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NLS-REPORTS  February 2002

NLS-REPORTS February 2002


Network Bulletin No. 02-04


National Library Service for the Blind <[log in to unmask]>


NLS Documents for Network Libraries <[log in to unmask]>


Mon, 4 Feb 2002 14:54:45 -0500





TEXT/PLAIN (1123 lines)

Network Bulletin No. 02-04

Date: February 1, 2002

Subject: Digital Long-Term Planning Group

Index Term: Report from the October 2001 meeting

The digital long-term planning group, announced in Network
Bulletin 01-32, held its first meeting on October 24-26.
A summary of the meeting is attached.

For further information contact:

Robert McDermott
Automation Officer



Digital Long-Term Planning Group
Meeting 1
October 24 - 26, 2001

__Group Members Participating:

Stephen Booth, NFB
Jerry Buttars, Utah
Paul Edwards (for Chris Gray), ACB
Barbara Goral, Colorado
Karen Keninger, Iowa
Deborah Rutledge, New Jersey
Guynell Williams, South Carolina
Bob Axtell, NLS (Recorder)
John Cookson, NLS
Kurt Cylke, NLS
Judy Dixon, NLS
Brad Kormann, NLS
Bob McDermott, NLS (Chair)
Mary Mohr, NLS
Michael Moodie, NLS
Steve Prine, NLS
Carolyn Sung, NLS

Wednesday, October 24

_9:00-10:30    Background

Kurt Cylke welcomed team members and thanked them for their
willingness to participate in the effort.  He noted that the
members of the group were selected because of their
demonstrated  interest or expertise in the issues and their
willingness to speak up on issues of importance to the
service.   The group was formed to involve the network in
certain details of planning for the digital talking-book and
also because we came to realize that there were parts of the
digital world other than talking book technologies that
should be considered as we explore opportunities to advance
the service.

Some of the changes in the digital world could inevitably
lead to significant changes in the service.  NLS is looking
to this group for ideas and suggestions.  The work of the
group will be the primary focus of the discussions at the
2002 national conference in Richmond.  In this meeting, we
will be asking the group for help in drafting the conference
agenda and to plan the presentations on the work of the

Bob McDermott reiterated the two-phase approach for the
meeting.  In half the sessions, the NLS Digital-Audio
Development Project (DAD) team will present its status to
date and the issues for discussion by the group.  In the
other half, the group will brainstorm and discuss other
developments in the digital world that might be incorporated
into the service.  That part of the program should also to
be considered in two parts: those developments we can choose
to make use of, or not; and those developments that will
affect the service in any case.  This project is expected to
run for about five years and the group will meet once or
twice per year.

E-books were presented as one of the technologies that could
have an enormous impact on our service.  The group noted
that the  effects of commercial e-books were already
becoming evident in their local libraries.  A few scenarios
of how network libraries might operate in the context of a
burgeoning commercial e-book world were suggested, the most
radical being the mainstreaming of blind and physically
handicapped people and the elimination of the service.
While this scenario was seen by all as unlikely, it was
suggested that the group at some point in its discussions
address the issues of what our service will be like in the
future and what services make us unique -- make us what we are.
The members of the group were then invited to give their thoughts
on the topics introduced.  There followed a full and freewheeling
discussion.  In the interest of clarity, the discussion is
summarized and organized by topic rather than presented

__Library staffing:  With new technologies appearing and
patron experience and expectations changing, libraries need
to assess what skills will be necessary in the future and
plan for how our staff skills will need to change.  The
group should examine what will be the distribution of
responsibilities between NLS and network libraries in the
area of new technologies.

__Special service for blind people: In light of
technological advances, what are the prospects for
mainstreaming of our patrons to public libraries and
bookstores?  At present, the coverage of audio books in
public libraries is spotty, at best, and they can be
expected to be the first to be reduced in times of cost
cutting.  We are also unsure of the availability of a
reasonable collection of audio books in most bookstores.
Even if there were good collections of audio books in public
libraries and bookstores, our patrons often cannot  get
those locations and neither of those services is set up to
provide significant telephone and mail service.  In
addition, commercial books today do not have the elements
required by our patrons (braille labels, introductory
information, side announcements, etc.).  Concern was
expressed about the costs of commercial e-books and audio
books and their compatibility with the DTB. There was a
general discussion that strongly emphasized the need for
reader advisors and their importance to service, and the
inadequacy of public libraries to provide the level of
service required by our patrons .

__Legislative mandate: It was pointed out that the NLS
charter is to provide books to our patrons that are not
otherwise available to them.   Unabridged popular books are
more and more available from commercial producers in audio
formats.  Legislators might require NLS to change its
selection policy to cover only those books not available
commercially.  Will network libraries build their own
collections of commercially available popular books?  Will
patrons have to rely on public libraries or bookstores for
their books?  These issues need to be addressed by the

__Demographics:  There was much discussion of who our users
are and who they will be in the future.  While there were
proponents of a technically savvy user population and
proponents of those needing the simplest technology, there
was no disagreement that we will need to serve both.  It
will be important to plan for the future and to plan for
what kind of patrons we will have.  New users seem to spike
in two groups -- very young and very old (75-100).  While we
may see more computer users, others may never become
comfortable with computers, regardless of age.  Some people
will want a variety of ways to read our materials.  Even if
they are technically competent, they may not always wish to
use computers for their reading.  As we get more computer
users in the user population, we need to create a range of
delivery models for different skill levels or uses.   As we
look at issues of our patrons, we need to be sure to include
the physically handicapped population that is sometimes not
well represented.

