Digital retreat reaffirms NLS transition schedule

NLS digital team reviews strategy.
Photo caption: NLS digital team reviews stratrgy.

With the 2008 digital talking book launch date drawing nearer, the NLS digital team met in the Madison Building of the Library of Congress on February 1 and 2, 2006, to re-examine progress to date and confront prospective challenges in the digital transition project. Thirty tasks were identified and analyzed in detail, including scheduling, costs, and human resources. Critical interrelationships among task schedules across the project were also identified so that planners could anticipate and prevent delays or obstacles. The team members are determined to ensure that all aspects of the project are on schedule and that forward momentum continues to build.

"The approach of the launch date necessitates a deep commitment to the plan as a whole and a reevaluation of each person's role in the transition," said NLS director Frank Kurt Cylke. "A project of this magnitude requires dedication of time and thought, and this retreat has helped to bring that to the forefront."

At this stage in the project, when day-to-day management has become more critical than ever, staff members in attendance presented brief overviews of their individual tasks in order to develop a collective understanding of the project as a whole. The retreat also provided an opportunity for discussion and recommendations. The goal was to keep everyone abreast of the status of each aspect of the project, keep all members of the transition team focused, and ensure that nothing falls between the cracks.

The NLS digital team will continue to meet quarterly to discuss progress to date and to develop new and more effective strategies for propelling the digital project into 2008.

Members of the digital team, shown in the photo above, are, from left: Donald Pieper, contractor; Tom Martin, assistant chief, Network Division; John Bryant, head, Production Control Section; Jean Moss, digital projects coordinator; Stephen Prine, head, Network Services Section; Neil Bernstein, research and development officer; Alice Baker, assistant head, Production Control Section; Frank Kurt Cylke, director; Robert Fistick, chief, Materials Development Division; James Herndon, head, Collection Development Section; Robert Axtell, head, Bibliographic Control Section; Michael Moodie, deputy director; Michael Martys, automation officer; Michael Katzmann, head, Engineering Section; Margaret Goergen-Rood, acting assistant head, Quality Assurance Section; Robert Norton, head, Quality Assurance Section.

Transition issues top agenda of NLS Digital Long-Term Planning Group meeting

Distribution scenarios and transition issues dominated the Digital Long-Term Planning Group's annual meeting, held August 24-26, 2005, at NLS headquarters in Washington, D.C. The opening session began with greetings and an update from NLS director Frank Kurt Cylke, an overview of the agenda from deputy director Michael Moodie, and a review of current projects related to the digital talking book (DTB) by digital projects coordinator Jean Moss. Later in the sessions, NLS research and development officer Neil Bernstein briefed the group on the development of a digital rights management system for NLS talking books and on NLS's plans for downloadable books, targeted for 2007. Michael Katzmann, head of the NLS Engineering Section, reviewed the selection of an audio compression scheme for DTBs.

Distribution report presented

Jerome Ducrest and Daniel Kind, subcontractors to ManTech Advanced Systems International, gave an in-depth review of their draft report Evaluation of Digital Talking-Book Distribution Options and Final Values of Key Variables. This paper analyzes the options of mass duplication, duplication on demand, and a hybrid of the two systems for distribution of the new DTBs. (See related article)

Based on the results of the study and other findings, ManTech recommends that NLS implement the hybrid model, but only after a few years of operations using the mass-duplication model. The interval will allow NLS time to bring duplication-on-demand centers into operation and develop the on-demand duplication technology required. The group agreed with ManTech's overall recommendations. ManTech will study how best to formulate a hybrid system and formulate a detailed transition plan.

Transition issues addressed

TThe group next discussed a wide variety of topics related to the transition from cassette books to DTBs. Many voiced concern that parent agencies of network libraries might perceive the shift to DTBs as happening immediately and therefore might be tempted to reduce space for collections prematurely. All agreed that it was important that ManTech furnish clear guidance on shelving needs during the transition period and after. The group noted that while some warehouse staff positions will eventually be phased out, there will be an increased need for more professional and technical positions to provide outreach and reader advisory services and to handle the complexities of local production of DTBs.

NLS pointed out that at startup, a collection of twenty thousand DTBs will exist, consisting of "born-digital" DTBs and those converted from analog tapes. This collection will be available for online distribution to patrons who choose to access them in that fashion; it is not economically possible or desirable to make physical copies of all twenty thousand titles available to the network.


