer of the digital talking-book player, began shipping 14,400 machines from its plant in Ueda City, Japan, to its Nexus Distribution Center in Allentown, Pennsylvania, which houses Shinano-Kenshi’s acceptance facility. Nexus employees, under the guidance of NLS and Shinano-Kenshi staff, inspect the players before preparing them for distribution. NLS has sent two staff members from its Quality Assurance Section to Allentown on a weekly basis to oversee this process. Shipment was initiated on August 14.

Shinano-Kenshi air shipped the initial batch of 14,400 players from Japan to ensure the rollout of the digital talking-book system is kept on schedule. Remaining players will be sent by ship from Japan through the Panama Canal to the United States.

Production line
Bob Mainhart (third from left), NLS quality assurance specialist, and Michelle Spezzacatena (second from left), NLS production control specialist, review the final test of the digital talking-book player (far right) on the production line at Shinano-Kenshi, Ueda City, Japan. Mainhart and Spezzacatena have been working with staff on site at the Japan facility since May 28, 2009, overseeing production and communicating regularly with NLS staff in Washington, D.C. Mainhart completed his overseas assignment on August 12, when NLS quality assurance specialist Rob Zebrowski joined Spezzacatena to continue on-site work through August 31.


The Dongguan, China, manufacturing plant of California-based Northstar Systems Inc. will have, as of August 26, 2009, manufactured and shipped 730,000 flash-memory cartridges to NLS audio producers and 45,900 cartridges to NLS network libraries that will use them to record audiobooks.


LC Industries, based in Hazlehurst, Mississippi, is the contractor for the blue plastic containers that are used to mail digital talking books to patrons. The nonprofit organization, affiliated with the National Industries for the Blind, has been shipping 30,000 containers a week to NLS producers since mid-July.


Digital talking books are also being shipped across the country. NLS selected 650 new titles for distribution on cartridges in digital format in 2008. The projected number of new “born digital” titles for 2009 through 2013 is 2,000 per year, with the number of copies per titles increasing each year until 2012, at which time it will level off to 925 copies per title, or 1.8 million digital talking books per year.

In addition to the new titles produced, since 2004 approximately 10,000 titles from the analog collection were selected for conversion to digital format. In total, roughly 13,000 retrospective titles are projected to be available in digital format for 2009 and 15,000 will be by 2010. Retrospective titles are listed on the NLS Braille and Audio Reading Download (BARD). Reissues of selected retrospective titles will continue to be offered on cartridges (on a limited basis), along with all of the new titles.

For Information on the NLSDigital Project e-mail: To view the strategic business plan on the Web visit