__Service ease of use:  The need to maintain simplicity was
often repeated.  By simplicity, the participants seemed to
stress simplicity of the service, not just simplicity of the
talking-book machine.  The library is often the first
service a newly disabled or blind person is willing to use,
and it cannot be off-putting.  It needs to be easily
accepted. Two issues were raised relating to simplicity.
One is that many people using the service become blind late
in life and find it difficult to adjust to all life
functions under blindness.  These people can easily become
frustrated and refuse the service.  Another group that
requires a very low level of complexity is the users who are
print illiterate and come to reading as they lose their
sight and gain access to narrated books.  Income and class
level can also be barriers to more sophisticated devices or
services.    Assistive devices like our players cannot be

Many in the group reiterated the need for a real person to
help with book selection, and that automated phone systems
would not work with many users.  Some technologies may
provide "more efficient" ways of communicating with patrons,
but those technologies require well-formed or specific
questions, and patrons often have requests that are nearly
incomprehensible unless you have a person to help.

__Technological opportunities:  On the other hand, new
technologies were offered as ways to break down existing
barriers to the service.  The Utah regional library has held
discussions with a firm, Talk2 Technology, about digitizing
books and making them available on a voice-activated
service.  They are considering a VOIP (Voice over Internet
Provider) technology that allows a patron to speak requests
rather than type them.  A phone-based service was suggested
as a way to  to preview books and help patrons make their
selections.  It was suggested that braille is used by an
elite few, because of bulk and training needed to use it.
Perhaps new technology, such as inexpensive refreshable
displays, will increase use of braille.  It was advised that
there is a significant need for user technical support with
any complicated technology and that we need to plan for that
from the beginning.

__Mainstream sources for NLS materials:  It was suggested
that we look at the growth of commercial or other e-books as
an opportunity for changing the service.  We could look to
developing and implementing agreements with the commercial
producers to convert their books for our use.  Perhaps we
will see an electronic text depository in the Copyright
Office of the Library of Congress that could be used as the
basis for an on-demand system.  If so, we should look at the
extent to which this would be integrated with current NLS
services or kept separate from them.  Perhaps Web-Braille
could be a model for e-text or digital (text) masters of our

__Accessibility of new technologies: We need to keep
accessibility issues in mind.  The line is blurring between
book players and other devices.  Many new devices for
playback or communications, such as PDAs or cell phones with
e-mail and other non-"telephone" functions, are not
accessible.   Unless we act soon we may lose access to many
of these accessories for streaming media, etc.  While such
advocacy is not a library role, we should follow the lead of
the consumer groups.

__NLS DTB: NLS was asked how long the new format can be
expected to last before we have to change again.  NLS had no
definitive answer; however, we recognize that we cannot turn
the service around in five years, but we do not expect any
technology to last twenty years either.  It was noted that
the volunteer repair program is ready to move to digital
players.  It was suggested that NLS should make the new
player smaller than the current one.  Younger people,
especially students, think of the big player as a stigma and
don't want to be seen with it.

__10:45-12:15  Digital Audio Development Project

Members of the NLS Digital Audio Development (DAD) project
team presented reports on a variety of aspects of the
project.  Brad Kormann gave an overview of the project
status, referring to "Digital Talking Books: Planning for
the Future", "Twenty Steps to Next Generation NLS
Technology",  and the "DAD Two Year Plan."  Michael Moodie
discussed the Digital Talking Book (DTB) features defined in
the NISO standard.  John Cookson and Lloyd Rasmussen
discussed and demonstrated a DTB simulation using a personal
computer as a strategy for designing the features of the new

Kormann discussed building a collection of DTBs with enough
titles to support an initial distribution of machines.  He
said that the focus for NLS at the moment is on the
selection of current analog titles for conversion and on
scheduling book contractors to deliver new titles recorded
in a digital format.  Contractors are being phased into
digital production, with 100 percent of titles being
digitally recorded by 2004.  The discussion covered
automated tools for testing books to assure that they meet
the specified standards.  For producing NISO-compliant DTBs,
NLS is defining the requirements for a system to record
digital masters and produce the associated NISO
administrative files, and is evaluating the use of an IBM
product, TALC, that will produce word-level timing files for
recordings that have associated full-text electronic files.
NLS is developing a low-complexity digital mastering system
for recording digital masters in a volunteer studio

John Bryant described the Digital Player Design project, a
contest sponsored by NLS for industrial design students to
develop innovative designs for the outside of the new DTB
player.  It is not expected that the contest will result in
the ultimate design of the DTB player, but it may produce
some innovative ideas for parts of the design.   There was a
discussion of the design of the electronics of the DTB
player and of the need to protect DTBs from copyright
infringement.  The session ended with a discussion of issues
of distribution methods for the DTBs within the network and
the use of the Life Cycle Cost model (LCC) to evaluate the
costs of various scenarios.