The group offered a range of suggestions for the transition:

The group discussed with ManTech a number of different options for controlling the mix of recorded cassette and DTB quantities during the transition. ManTech will perform a detailed analysis of the costs for each option and recommend an optimal solution in its transition plan."

Player distribution

Player distribution during the startup, when there will be fewer machines available than patrons who want them, was deliberated at length. All agreed that veterans must have preference--as mandated by U.S. Code, Section 135b. The next groups in line would be Ten-Squared Talking-Book Club members (NLS patrons who are one hundred years old or older) and the most active readers, probably followed by new users. NLS will develop the group's input into a set of guidelines for player distribution, which libraries will be able to change to suit local needs.

The group noted that decisions about when a book is out too long or when a cartridge should be written off as unlikely to be returned should be left to the network libraries, as it is the libraries' responsibility to track the status of patron orders.

After reviewing proposed container designs, the group discussed whether containers used by duplication-on-demand centers would differ from containers for mass-produced books, or if there were other ways to ensure that duplication-on-demand books and mass-produced books would not be returned to the wrong locations. The group offered a number of solutions that combined visual and tactile indicators to help users match books with correct containers.

The group discussed how to determine when to move a title from mass-duplication status (circulated by network libraries) to duplication-on-demand status. One suggestion was to aggregate some circulation data to see which titles had fallen below a defined circulation threshold. While juvenile titles, given their low circulation, might be good candidates for duplication-on-demand circulation, walk-in traffic must be considered. Spanish-language materials were also seen as an exception because of geographic pockets of high use. The group will discuss these issues in more detail in the future.

The group examined the impact that the introduction of duplication-on-demand would have on perceptions of network libraries. One person was concerned that the difference between regional libraries and other public libraries would become more pronounced if the regionals came to be seen as primarily mail-order fulfillment centers unsupportive of walk-in clientele. Such a misconception might mean that talking-book libraries would be moved to warehouses in undesirable locations, further reducing walk-in traffic. The group was reminded that circulation statistics for duplication-on-demand books would be credited to network libraries.
The committee concluded that with the introduction of the DTB system, staff with direct patron contact will need a thorough understanding of DTB technology in order to assist readers as they adapt to the new medium.

Managing patron expectations

The group was concerned that patrons may have developed some expectations of the DTB that will not be immediately met. Therefore, clear communication during the development process is imperative to clarify patron understanding of the new system. NLS will continue to issue the monthly newsletter Flash and to reprint its content in Talking Book Topics and Braille Book Review.

August 2005 Digital Long-Term Planning Group

David Andrews, branch director, Minnesota State Services for the Blind
Robert Axtell, head, Bibliographic Control Section, NLS
Lori Bell, librarian, Mid-Illinois Talking Book Center
Neil Bernstein, research and development officer, NLS
John Bryant, head, Production Control Section, NLS
Kim Charlson, librarian, Braille and Talking Book Library, Perkins School for the Blind (Massachusetts)
Judith Dixon, consumer relations officer, Network Division, NLS
Jerry Ducrest, contractor
Paul Edwards, president, Florida Council of the Blind
Robert Fistick, chief, Materials Development Divison
Barbara Goral, retired Colorado regional librarian
Kathleen Kappel, librarian, Library for the Blind and Physically Handicapped, Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh
Michael Katzmann, head, Engineering Section, NLS
Karen Keninger, librarian, Library for the Blind and Physically Handicapped, Iowa Department for the Blind
Daniel Kind, contractor
Robert Maier, director, Massachusetts Board of Library Commissioners
Michael Moodie, deputy director, NLS
Donna Jones Morris, librarian, Utah State Library Division
Karen Odean, director of BPH services, Voices of Vision, Talking Book Center (Illinois)
Doris Ott, librarian, North Dakota State Library
Irene Padilla, assistant state superintendent, Division of Library Development and Services, Maryland State Department of Education
Stephen Prine, head, Network Services Section, NLS
Peggy Rudd, director and librarian, Texas State Library and Archives Commission
Richard Smith, director, Wolfner Library for the Blind and Physically Handicapped (Missouri)
Carolyn Sung, chief, Network Division, NLS
Michael York, librarian, New Hampshire State Library)

Digital talking-book distribution system selected

In its efforts to select a design for a digital talking-book (DTB) distribution system, NLS commissioned a study by ManTech Advanced Systems International to examine all aspects of the distribution system for all stakeholders. Results from the study indicate that a hybrid distribution model, one that combines mass duplication with on-demand duplication of book titles, would provide the most effective system for NLS, libraries, and patrons. ManTech presented these results to the NLS Digital Long-Term Planning Group in August 2005, and the committee has endorsed the study's recommendations.

