NLS issues Strategic Business Plan

In December 2003, NLS published its Current Strategic Business Plan for the Implementation of Digital Systems, a detailed explanation of progress to date and outlook for the future of the transition to digital systems and services in the free national library program. The Strategic Business Plan presents a comprehensive assessment of NLS's present situation, options for the future, in-depth analysis based on real costs and expected technological developments, and a clear projection of probable outcomes.

The Strategic Business Plan was mailed to regional and subregional libraries in the NLS network and to members of the Chief Officers of State Library Associations (COSLA) in preparation for the 2004 midwinter meeting of the American Library Association in San Diego on January 9-14.*The report begins by reviewing the current system for production and circulation of books in alternative formats and explains why a transition to digital systems and products is both necessary and desirable. The strengths and weaknesses of several substantially different alternative digital technologies are examined and the grounds for NLS's current expectations are established.

The system of the future is likely to center on a digital playback machine--the successor to today's C-1 cassette player but smaller, lighter, more efficient, and better sounding--and books on high-density solid-state flash-memory cartridges, somewhat like the media used in commercially available digital cameras and MP3 players. All patron services would continue to be conducted through network libraries, but means of circulation will change. Very popular books--approximately 20 percent of the NLS catalog--would be mass-produced for wide circulation to readers. Titles less in demand--approximately 80 percent of the catalog--would be duplicated on request at special production centers for circulation to individuals. Digital data storage and transmission capabilities make this process feasible. Because two different modes of circulation would coexist and complement one another, the projected operational strategy is called the "hybrid" model.

The Strategic Business Plan presents cost projections for several different business strategies and compares them with current production and distribution costs. The evidence shows the hybrid model to be both efficient and cost effective.

A tentative but likely transition scheme is set forth in the plan, delineating a gradual process to bring the advantages of digital talking books to patrons as quickly as possible but with little or no disruption in service. Cassette books and machines will continue to be the backbone of the system through 2007, but digital books and machines will effectively replace the older technology in the five years between 2008 and 2012. The implementation phase should be under way by the fall of 2008 with an initial distribution of 50,000 digital players anticipated.

Much of the overall plan remains to be determined because many outcomes are contingent upon data that will emerge as the transition progresses. Nevertheless, the broad outlines and cost estimates are unlikely to shift dramatically.

The published business plan is supplemented by a number of helpful graphic displays, tables, documents, and other keys to understanding the plan. These include cost projections and comparisons; the foreword and an overview of the American National Standard Specifications for the Digital Talking Book (ANSI/NISO Z39.86-2002); a list of the first one thousand titles selected for conversion from analog to digital media; and a draft version of the Request for Proposals--the government contract solicitation--for the design of the digital talking book player.

The Strategic Business Plan is available online at

Preparations nearly complete for 2004 biennial conference

Planning for the 2004 National Conference of Librarians Serving Blind and Physically Handicapped Individuals is nearing completion. As in 2002, the Digital Long-Term Planning Group is significantly involved in the arrangements.

The conference will convene in Rapid City, South Dakota, at 1:00 p.m. on Sunday, May 2, at the Rushmore Plaza Holiday Inn and will conclude on Thursday, May 6. A one-day preconference workshop, "Doing More with Less," will be held from 9:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. on Saturday, May 1.

The Sunday, May 2, afternoon opening session will feature presentations on developments at NLS, followed by regional conference meetings.

Monday, May 3, will begin with the conference's keynote addresses. The remainder of the day will focus on national outreach initiatives. In addition, programs by and about Native Americans are scheduled at the Crazy Horse Monument site.

On Tuesday morning, May 4, events will include presentations on digital efforts in Europe and the United States and on a new project initiated by the Mid-Illinois subregional library. There will also be discussions of reader and circulation statistics, braille conservation, and NLS user-based program assessment. During the afternoon, shelving strategies will be discussed.

The National Automation Conference will be held on Wednesday, May 5. It will feature updates on various circulation systems used in the network, user-group meetings, discussions of various automation issues, and updates on NLS automation initiatives. Breakout sessions in the afternoon will focus on the Low-Complexity Mastering System, relationships between regional libraries and radio reading services, and understanding technology.

The conference will conclude at noon on Thursday, May 6, following presentations and discussions on web magazines, the use of commercial books, the recently completed user survey, and efforts to secure a digital talking book player design consultant. An optional tour to the South Dakota Badlands will be available on Thursday afternoon. Buses will return to the hotel at 8:00 p.m.

(photo caption: Mt. Rushmore, near Rapid City, South Dakota, 1932: workmen on the face of George Washington.)

About Rapid City

Nestled in the Black Hills region of southwestern South Dakota, renowned for its magnificent scenery and abundant wildlife, Rapid City is the state's second largest city, with a population approaching 70,000. The city serves as a hub for streams of visitors who come to enjoy the scenic beauty and inspiring sights of the surrounding area.

The area's most famous attraction is undoubtedly Mt. Rushmore, about 25 miles south of Rapid City, where 60-foot busts of presidents Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln, and Theodore Roosevelt are carved on the granite mountainside. The sculpture was created by Gutzon Borglum, son of a Danish immigrant and a student of Rodin, with the help of 400 laborers. Borglum worked on the project from 1927 until his death in 1941. The story of Rushmore has been recently retold in John Taliaferro's magisterial Great White Fathers (New York: Public Affairs, 2002).