Other than questions on the detail, there was little
discussion during the presentations.  The one discussion
topic of note was the extent to which NLS books and players
would have the full NISO features.  By full features, we
mean the books would have administrative files to allow the
user to navigate directly to any word in the text and that
the player would have hardware features (buttons) to support
that navigation, as well as the added features of
bookmarking, highlighting, note taking, etc.  NLS expects to
have a variety of styles for books, depending on content.
It expects to have very few with full text navigability
because of the cost.  Most novels and other fiction will
probably be navigable only at the chapter-heading level.
Other books will have something in between.

__1:15-2:45    Digital Talking Book (DTB) Distribution

Michael Moodie presented a discussion of the issues facing
NLS in the selection of a medium for the distribution of
DTBs.  The discussion centered on three options: CD-ROM, the
Internet, and flash memory.  Each was described in terms of
its positive and negative aspects, generating a lively group

CD-ROMS are widely used and understood.  They are low cost,
a commodity product.  They have a large capacity, and
duplication equipment is widely available.  The problem is
that the CDs are fragile; that is, they are hard to handle
without damaging them.  They are prone to skipping when they
are bumped or scratched.  We might distribute them in a
caddy, but patrons might try to remove them from the caddy.
CD-ROM players are electro-mechanical and, thus, prone to
damage.  The mechanism is sensitive, and the internals are
not easily repaired.  While CDs are fast, they are not true
random-read devices and may be slower in navigation.  CDs
are cheap to produce but the player is expensive and has a
high repair cost.

The negatives for CDs are strong enough that we want to
avoid them, but if something happened and we had to quickly
move from cassettes, we could go to a CD format.  It was
suggested that we could use existing PC hardware (a CD-ROM
drive) and special software for a player, but this is
tricky.  The parts of the player have to work together, and
there are detailed specifications for each component
(regarding voltage, pins, etc.), so that we can pop in new
replacements from other sources as long as they conform to
the spec.  CD components do not have the amount of
standardization to allow this.  New versions keep coming out
with parts that are incompatible with older models.  Other
producers are doing CD-ROM books.  How are they addressing
these issues? They will have to use Victor or Plextor but we
could not use those machines for our service because of all
the issues mentioned above.  It was suggested that we might
benefit from the availability of their books, but our
experience with those producers is that they tend to get
books from us, not the other way around.  If we needed to
exchange books through interlibrary loan, we could very
easily copy digital files from one medium to another.  We
hope not to do CD, but if we did, we would go for at least
ten years.  We think cassettes are still viable for the time
frame of the transition to a non-CD book.  Cassettes are
still used for commercial audio books, but tape choices will
diminish as will parts availability for the deck.

Internet delivery would give us the advantage of no storage
space required for the collections in network libraries and,
for patrons,  the availability of the entire collection,
twenty-four hours per day, seven days per week.  It was
suggested that there was a significant benefit in that we
would not have to provide playback machines, but this aspect
relates to a very critical disadvantage.  We are working
under the assumption that the service  will be essentially
the same under digital as under analog, that is,  the
service is free -- we provide the patron with everything
necessary to read the book.  If we provide our books over
the Internet, we would have to supply a computer or build a
modem into the player.  Delivery, as it would depend on
phone lines or Internet service, would no longer be free.
The narrated files are 250 MB, on average, and will take a
very long time to download.  Downloading may be too complex
an activity for some users.  Text files would be much
smaller, but synthetic speech is not adequate for NLS books.
Internet delivery does not seem to be a viable option as the
sole basis of the service, but it might be a component of a
multifaceted program.

Flash memory is compact, lightweight, and rewritable; has no
moving parts and thus no wear; is low maintenance; and has a
long life.  One problem is that, in its currently used
forms, it is too small for our patrons to keep track of and
has tiny, quite fragile connectors, though embedding it in a
larger, more durable cartridge is an option.  It was stated
that reputable sources say that flash memory tends to crash
and is not reliable, though other sources say the opposite.
That issue has not come up in NLS's investigations.  Flash
memory is not widely used in applications like ours, so
production-level duplication equipment and the like is not
readily available.  That is important for network libraries
that produce books locally.  Flash memory is expensive.  The
cost, $250 for an average book today, is way too high, but
Moore's law says it should go down quickly.  It has been
decreasing exponentially in recent years, but the rate of
decline could soon flatten.

In all the looking and evaluation NLS has done so far, it is
coming to the conclusion that flash memory is the best
candidate to appear so far.  The question was raised as to
whether or not the prognosis for flash memory will also
change, that it may not also soon become obsolete.  Flash
memory is standard and stable and widely used.  The
internals of a flash memory player can be made from standard
components.  They do not rely on the kind of proprietary
components found in CD drives.  In response to a question on
the energy use of flash memory player, NLS stated that it is
very low compared to the present system.  That would imply
an extended battery life.