"Our top priority was finding an efficient distribution process that suits solid-state technology and is functional for NLS, network libraries, and patrons," said Kurt Cylke, NLS director. "After careful consideration of various options, it's clear that a mixed system is the most sensible solution. It should meet the needs of the entire network."

Three possible models

The ManTech study considered three possible models for the distribution of DTBs: an all mass-duplication model, similar to the current distribution system, where all titles are mass duplicated; a hybrid model in which the titles in greatest demand are mass duplicated and other titles are duplicated on demand; and an all duplication-on-demand system. The researchers closely analyzed each system's impact on NLS, network librarians, and patrons. They collected extensive circulation data from nine libraries with different sizes, locations, and information systems to ensure that the many elements affecting distribution were assessed. They evaluated factors such as cost, operational complexity, storage, and quality of service.

The study recommends maintenance of the current mass-duplication process for the first two or three years of the transition plan, followed by evolution to the hybrid model after DTBs become widely available. Mathematical estimates indicate that a hybrid model could result in lower costs to the NLS network as a whole. By analyzing the quality-of-service factors, researchers also found that patrons should receive the same level of service from a hybrid distribution system as from a mass-duplication system. To achieve optimal efficiency with a hybrid system, the study suggests that two duplication-on-demand centers be established and that between 30 and 50 percent of book titles be mass duplicated.

Michael Moodie, NLS deputy director, noted that the benefits of the hybrid system will outnumber those of the other options. "The shift of some distribution to duplication centers focuses staff resources on reader advisory services. It also reduces the number of cartridges required. These factors translate into cost savings for both NLS and regional libraries," said Moodie. "The only drawback of the hybrid is that it's more complex from an operational standpoint."

The NLS Digital Long-Term Planning Group (see article on page 2), a committee comprising patrons, state and network librarians, and NLS staff, also vetted the findings of the ManTech study. "The group ultimately accepted the final recommendations," said Jerry Ducrest, ManTech subcontractor. "They were receptive to the hybrid system as long as it is implemented correctly."

Once the hybrid system is activated, 80 percent of titles, representing 20 percent of circulation, will be duplicated by the on-demand centers, while the most popular 20 percent of titles, representing 80 percent of circulation, will stay in the mass-duplication process. The specific impact on network libraries will depend on how a library's circulation system interfaces with the new distribution system. Patrons will continue to order books through their cooperating libraries without any noticeable change.

NLS has begun work on an extensive transition plan to ensure that the move to the hybrid distribution system will be smooth, systematic, and gradual. In the second part of the distribution study, to minimize the effects of the transition on libraries and patrons, research will be conducted on system design, operational issues, automated systems, player distribution, and determining appropriate quantities of cassettes and DTBs. The transition plan is scheduled for completion in the summer of 2006.

NLS exhibit schedule--Fiscal Year 2006

NLS will exhibit at seventeen conferences in fiscal year 2006 as part of its public outreach effort. Audiences are selected to maximize contact with potential patrons and groups that work with eligible individuals. Exhibits are staffed by NLS staff and local network affiliates. Conferences on the 2005-2006 schedule are listed in order of their appearance.

December 7-10
National Association for the Education of Young Children
Washington, D.C.

January 20-25
American Library Association, Midwinter Conference
San Antonio, Texas

February 22-26
Music Library Association
Memphis, Tennessee

March 20-25
Public Library Association
Boston, Massachusetts

March 25-29
Music Educators National Conference
Salt Lake City, Utah

April 5-8
National Association of Activity Professionals
Reno, Nevada

April 20-May 3
National Industries for the Severely Handicapped
Chicago, Illinois

May 19-21
American Red Cross
Washington, D.C.

June 9-13
American Diabetes Association
Washington, D.C.