Even more impressive, some people believe, is the unfinished Crazy Horse Memorial, 17 miles southwest of Mt. Rushmore. One of the world's largest sculptures, it was begun in 1948 by Korczak Ziolkowski at the invitation of Lakota chief Henry Standing Bear, to honor the legendary warrior who, incensed at government treaty violations, helped to defeat General George Armstrong Custer at the Little Bighorn in 1876 and fought against the U.S. Army until his death the following year.

Many natural wonders beckon from within two hours of Rapid City, including the Wind Cave, the Devils Tower, Jewel Cave, and the Badlands. Old mining towns, such as Deadwood, are of interest to visitors fascinated by frontier history.

Rapid City has a variety of museums, gardens, and parks, one featuring a Berlin Wall exhibit, and another, seven life-size dinosaur models. The Stavkirke Chapel, built in 1969 as a replica of an 830-year-old Norwegian church, is admired for its intricate wood carvings and ingenious pegged construction.

Moodie becomes NLS deputy director

Michael M. Moodie has been appointed deputy director of the National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped (NLS), Library of Congress.

Moodie, who has held progressively responsible positions at NLS over the past twenty-five years, has been the national talking-book program's research and development officer since 1990. He has played a key coordinating role in NLS's work to date in transitioning from the current analog cassette book and magazine program to a digital format.

"Michael Moodie will oversee the NLS program's third major audio technology change since its inception in 1931-- originally vinyl records, then cassette tapes in the 1960s," said Frank Kurt Cylke, NLS director, announcing Moodie's appointment on January 12. "He brings unique, cutting-edge knowledge to this new NLS leadership role. Moodie's thirteen-year tenure as research and development officer has allowed him to build a strong presence in international digital audio technology development," Cylke said.

Moodie chaired the National Information Standards Organization (NISO) committee which, over a four-year period, brought Specifications for the Digital Talking Book to completion as ANSI/NISO Z39.86-2002, an American National Standard. He has researched the application of solid-state memory (SSM) technologies to the NLS digital program, identifying requirements, coordinating technical seminars on SSM issues, chairing briefings from SSM industry leaders, and tracking SSM costs. Moodie coordinated numerous technical projects related to the development of digital talking books (DTBs) and headed a technical team developing automated production tools for DTBs. In addition, he was responsible for coordinating the development of Web-Braille, the world's first repository of online contracted braille books, magazines, and music. He was also a key member of the team that developed a web-based distribution system for digital audio magazines, which will eventually allow NLS patrons access to all NLS audio magazines online.

Moodie's earlier positions with NLS included seven years as assistant head of the Production Control Section and five years as Recording Studio director. He completed his undergraduate studies at Syracuse University, with a bachelor's degree in psychology in 1968, and earned a master's degree in business management from the Johns Hopkins University in 1997.

(photo caption: Michael Moodie)

Alliance with Mystic Seaport extended

The cooperative project between Mystic Seaport, Connecticut's famed seventy-four-year-old Museum of America and the Sea, and NLS and its network of cooperating libraries has been extended for a third year. The initiative, which began in January 2002, seeks to advance accessibility and expand outreach for museum visitors who are blind, visually impaired, or disabled. Among the key elements of the initiative is the free library pass program available to NLS patrons. The pass entitles two adults and their children or grandchildren under eighteen free admission to Mystic Seaport on the day of the week specified on the pass. Response from patrons has been very positive.

The Mystic Seaport cookbook, A New England Table, edited by Ainslie Turner (2000), was digitally recorded in the NLS Recording Studio and released in audio cassette. It features a multiple tone index system and a complete index on a separate cassette that allows the reader to locate particular pages efficiently. In addition to adding an entertaining and helpful volume to the patron catalog, the project provided useful data to the NLS digital audio program in its exploration of the complexities of full-text and full-audio synchronization in a digital talking book.

Other collaborative efforts included audio production of eleven books published by Mystic Seaport, which have become part of the NLS national collection and will also become available commercially as sound recordings under the auspices of the Mystic Seaport shop. The books are America and the Sea: A Maritime History, by Andrew German, et al.; Folklore and the Sea, by Horace Beck; New England and the Sea, by Robert G. Albion, et al.; Saltwater Foodways, by Sandra Oliver; Whale Hunt, by Nelson Cole Haley; Around the World in 500 Days, by Curtis Dahl; Growing Up in a Shipyard, by Dana A. Story; All This and Sailing Too, by Olin J. Stephens; A Life in Boats, by Waldo Howland; Silas Talbot: Captain of Old Ironsides, by William M. Fowler; and Wake of the Coasters, by John F. Leavitt.

NLS also continues its consultative role in the expansion and refinement of Mystic Seaport's accessibility initiatives.

To visit Mystic Seaport . . .

The year-round pass entitles two adults and their children or grandchildren under eighteen free admission to Mystic Seaport on the day of the week specified on the pass.

NLS patrons in Connecticut should contact the Library for the Blind and Physically Handicapped in Rocky Hill and patrons in Massachusetts should contact the Braille and Talking Book Library in Watertown to arrange for their pass.

Residents of all other states should contact NLS directly: E-mail with your nam