We are looking at six to seven years for the price of flash
memory to become affordable, somewhere around $20 for a
book.  Our question is, can we send a $20 book out and
afford to have it not come back?  Would libraries need to
(or be willing to) impose stricter rules?  The library
representatives said it is common to charge deposits for
audio-described videos and the same might apply for these
books.  This year we hope to do two in-depth studies, using
industry experts, one on economic issues giving cost
projections over ten years and another on technical issues
such as write cycles, write speeds, and reliability.

Two alternative technologies were suggested, though not
pursued in discussions:  removable hard disk and DVD.  Also,
to keep the discussion of flash memory in perspective, we
were reminded to factor in the costs associated with the
playback device, as well as the digital book itself, in
order to get a true cost for any DTB system.

Michael Moodie closed the session with a reminder that in
the first session on Thursday we would be looking at
alternative scenarios for distributing flash memory DTBs.

__3:00-4:30 New Technologies: Opportunities for improved

Bob McDermott introduced this as the session to address
those new technologies that we may choose to pursue or not.
Two technologies, voice recognition systems and digital
signatures, had been suggested as topics to the participants
in an introductory letter.  NLS added the topic of
collaborative reference.  No other topics were suggested at
this session.

__Voice recognition systems:

One of the sparks that led to the formation of this group
was an unsolicited suggestion from a company that produces a
product called Speech Browser that allows a patron to call
an 800 number and, using spoken instructions, search a
catalog.  We got a demonstration of the system here at NLS
and it looked interesting.  While we are not sure whether
the union catalog is an appropriate base for such a system,
there may be other catalogs, such as Talking Book Topics or
perhaps bibliographies.  Meanwhile, as the result of our
announcement of the formation of the group, we received two
suggestions from network libraries for possible technologies
to pursue.  Both were the result of unsolicited offers and
both were for systems using voice recognition for some form
of book reading and navigation or catalog searching, either
online or over the internet.  One from a company called
Talk2 Technology and another from a company called Colligo
Systems.  The group was asked for its ideas on the possible
uses of voice recognition systems within the network.

The group generally agreed that such a system could not
replace the reader advisory service and should in no way
diminish it.  It is the reader advisors who make this
service so useful and special to so many.  While such a
system may have some use in ordering a book, it would not
work well for people who really did not know what they
wanted, or could not express it in the definite terms needed
by an automated system.  Our patron base is not one that is
receptive to this kind of technology.  If a system needed
much data entry from a telephone keypad, it would surely be
rejected.  A voice recognition system might have a bit more
success, but could still be frustrating to many patrons.

On the other hand, a number of the members of the group
thought such a system could be useful, so long as it was not
assumed to replace 'live' phone service.  It could be used
out of hours for ordering by book number.  Also, not all
patrons listen to TBT on cassette or have relatives to read
the print version to them, and not all can complete the
order forms.  This might provide a useful alternative.  We
need not correlate exactly to our current publications.  A
system could be used to compile new groupings of books, for
example highlighting older parts of the collection.  The
vendor also suggested using the phone as a book player.  How
about streaming the first chapter of a book to aid patron
selection?  Patrons could sample the narration and the
content, before deciding to order.

Some concern was expressed over the impact this might have
on the current environment.  If patrons could hear a sample
and reject books that, on hearing them, they don't want to
read, circulation could drop and have a negative effect on
library budgets.  While we see such systems only as
additions and alternatives to the reader advisory service,
administrators might see them as replacements and cut back
on reader advisor resources.  McDermott suggested that our
purpose was not necessarily to get a decision here to use
such a technology, but to investigate its use and to build a
common understanding of the issues.  Through our proceedings
and presentations, we would share this understanding with
the network for individual library use, perhaps as a
national program that individual libraries could choose to
participate in, or not.

Karen Keninger agreed to have the Iowa Library do a pilot
study and to share her experience with the network in a

__Digital signatures:

This issue relates to the requirement that applications for
service have a certification of eligibility from a qualified
authority, that the application be maintained by the
patron's library, and that the application be transferred to
the gaining library in any patron transfer.  The paperwork
takes up significant staff time at libraries and the
necessity for the maintenance of the form at the patron's
library inhibits the development of electronic patron

Digital signatures are now legally acceptable in many
circumstances.  The signed certification of eligibility is
the reason the applications must be kept.  The rest of the
data becomes obsolete over time.  If we could get digital
signatures for certifications of eligibility, we could
transfer the certifications electronically.  There is a
question of the extent to which the certifiers can produce a
digital signature.  It is expected some doctors can do so
now, for sending prescriptions to pharmacies electronically
and that, in the near future, most doctors will be doing so.
It is unknown to what extent the certifiers other than
doctors will be moving to electronic signatures in the

The ability to accept digital signatures leads to the
possibility of having an electronic application for service.
An electronic application form would have to be accessible,
but such a form would allow patrons who use computers to
apply for the service without a sighted person's assistance.
And electronic applications would facilitate the sharing of
applications between regional and subregional libraries.