June 21-25
American Optometric Association
Las Vegas, Nevada

June 22-26
Rehabilitation Engineering and
Assistive Technology Society of North America

Atlanta, Georgia

June 22-28
American Library Association National Conference
New Orleans, Louisiana

July 1-7
National Federation of the Blind
Dallas, Texas

July 8-15
American Council of the Blind
Jacksonville, Florida

July 13-19
Association for the Education and Rehabilitation of Blind and Visually Impaired
Snowbird, Utah

August 15-19
Blinded Veterans Association
Buffalo, New York

August 18-24
American Legion National Conference
Salt Lake City, Utah


of Libraries for Blind and Physically Handicapped Individuals of North America

Nine-year-old boy advocates for blind children

Early life obstacles seem only to have honed Rocco Fiorentino's ability to overcome challenges. In October of 1996, Rocco was born four months premature with a body weight of 11/2 pounds. At birth, many of his major organs had not yet developed, and his skin was so transparent that it could be removed by touch. Rocco wore a diaper the size of a Band-Aid and was encased in plastic wrap to help him maintain a constant body temperature. Doctors at Children's Hospital in Philadelphia gave him a less than 5 percent chance for survival.

Nine-year-old boy advocates for blind children.
Photo caption: This photograph was printed in the June 12, 2005, edition of the Asbury Park Sunday Press. Taken by Jose F. Moreno.

Placed on ventilators and infusion pumps, Rocco endured twelve surgeries and an intestinal infection during his first six months of life. Miraculously, he survived numerous medical complications and was permanently affected only by a condition called retinopathy of prematurity that left him blind. The medical staff cited Rocco's will to survive as critical to his beating the odds.

This will to live inspired his parents, Rocco and Tina Fiorentino, to establish the Little Rock Foundation (, an organization that supports and reaches out to families with blind and visually impaired children. Launched in 1996, the Little Rock Foundation provides family resource centers at Wills Eye Hospital and Children's Hospital in Philadelphia, with an annual scholarship program for blind and visually impaired students and an annual summer camp for children with visual impairments.

The mission of the foundation is to change the public's perception that blindness imposes limits on a child's education, hopes, or ambitions. "We wanted Rocco to have the same opportunities and challenges as all other children," said Tina Fiorentino.

Now nine years old, Rocco is in third grade at his local public elementary school. The first and only blind child in his school system to attend the mainstream elementary school, Rocco is aided by a teaching assistant who ensures that Rocco's education is well integrated with that of his sighted peers. For a brief period of time Rocco attended classes at Saint Lucy's School for the Blind, but, he said, "I like my school. It was a much slower pace [at Saint Lucy's]."

An avid reader, Rocco has been a patron of the New Jersey Library for the Blind and Handicapped since he was five years old. When he first began reading, Rocco set himself a goal of reading twenty books so that he could get a dog, which he has named Louis, after Louis Braille, inventor of the six-dot reading and writing system for the blind.

Outside of his academic pursuits, Rocco also takes voice, piano, and drum lessons. Rocco has perfect pitch and is considered a prodigy by his music mentors. "His passion for music is so deep. He is constantly playing and recording music," said Tina Fiorentino. "He has a recording studio downstairs and composes his own music. He gets his keyboard to play different instruments and lays them down on different tracks, then records his voice over the instruments."

Currently, Rocco is a jazz afficionado and has wired the Fiorentino's entire house so that jazz, either played by him or another musician, can be heard throughout the house. He uses his old baby monitor as part of the new sound system. His mother says that he wants to be an entertainer.

Over the past three years, Rocco has also become a champion for braille literacy. Tina Fiorentino said, "I was going to speak before the New Jersey state legislature, and Rocco said, 'I want to speak too!' "
And speak he has. The youth gained media attention in 2003 when he spoke on behalf of blind children at a New Jersey state budget committee hearing. The legislature was considering cutting New Jersey's budget for braille services, but after Rocco's appeal, the legislature increased the budget for New Jersey's Commission for the Blind and Visually Impaired by $300,000. With this budget increase, the commission was able to hire six new braille instructors and raise the number of braille sessions offered to blind children in New Jersey's public schools from one a week to three.

On October 25, 2004, the New Jersey Library for the Blind and Handicapped and the New Jersey Commission for the Blind and Visually Impaired honored the nine-year-old and twenty-seven others as Braille Literacy Leaders. Speaking at the event, Rocco said, "Reading braille is like putting a light inside me. I move my fingers across the dots and a whole new world is open to me, full of opportunities. If I can't read braille, I'm just a kid with no future."

In May 2005, Rocco was invited back to the New Jersey state house to speak again to the budget committee on behalf of blind children. On June 30, 2005, Louis Greenwald, the budget committee chair, told Rocco's story on the statehouse floor. The following day the New Jersey state assembly approved, as a separate line item in the New Jersey budget, an additional $900,000 in state funds for services to blind children.
Rocco will be singing the "Star-Spangled Banner" on Monday, May 1, at the 2006 National Conference of Librarians Serving Blind and Physically Handicapped Individuals.

Patron John Fleming skydives despite blindness

John Fleming and his guide dog Tia.
Photo caption: John Fleming and his guide dog Tia at the skydiving center in Perris Valley, California.

John Fleming is a man who will not walk away from a challenge. While enlisted in the United States Air Force in 1963, he was dared by his friend Pat LaFortune to do a sky jump. Fleming said, "I'll do it if you'll do it." Thus began a lifelong passion for skydiving that Fleming continues to this day, even though he lost his sight in 1978 to retinitis pigmentosa (RP), a hereditary eye disorder that causes degeneration of the retina's light processing cells.

In the early 1960s, the first sport parachutes were just being introduced and skydiving as a sport was still in its infancy. After paying a $15 fee and taking an hour-long introductory course, Fleming was considered ready to take his first jump. He remembers both feeling scared out of his skin and knowing immediately afterward that he wanted to do it again. To date, Fleming has done 1,973 sky dives.

Now sixty-two, Fleming has been skydiving for more than forty years and maintains an active lifestyle despite the progression of his RP. He lives independently and cooks, cleans, shops, and cares for his sighted eighty-seven-year-old father. He has found ways to continue doing the things he enjoyed as a sighted person. He uses a barcode scanner to shop for groceries and a screen reader to navigate the Internet and respond to e-mail.

His love of skydiving seems to have grown from his outgoing personality. "It's a huge challenge," said Fleming. "I like putting myself in a position where I have to perform. There's no time-outs. No going back. After you leave the plane, you have sixty seconds to get everything right or you'll really affect the fall. It's a huge adrenaline rush."

Transition to blind skydiving

Fleming said that many of his friends and relatives tried to convince him to give up skydiving after he could no longer see, but when they realized that he wasn't going to, they started thinking about ways to make skydiving safe for him. The transition to blind skydiving was not easy.

Skydivers rely on visual cues and altimeters to know when to get into formation and when to open their parachutes. Fleming and his friends have developed a system of touch and sound cues to substitute for the visual cues. He wears a special custom-made helmet with built-in two-way radios so that he can communicate with the spotter on the ground who helps Fleming land. He also carries two audible altimeters or free-fall computers, which are devices the size of matchboxes that verbally note a skydiver's distance from the ground and the speed at which he is falling. Like most skydivers, Fleming also carries a reserve parachute that automatically opens under certain conditions. He's a regular at the Perris Valley Skydiving Center--twenty-eight miles from his home in Colton, California--where he dives in formation. "When we're in free fall, we're high-speed square dancing," said Fleming. After the formation, "one of the skydivers gives me a violent shake on the wrist so I know when to open my parachute."

Yet Fleming's blind skydiving adventures have not been without incident. Ten years ago when his two-way radio stopped working over Medford, Oregon, he tried to soften his fall by guiding his parachute in a circular motion and crashed into a tree. The accident left him with four broken ribs and numerous bruises. In 1997 at the Crazy Creek Soaring Center near Santa Rosa, California, Fleming missed his targeted landing site by five miles. He barely slipped by some electric power lines and was lost in the dark for two hours. Still, physical injuries and danger have not dissuaded Fleming from continuing his parachute passion.

Fleming helps others

Rather than taking his sight loss as a limitation, Fleming has turned it into an opportunity to help other visually impaired people. He is active with the American Council of the Blind (ACB) and was president of the Oregon Council of the Blind. In January 2005, Fleming enlisted the help of his fellow skydivers to do a fundraising jump that raised $9,000 for ACB. He has become an advocate for guide dog assistance in Oregon and California and speaks to schoolchildren about the benefits of guide dogs. Fleming attends the ACB's legislative seminars and works to increase public awareness of issues concerning the visually impaired, such as equal access to textbooks for blind schoolchildren, social security reform, transportation, and descriptive videos.

Through his advocacy work with ACB, Fleming met his fiancée, Darian Hartman. The couple toasted their upcoming nuptials at the July 2005 ACB convention in Las Vegas, where Fleming spoke on a recurrent theme in his public education talks. "The one thing I tell people is, if somebody has a passion or something that they love doing, they don't have to give it up. You can do almost everything you want to do with a little brainstorming or a little innovation. Just get out there and go for it."