The idea of electronic applications and certifications
opened up the idea of a national patron database containing
the essential data, including the certifications, for all
patrons.  That database might be an extension or revision of
CMLS.  It would make the patron transfer process much easier
and open up possibilities of other network-level data

__Collaborative reference:

Carolyn Sung described a Library of Congress project to sign
up libraries to work together to answer reference questions
in a collaborative, digital environment.  Participants can
use the service to get answers they cannot provide.  The
participating libraries indicate their collection and
reference strengths for a profile.  Libraries can enter
reference questions from patrons into the system and the
questions are directed by the system to the appropriate
source for an answer.  The response goes back to the
originating library, not the patron.  NLS plans on
participating in this system through the Library of
Congress, with a subject strength in blindness and

How could the network benefit from this?  Indirectly, they
might use NLS as a conduit or they might participate
directly themselves.  A few members of the group said that
their parent organizations had already joined the project
and they participated through the parent.  Others found that
their current sources were sufficient for their needs.

The big reference concern for network libraries was getting
responses back to patrons in a suitable, accessible format.
Most can get answers to most questions using local
resources, but when the answer is a document, converting the
document to a suitable format is the problem.
NLS has discussed faxing materials to volunteers to be
recorded, but that raised a lot of privacy concerns with LC
reference staff.

The general consensus was that network libraries do not have
any issue with getting answers to reference questions.  The
issue is getting the answer to the patron in a suitable

Thursday, October 25

__9:00-10:30    DTB Design Issues (continued)

The meeting opened as a continuation of the previous day's
discussion of the Digital Talking Book design issues, with
the distribution scenarios discussion postponed until the
second session.  John Cookson presented the twenty
principles for the design of a new digital talking book,
with a demonstration of some of the features given by Lloyd
Rasmussen using a software player that is used for the
development of the player's user interface.  The principles
are based, in part, on a paper (Paris, Rasmussen, and Dixon,
"The U.S. Talking Book System: Current and Future
Requirements"), presented at the IFLA Council and General
Conference, Moscow, 1991.  The principles are that the

1.   meets patron, provider, and sponsor expectations, i.e.
it has the features that users want, has the advantages that
librarians require, and is more economical to change to than
to continue with cassette technology;
2.   has noticeably better sound quality;
3.   transparently restricts use to qualified persons;
4.   provides immediate and easy access to book or magazine
product segments;
5.   has a distribution medium that is robust and easy to
6.   allows every title to fit entirely on one media unit;
7.   has a distribution medium able to withstand normal wear
associated with high circulation;
8.   supports field production of limited quantities of
audio books and magazines;
9.   supports timely direct circulation of magazines to
individual patrons;
10.  has an interface that can accommodate physical
disabilities and a wide range of features;
11.  implements pause, bookmark, and variable speed, etc.
(See NISO documents);
12.  is portable and battery-operated;

and that the planning;

13.  includes impact on libraries and machine lending
14.  addresses maintenance and repair and ways to use
volunteer resources;
15.  addresses all distribution factors (speed of delivery,
cost, and effect on the product, etc.;)
16.  includes a quality control system with uniform rules
and amenable to audit;
17.  provides that NLS have complete control of the design
and the configuration;
18.  specifies that NLS provide all needed material to the
19.  provides for specifications that open and freely
20.  addresses warranty, production capacity, production
reliability, and production timeliness.

The group discussed  the "access to segments" principle,
that is, that the book and player allow the user access by
chapter, part, etc., down to the word level.  For each
access point provided in a book, something must be done in
book production, either during narration or in a post-
production step, to put the access point into a data file.
The more access points it has, the more costly the book is
to produce.  Assuming a fixed resource available for book
production, more access points per book results in fewer
books produced.  The group debated the merits of access to
chapter levels in works of fiction, and most thought it
worthwhile, especially since it would not be hard
(expensive) to add it to new digital books.  For the
existing novels that will be converted from analog to
digital, it is expected that they will not have any access
points, although it was suggested that access to short story
titles or other parts of anthologies would be useful.  For
the converted books, NLS plans to provide access only to the
"tones" for those books that have been tone indexed, as is
usually the case in anthologies, etc.  All books will, of
course, be able to start up where the book was last turned
off. Players may also provide user-set navigation methods
such as bookmarking, highlighting, and time sequence skips.
Other suggestions included navigating by 'percent' (jump to
the 75 percent point of the text) or scanning for  pauses in
narration.  Most user-set navigation, however, would be
features found only in the more sophisticated player.  Many
patrons will want the basic player in order to avoid
operational complexity.