National conference will focus on the digital move

"Seventy-five Years and Counting: Moving into a Digital Reality" is the theme of the National Conference of Librarians Serving Blind and Physically Handicapped Individuals, which convenes Sunday, April 30, 2006, in Portland, Maine.

The major session, "Moving to Digital: The Player, the Cartridge, the Container," will be held at 8:45 a.m., Tuesday, May 2, with Kurt Cylke, NLS director, giving the introduction. NLS deputy director Michael Moodie and Engineering Section head Michael Katzmann will discuss advances in the transition to digital books. Moodie and Katzmann will set the tone for the presentation in "The Digital Prelude" on Monday afternoon, when they will be joined by HumanWare Canada president and chief executive officer Gilles Pepin. On the closing day, Thursday, May 4, at 11 a.m., Moodie, Katzmann, and NLS automation officer Michael Martys will respond to queries about the transition in "The Digital Program: Participants' Questions."

On Monday, May 1, nine-year-old New Jersey native Rocco Fiorentino will lead conferees in the Pledge of Allegiance and the national anthem. Dr. Bobby Smith, a former Louisiana policeman blinded in the line of duty, will deliver the keynote address. Smith, the author of Visions of Courage: The Bobby Smith Story (RC 59364), rebuilt his life by encouraging others to meet the challenges they face.

The Western Conference will present "Commonalities" on Monday afternoon. Topics and moderators include "Public Relations on a Shoestring" with Bessie Oakes and Jeri Openshaw of the Utah regional library, "Friends Groups" with John Mugford of the New Mexico regional library, and "Summer Reading Programs" with Dan Boyd and Connie Sullivan of the South Dakota regional library.

On Wednesday afternoon, May 3, the Northern Conference will present "The Digital Divide and the Digital Divide--Say What?" The panel discussion will be moderated by Philip Wong-Cross, Washington, D.C., regional library, and Robert McBrien, Andrew Heiskell regional library, New York City, as moderators. Panelists will include Brook Berry, technology training coordinator, Office of Development, New York Public Library, and Patrick Timony, assistive technology coordinator, Adaptive Services Division, District of Columbia Public Library.

The Southern Conference will host a morning session on Thursday, May 4, entitled "Reference Sharing." Jonathan Reynolds, of the Jacksonville, Florida, subregional library, will serve as moderator, and speakers will be Fara Zaleski, Alabama regional library; Rahye Puckett, Mississippi regional library; Kim Charlson, Massachusetts regional library; and Andrew Egan, Rhode Island regional library.

Attendees are invited to share in an evening featuring Chad Allen, the Wandering Magician, at the Portland Museum of Art as the guests of the Herman H.B. Meyer Memorial Literary Club and Declamatory Society. They may also join Maine regional librarian Melora Norman for a cruise of Casco Bay aboard a Casco Cruise Line ship and for a tour of the Maine regional library and state museum. Massachusetts regional librarian Kim Charlson will host a tour of the Perkins Library School for the Blind and its museum.

The national conference will be held at the Holiday Inn by the Bay, located near the Old Port and within walking distance of the arts district and Portland's working waterfront.

Portland offers relaxation, exploration on the waterfront

The Portland lighthouse in Maine
Photo caption: This photograph was printed in the June 12, 2005, edition of the Asbury Park Sunday Press. Taken by Jose F. Moreno.

What do the Preacher's Wife, the Shawshank Redemption, and the Letter in a Bottle have in common? Besides being popular movies, they were all filmed in the beautiful harbor city of Portland, Maine. The city dates back to the seventeenth century, and though it is now a major metropolitan area, it still boasts the quaint atmosphere of a small town.

Portland, nestled between Casco Bay and forested mountains, was founded in 1632 by the British as a fishing and trading settlement. Its seal is the phoenix rising out of ashes, a nod to the city's ability to survive despite suffering severe destruction several times in its history. In 1675, the Wampanoag people burned it down during King Philip's War. It was rebuilt only to be destroyed by natives again not long after. In 1775, the Royal Navy bombarded it during the American Revolution. In 1855, part of the city was burned during the Portland Rum Riot, and in 1866, it was leveled by a fire ignited during a July 4 celebration.