The group went on to discuss ways to build both easy and
advanced players economically.  We would like to build the
same machine for each, perhaps with some controls covered
over on the 'easy' player or perhaps having a completely
different control surface on the two players, but with the
internals of each player being identical.  There was
discussion of the use of different size flash memory chips,
versus one size of memory chip, and which would be the most
economical and easy to use in operations.  We are working on
the assumption that the flash memory chips will be reused
for different books (see distribution scenarios, below).  A
single size chip must be large enough to fit the largest of
books and wastes expensive memory.  Multiple size chips
require matching the right size chips to books when the book
is being loaded onto the chip, a substantial operational
expense in the reuse scenario.  We need to look at the

There was a long discussion of adding a principle that
downloadable versions of the DTBs be available on the web.
While everyone wants to do this, it could restrict our
future format changes if we have to maintain downward
compatibility for older software the users might have.
Having downloadable books would require a certain level of
technical support.  Who would provide that?  Several members
thought there should be an easy-to-use turnkey system for
downloadable books.  The group supported the concept, but
were reluctant to make it a requirement.

__10:45-12:15  DTB Distribution Scenarios

Michael Moodie presided over a discussion of the various
book distribution alternatives NLS has been looking at and
the method for evaluating them.  NLS has developed a Life
Cycle Cost (LCC) model of the service, including NLS,
network, and postal costs.  The model allows us to plug in
the expected cost factors for any two scenarios and compare
the total costs.  A short description of the model and a
table of the cost factors for two alternatives were
distributed at the meeting.

During the review of the LCC, many became concerned about
the accuracy of the cost values in the distributed table of
the model elements.   It was explained that the purpose of
the model was to be able to compare scenarios, two at a
time.  A model to get an accurate estimate of the costs of a
selected scenario would require a more strict analysis of
the cost elements not needed for comparison purposes.  In
this model, some cost elements remain the same across all
scenarios and a best-guess estimate is all that is needed.
We have concentrated on those elements that will have
different costs across the scenarios and that will have
significant effects on the total cost of the system.  Many
numbers in the handout are still very soft, some because
they have little effect on the outcomes, and others because
we do not know yet.  We are just beginning to use the model.
Some elements will be nailed down during the more extensive
study of the economics and technology of flash memory in the
next year.  Our purpose now is for the group to review the
tools that we will be using in our future evaluations.  We
will focus on the values at a later date.

The cost element for network library space provoked a
particular discussion.  It was suggested that a reduction in
space requirements would not necessarily have a cost savings
because the library space is agency-owned and the network
library receives no benefit from using less space.  On the
other hand, in a scenario where the collection takes
significantly less storage, the space might be given to
another agency and its value would no longer be attributed
as a cost to the library program.  Some felt that space was
a good measure of impact, and that some parent agencies
would view it as a savings.

Three flash memory scenarios were presented:

1.   One book, one chip: This is analogous to the current
cassette production.  NLS would produce each copy of a book
on its own flash memory chip and these would be distributed
in the quantities requested by the libraries through copy
allotment.  Libraries would shelve the copies and circulate
the books as is done today.  Libraries with the capability
would make additional copies as needed.

2.   Rewrite the chip for each circulation: Here, a chip is
rewritten with a new title each time it is circulated.  Each
book being sent out would be written to a chip as part of
the sending process, writing over whatever was on the chip

3.   Hybrid: This is a combination of the two scenarios
above.  Recent, high-demand books would be kept in the
collection and circulated as today.  Books in low-demand
would be written to a chip when needed.

In Scenarios 2 and 3 it was assumed that NLS would pay for
the process of recycling and labeling the chips, possibly
through the use of a centralized production facility.

Discussion focused on the delays of a central facility, and
the inability to do rush jobs for customers, one of the
features of the personalized service that makes us so
special.  In this scenario, libraries could still write a
chip on demand and send it out immediately, if they wanted
to.  In general, system delays might be comparable to
braille shipped from a contract braille provider, which
seemed to be acceptable to many.

A review of Scenario 1's total costs showed how the many
factors of the total system interacted in ways that would be
hard to see without the LCC model.  Some results are
surprising.   In a first-cut analysis, the cost of Scenario
1 after ten years was lower than the cassette service.

Concern was expressed at treating the chip cost as a
limiting factor, making the chip itself a scarce resource.
That could cause a negative effect on circulation in these
scenarios.  We may wind up with circulation limits or
ceilings on the number of books a patron may have at any
time.  It was pointed out that most libraries already have
limits on the number of books a patron may have at a time.
Also, most titles sit on the shelves now, using up available
media.  So putting books on chips only on demand could free
up chips and make them less scarce.  Concern was also
expressed that losing a book might result in a patron being
barred from service.  It was thought that even with stricter
enforcement, libraries must have discretion and be able to
make allowance for normal losses.  The current machine loans
were analogous: they are expensive, but only on repeated
losses are patrons circumscribed.

__1:15 -2:45   New Technologies: The changing environment

After lunch John Cookson suggested another scenario for DTB
distribution: emerging very high density chips could allow
thousands of titles on one media unit.  We could give
patrons the whole collection and allow them to select and
read whatever they want, whenever they want it.  This idea
was left for discussion at a later time.

The discussion then moved to emerging technologies/events
that are changing the environment in which the service
operates and that will inevitably affect our future.
Decision makers may propose changes to our service based on
these technologies, without understanding enough to know
whether the result will be for good or ill.  We need to
examine the issues in order to be able to guide the decision
makers in their planning.  With sufficient forethought, we
might be able to channel these technologies to provide an
improved service and stave off their negative effects.

The primary issue discussed in this session was the rise of
commercial audio book and its possible effects on our
service.  The question was asked "Could our patrons get
their books from public libraries or buy their own?  Is
there a need for our service?"

The question resulted in an extended discussion of the
failings of public libraries to meet needs of blind patrons.
Public libraries do not provide individual service, and the
blind populace was not concentrated enough to make it likely
public libraries would try more.  Most public libraries
operate on the premise that patrons come to them and it is
difficult for people who are blind to get to the library.
Public library service is built in so many ways around the
premise that their users are sighted.  Experience with
adaptive technology placed in public libraries is an
example: typically, staff do not know how to use the
equipment and they just point patrons to it rather than
assist them with using it.  Illinois was cited as an example
of a failed attempt at mainstreaming the blind.  The concept
of blind people buying their own books was also seen as not
viable for a large percentage of our patrons, given the high
cost of the books and generally low income levels among
blind people of working age.

Many of the objections to moving blind readers to obtaining
books from public libraries and bookstores implied that our
service is simply a better, more personalized service than
is available to the sighted population.  Is the blind
community simply spoiled by our service?  While some thought
our present service was very good and indeed spoiled blind
users, others thought that the comparatively small size of
collections, if nothing else, meant that they were far from
spoiled.  But more to the point, the group felt there were
reasons why the blind community needed these special
services.  The question then was posed: Why does the blind
community need a separate service?

__Special needs of our patrons not related to reading:
A large percentage of our patrons are elderly, as well as
blind.  And we serve physically handicapped readrs as well.
In general, our patrons tend to be economically
disadvantaged and cannot afford to buy books and players.  A
free library service is their only source of reading and, in
many cases, the pleasures of entertainment.  It is much more
difficult for our patrons to get to a library.  They need
the delivery service that we provide.  Staff serving these
people must be especially sensitive  to special needs,
beyond adaptive books, in dealing with these patrons (i.e.,
serving older patrons takes time, and cannot be hurried or
be performed with condescension.)

__Special services related to reading:
The service is not so much a library service as an assistive
technology program, providing a variety of services other
than book delivery that keep our patrons reading.  We
promote literacy/reading in this population in ways that
public libraries could not.  We provide announcement and
promotional services for books because reviews,
advertisements, and other promotional materials that are
available to sighted readers are unavailable to blind users.
Our audio books have descriptions and other book-flap and
frontispiece information not available in commercial audio
books.  Our books also provide labeling and other
information in braille.

__Issues with public libraries (and bookstores):
Commercial audio books do not cover the balanced collection
found in our service or in a good public library.  They are
mostly light fiction.  Audio books are regarded as
tangential or a luxury by many public libraries and could be
cut or diluted through loans to sighted patrons.  Public
libraries cannot duplicate books as needed because of
copyright constraints.  Public libraries do not provide
braille.  There was a question as to whether or not
commercial audio books may be mailed as free matter.

__Advantages of a national service:
With a national service, the economies of scale work well
for providing the specialized requirements our patrons.  We
can provide a uniform level of service and collection across
the country.

On the other hand, there may be ways in which we might use
commercial books and other technologies to improve the
service.  NLS is looking into the possibility of purchasing
masters of commercially produced audio books for the
service.  If commercial audio books were, unabridged,
labeled and announced as are our current titles, the group
thought the materials would be acceptable.  It was suggested
that commercial audio books for children are even superior
(more entertaining) than NLS produced books because they use
multiple narrators, include music, etc.

It was suggested that the use of devices like Roadrunner, a
small audio playback machine that can hold many text titles
and reproduce them with synthetic speech, might provide an
opportunity.  Perhaps we could put reference materials or
less popular titles in this format.  We might pursue getting
text from publishers.  The idea of a reference collection
for playback with synthetic speech is worth thinking about.
As an extension, perhaps we should add a facility to our DTB
player that could download a text file and play it in
synthetic speech.  That could be a simple and useful
software component.

__3:00-4:30   New Technologies:  Discussion

For this discussion, the question was posed: "How will
service change in ten years and what would we like it to
be?"  The answers .........

More titles:  Prince Georges County, Maryland,  acquires
15,000 titles every year.  Could we do quick, cheap
narrations, the analog to a paperback collection in a
library, for popular light fiction?  Like jiffy braille, it
would have to be understood that these are done with
different standards.  We should also consider compilation
magazines and collections about current topics.  Other
resource materials, like manuals and brief recipes would be

We need a study of the use of synthetic speech and its
acceptability to our consumers, especially our older
patrons, for certain types of resource materials.

A central collection of BRF files that network libraries
(and others) would contribute to. It can include ephemera.

A central catalog with better ILL and more links to
electronic resources from regional catalogs.

One multifunctional, reliable, flexible audio playback
device that has many features and is easy to maintain.

A reference service for blind people that could involve
national support (not necessarily NLS) for using volunteer
braillists and working with publishers to create accessible
reference CDs.