The city also went through several name changes before it became Portland in 1786. It is known for its architecture, which boasts Victorian mansions, Gothic cottages, and ornate residential buildings in Shingle and Colonial Revival styles. It also has a working waterfront. Old Port, constructed in the 1800s, is a tourist attraction that maintains its Federal-style atmosphere and features exquisite shopping and dining opportunities. The "new port" is the shipping area and serves as the launch point for the ferry to Nova Scotia and the commuter boats to the Calendar Islands of Casco Bay.

Portland was named "One of the 10 Great Adventure Towns" by the National Geographic Adventure magazine in August 2004 for the variety of activities available to residents and visitors. Maine is known for its lighthouses and Portland has a smattering of museums, a vibrant arts district, and historic parks. It prides itself on having an easy atmosphere without the congestion of most large cities. The city has also been named one of the safest cities and one of the best places to live in America. Sports and nature enthusiasts can enjoy sailing, swimming, and fishing on the Casco Bay or travel to the mountains for skiing, fishing, and whitewater rafting. Trails at the base of the mountain and in nearby hills are great for biking and hiking.

Portland, Maine, offers network librarians an opportunity to "get away from it all" while working with colleagues from across the United States and its territories who share their mission.

NLS issues solar panels to libraries in need

Solar panels provided by NLS.
Photo caption: Solar panel, provided by NLS, collects energy to charge batteries, enabling patrons to use their machines when electricity is unavailable.

The year 2005 proved to be a record-setting hurricane season for the United States. A significant number of people were left without power for long periods of time, and when Hurricane Katrina ripped through the Gulf Coast last August, damaging parts of Louisiana, Mississippi, and southern Florida, many were unprepared for the devastation it would bring. As water flooded through breached levees in New Orleans and a thirty-foot storm surge soaked Mississippi, many had to abandon their homes.

NLS puts plan of action in place

After the storms had passed, NLS put in place a plan of action to assist patrons whose library services were disrupted. A link was posted on the NLS home page,, to aid those who were temporarily relocated to receive service from libraries in their new areas. Bulletins and alerts informed libraries of ways to handle damaged playback equipment and books. And at the request of NLS director Kurt Cylke, approximately thirty solar-powered battery-recharging units were sent to libraries in Florida and Mississippi for use with talking-book machines.

NLS first developed the solar panel about twenty-five years ago in response to the request of an American citizen in Brazil. She expressed interest in the talking-book program, but did not have access to electricity, as she was living in a remote jungle area of the country. Library engineers responded by creating a lightweight, heavy-duty solar panel to charge batteries. Two hundred of these panels were produced in 1981. In May of 2003, after months of reworking the current panel because of difficulty in removing batteries from the charging unit, NLS purchased six hundred newly designed solar panels. Today, NLS has 1,038 solar panels.

The current solar panel accessory is easy to operate and comes with a set of audio and print instructions. Provided that the panel is placed in direct sunlight, one day's worth of sun should power the batteries for up to six hours of use.

The Florida Bureau of Braille and Talking Book Library Services received twenty-five solar panels to aid patrons during future power outages. Mississippi's Blind and Physically Handicapped Library Services also received solar panels.

Variety of accessories available

In addition to the solar-panel battery-charging system, NLS maintains a variety of accessories to assist patrons with hearing loss and mobility challenges. These accessories include amplifiers, breath switches, pillow speakers, remote control units, headphones, and extension levers. Accessories are issued directly to patrons through requests from their cooperating libraries. "Any time patrons have a need for machines or accessories, call me," said Jim Miller, NLS equipment control officer. "I will address their needs immediately.".

Braille producers discuss technology changes

NLS hosted its annual Braille Producers Conference on Wednesday, October 26, 2005. The conference provided opportunities to share ideas about braille production, technologies,
and processes.

Braille producers in attendance included Dolores Ferrara-Godzieba from Associated Services for the Blind and Visually Impaired; Steve Oberrecht from the Clovernook Center for the Blind and Visually Impaired; Sarah Rambo from the National Braille Press; and Jack Decker, Steve Paris, and Jan Carroll from the American Printing House for the Blind. Jamie Redditt from Braille International, Inc., was unable to attend the conference, but provided telephone comments. Key staff members from NLS Production Control (PCS), Quality Assurance (QAS), and Braille Development sections also attended the conference.

Topics discussed this year included the new NLS specification for braille books and pamphlets, the online delivery verification system, book due dates, abstruse books, a duplication-only braille contract, and embossing.

Specification 800

In September 2005, NLS introduced a new version of its specification for braille books and pamphlets, NLS Specification 800, written by Deborah Brown and Janiece Kent of QAS and vetted by the Engineering Section. Differences between the current specification and the older version were highlighted on a separate draft. The group discussed the changes in page sizes for readers of braille books in grades K through 3 and the new requirements for providing both TXT and BRF files.

Warranty books return screen

The conference also addressed the new online warranty books return screen. Since the introduction of the new screen, the number of claims for nonreceipt has increased markedly. Producers were encouraged to verify the nonreceipt of books with the libraries before sending replacements. The system will not allow a library to place a second shipment order until sixty days after the original shipment date.

The current online screen will allow libraries to add requests for replacement books but not to delete them. To delete a request, librarians or producers should e-mail Phil Maggio or Ivy Jenkins of PCS, with a copy to assistant head Alice Baker.

Braille book assignments

Producers expressed concern regarding the number of books assigned with the same start date and due date. John Bryant, head of PCS, said that NLS may look into creating a system that allows producers to supply more information on production status, which could lead to more accurate assignments and due dates. NLS can also look into the possibility of assigning production by an average number of pages per week rather than an average number of books per month, since books vary widely in size and complexity. If books are delayed in production because of overscheduling by NLS, the producer may file for an extension. Bryant clarified that the extension of book due dates should be granted only for extreme situations beyond the producer's control.

NLS is working on shortening the time between a book's selection and the time it is shipped to the producer. Currently there is a backlog of titles waiting to be assigned.

Abstruse books

NLS classifies a small number of books as "abstruse," meaning that they have unusual characteristics--including graphics, specialized typography, or extensive use of foreign language--that make them more difficult or time-consuming to produce. NLS is working to refine its abstruse book identification system. The idea of creating a new classification for "partial-abstruse" books was considered and rejected for now because of the possibility that it might cause a bottleneck in the production process.

Duplication-only contract

For the first time this year, NLS will announce a duplication-only contract for reissued books. Producers will be able to download the books from Web-Braille and print the number of copies needed--normally fifty or sixty. Contractors will not be responsible for mistakes in the original file.

Embosser production

The comparative qualities of two types of braille-producing machines were discussed: the Braillo machine, a text-embossing device that prints braille onto a page using pins, and the plate embossing device (PED), which prints braille using a zinc embossing plate.

NLS is researching the option of using embossers and will conduct benchmark tests and produce technical reports on the quality of embossed braille.

Multistate Center West director retires

Karnell Parry
Photo caption: Karnell Parry at the 2005 joint Midlands and Western Regions Conference in Seattle, Washington.

The Utah State Library hosted a retirement reception for Karnell Parry, director of the Multistate Center West (MSCW), on October 7, 2005. Parry's friends and family, past and current staff members, and former Utah state librarian Amy Owens attended the function. Parry was honored for his thirty-eight years of service with the Utah State Library.

Carolyn Sung--chief of the NLS Network Division, contract monitor, and technical representative for the MSCW--presented Parry with a certificate of appreciation from NLS. "Karnell Parry has exemplified outstanding organization skills and has a unique commitment to exceptional service," said Sung. "Congratulations on a distinguished career." She noted his remarkable work during the MSCW's relocation to the new Utah State Library building and modern warehouse in 1998. Under Parry's leadership, all 2,368,915 pounds of NLS collections, supplies, and players on 3,153 pallets were housed and in perfect order by the required date.

The Utah State Library also acknowledged Parry's many years of superior service. Donna Jones Morris, the Utah State Library director, remarked that "in cooperation with the Utah State Library and NLS, Karnell's hard work and dedicated leadership have kept the Multistate Center West performing at a level of service that all can be proud of. The MSCW staff has developed into a valuable team, willing to assist each other in completing tasks they are assigned. Individually and together, they form an important part of the Utah State Library." The Utah Public Employees Association also presented Parry with an award.

Parry began his career with the Utah State Library as a bookmobile librarian and in 1984 became the director of the Multistate Center West. According to his associates, Parry really enjoyed his position, especially its networking aspect. He enjoyed traveling and meeting the network librarians in the various states. He was especially appreciative of the help and support he received from the NLS staff.

Since rock hunting is one of Parry's favorite pastimes, the Utah State Library staff presented him with a book on rocks and gems and funds toward the purchase of a rock saw.


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