More assistive technology assistance to patrons from network
libraries.  This is sometimes perceived as redundant to
other agencies and considered out of scope for network
libraries.  But the other agencies are often rehabilitation
agencies whose main purpose is to return people to the
workplace.  Our audience would be non-working blind people
who have no other source for such assistance.  Perhaps it
could be promoted as a support service necessary for using
the DTBs and  downloadable books, therefore a logical
extension of service to readers.

More work with state libraries to extend resources to blind
readers.  As an example, N.J. is providing access to
netLibrary by registering patrons through the state library
provided service.  netLibrary is not totally accessible, but
this is a start.

In looking at the scenarios above, Scenario 2 could
eliminate the storage and handling of the audio books from
network libraries.  Without implying that it is the chosen
scenario, the group was asked to think about what they would
do differently under that scenario, what they would do with
the savings.  The answers were:
More reader advisors
More outreach
More follow up
Home service
More local production

Friday, October 26

__9:00-10:30  New Technologies:  Discussion

For the final day, the attendees were asked to discuss what
issues from the previous days could be pursued as issues for
the national conference and beyond.  John Cookson suggested
we try to define ten radical views of the service a range of
very different approaches to providing a library service for
the blind.  Kurt Cylke added that, in doing so, we should
address the underlying mission of NLS: to provide reading
materials for those unable to read print and, in crafting
scenarios, to look at NLS as only one piece of a current
spectrum of such services.

It was suggested that looking at  blind people as a
homogenous group was misleading; that really there were two
groups: life-long blind readers who are a smaller percentage
but use the service for a long time, and older newly blind
readers who use the service for a shorter time.  We should
assess our services and make our recommendations based on
how we serve and wish to serve  both of these groups.  It
was reiterated that we will have a new class of new blind
readers ten to fifteen years from now who will be more
familiar with computers and different reading modalities and
who will therefore be more comfortable with these new
technologies when they become blind readers.  Others
contended that they are seeing an opposite trend, that there
are more people coming into the program who are at lower
economic levels and sometimes even illiterate.  These
disadvantaged people will not have the comfort level with
computers that many seem to expect all readers will have.

Partnerships with public libraries came up.  On one level we
need to look at how we can educate public libraries about
our program so that they refer clients to us.  Attendance at
their conferences is one way, but others have had luck with
going to public libraries themselves on staff development
days, or teaching library school classes about libraries for
the blind.  In a broader approach, there is the idea of
partnering with public libraries for provision of service,
but many thought that issue had been rejected in the
previous days' discussion of what makes our service
valuable.  Possibly, though, this could be covered as one of
the "radical scenarios."

It was suggested that the changing demographics of our
service were relevant to our general theme.  NLS and others
funded a study by AFB about our current demographics.  This
work reveals a higher number of potential clients than we
had assumed to be the case in our prior estimates, and
therefore indicates that we are serving a smaller percentage
than we had thought.  This fact is uncomfortable, but also
might be a compelling reason to argue for increased funding.
Be that as it may, we cannot understand future demographics
without understanding our current figures.  It was decided
that the study's author should be invited to speak at the

__10:45-12:15  Next Steps

After the break the group resumed, this time focusing on the
national conference.  A preliminary draft agenda for the
conference prepared by NLS was distributed for discussion
and revision.  All sessions for Tuesday, April 30, were set
aside for presentations from this group.  The group
discussed topics and selected members responsible for each
topic.  The following topics were selected:

1.   Demographics (Kurt Cylke and Corinne Kirchner)
2.   Ten speculative scenarios (John Cookson and Steve
3.   Voice recognition technologies  (Steve Prine, Karen
Keninger, and Jerry Buttars)
4.   Digital signatures and patron transfers (Bob McDermott
and Barbara Goral)
5.   Commercial audio books (John Bryant and Guynell
6.   Non-appliance-based e-books (Judy Dixon and Deborah

On Thursday there will be break-out sessions, with each
topic to be repeated two or three times.

The discussion turned to the next meeting of the Digital
Long-Term Planning Group.  The group agreed that March 6-8
would be best, to be confirmed with all participants after
the meeting.

For the DTB discussions that occur in future meetings,
Moodie plans to gather firmer data from the network about
their costs to be used in modeling different distribution
scenarios.  He also wants to cut the distribution scenarios
down to the one or two strongest so that libraries would be
given sufficient advance time to prepare for implementation.

Moodie then introduced some issues that the group should
think about concerning the transition from our current
medium to the next medium.  What would the demand be for DTB
players?  Would we need to produce books in both cassette
and DTB media?  When NLS converted from disc to cassette
transition, we did not duplicate titles.  We tried to
determine which books would appeal to cassette users and
which to disc users.  The availability of DTB software
players, i.e., those that can be run on personal computers,
might soften demand for DTB players distributed by NLS, as
would the presumed availability of commercial DTB players.
Also, if demand for cassettes is not too high, they could be
duplicated without the services of a duplication contract.
All of these factors will influence how quickly we must
transition from one format to the other.

The meeting concluded in good spirits for all.

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