After years of research, testing, and planning; months of contract review and awards; and weeks of production and quality-assurance evaluations, the National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped (NLS) has begun the prelaunch of its digital talking-book system.
“We are now able to place the digital talking books and players directly in the hands of several thousand of our patrons,” said NLS director Frank Kurt Cylke.
At press time, 5,000 digital players and 17,500 books were ready to be delivered to 8 NLS network libraries, which will distribute them to a select group of their most active patrons. The prelaunch enables NLS and network library staff to evaluate players, cartridges, and mailing containers in real-world use. Patrons, libraries, and machine-lending agencies (MLAs) will provide input to an independent consultant, who will analyze the data to identify any issues to be resolved before mass production begins.
Libraries participating in the prelaunch are the Braille Institute Library Services, Los Angeles, California; the Florida Bureau of Braille and Talking Book Library Services, Daytona Beach; the Iowa Department for the Blind, Library for the Blind and Physically Handicapped, Des Moines; the Braille and Talking Book Library, Watertown, Massachusetts; Wolfner Library for the Blind and Physically Handicapped, Jefferson City, Missouri; the Andrew Heiskell Braille and Talking Book Library, New York City; the Texas State Library and Archives Commission, Austin; and the Utah State Library Division, Program for the Blind and Disabled, Salt Lake City. JBI International (formerly Jewish Braille Institute) in New York City will also participate. Each of these NLS network libraries will receive 544 talking-book players—100 advanced and 444 standard models—and 37 copies of each of the 54 titles selected by the NLS Collection Development Section—a total of 1,998 talking-book cartridges. The libraries have predetermined the patrons who will participate.
MLAs and all other network libraries—regional and subregional—each receive one advanced and one standard player and two copies of each of the 54 titles.
The prelaunch is expected to last 10 weeks. Once it has been successfully completed, Shinano Kenshi Co., the Japan-based manufacturer of the digital talking-book players, will begin full production. The players will be produced at an initial rate of 26,000 per month for four months, and then at 20,000 players per month. The machines are slated to begin arriving at the MLAs in the summer of 2009.
As part of the prelaunch, a training contractor has designed a web site for NLS network library staff. The company was asked to create training modules to prepare library staff to use and explain the digital talking-book machines, download digital talking books and sign up patrons for NLS Braille and Audio Reading Download (BARD), and duplicate digital talking books at the local level.
The training materials, which will be accessible through the NLS Network Library Services web site, were designed for self-study. Library staff will be able to learn at their own pace and convenience how to use the digital talking-book cartridges and players and how to teach patrons. The site includes printable training tools, such as charts and guides, and a Power-Point presentation that can be used for group training or as a handout. A second training web site for patrons will be available on the NLS public web site following the prelaunch.
As the NLS program undergoes a digital transformation, the Music Section is making strides in digitizing its collection of braille music scores. With the help of a sophisticated scanner it acquired in October 2008, the section has scanned nearly 50 braille music titles and made them available through Web-Braille.
The scanner, invented and manufactured by the Information Technology Center for the Disabled in Moscow, Russia, allows NLS to efficiently produce accurate digital copies of braille music scores.
“The beauty of the new scanner is that it identifies potential errors in the proofing stage. This eliminates the problems that often occur when staff compare scanned copies of braille to hard copies,” said John Hanson, head of the Music Section.
To prepare a digital braille file, staff place the braille score face down on the scanner. The scanner photographs the page, reads the cells, and sends the information to a local personal computer. The scanned information appears on the monitor in three boxes. (See the graphic, which shows a page from Sixty Sonatas for Harpsichord by Domenico Scarlatti.) One box displays a picture of the actual scanned page, one contains an ASCII file, and another shows the page in SimBraille, a typeface composed of black circles that represent the dots in each braille cell. The scanner’s software analyzes the SimBraille section and color codes any cells that are ambiguous or unreadable. A staff member can then compare what the scanner read with the photograph of the page and edit the ASCII file.
“The scanner tells you in advance where the problems are,” said Hanson. “A regular scanner doesn’t give you a true picture of the braille. It only gives you an interpretation, or what the scanner saw.” The scanner also helps with preserving the collection. Of the more than 20,000 braille music scores NLS has acquired throughout the years, many have been in circulation since the 1920s. Years of storage and multiple readings have damaged some of the cells. The new scanner highlights those defective cells on the screen so that a staff member can correct the errors and preserve the score. Once the scores are scanned, the staff member saves them as ASCII files in a folder. At the end of each month these ASCII files are posted to the NLS Web-Braille site and then linked to the catalog records.
“Anyone who is looking for a piece of music—patron or librarian—can search the online catalog, click on the link at the bottom of the record, and download that braille score right to his or her computer,” said Hanson. “And if a patron requests a braille score and we find a poor copy on the shelf, we can download the score and make a new copy to send to the patron.”
Not only is the scanner accurate, but it also simplifies and expedites the process of preserving the braille scores. Prior to the acquisition of the new scanner, NLS staff would scan in a braille score and then compare the paper braille to what the scanner read—page by page, cell by cell.
“It was extremely time consuming,” said Hanson. “The new scanner addresses the need for accuracy and speed in digitizing the braille music collection. The more electronic scores we have, the better we are able to preserve our collection and serve our patrons.”
January 4, 2009, marked the 200th anniversary of inventor Louis Braille’s birth, and NLS, its cooperating network of libraries, and other organizations across the country and around the world are sponsoring a variety of celebratory activities throughout the year.
NLS, which began as a braille-lending library service in 1931, is planning to publish articles and a minibibliography, launch a web page, and conclude the year with an exhibition at the Library of Congress featuring braille books, tactile maps, braille games, jewelry, and slates and styluses.
Born in Coupvray, France, Louis Braille lost his sight at age 3 after an accident in his father’s workshop. He learned to read raised letters at age 10 and invented a reading and writing system composed of raised six-dot cells at age 16. Braille went on to devise braille systems for music based on his alphabetic code and continued to invent more tools for blind people until his death at age 43.
Judith Dixon, NLS consumer relations officer, chaired a January 5, 2009, roundtable discussion at “Braille 1809–2009: Writing with Six Dots and Its Future,” a conference held in Paris, France, organized by the International Committee for the Commemoration of the Bicentenary of Louis Braille’s Birth (CINAL).
“This conference was certainly the largest and most exuberant celebration of Louis Braille’s life and work that has ever taken place,” said Dixon.
Speaking to an audience of more than 400 representatives from 46 countries, Dixon introduced the roundtable and discussed many braille technologies, including computerized braille translation, and multiple braille embossing methods and refreshable braille displays.
Other conference topics dealt with braille unification; braille in various languages; braille in developing countries; and whether braille competes with or enhances new technologies in the areas of scientific research, professional integration, and educational integration.
CINAL will hold a second conference in June 2009 near Braille’s birthplace. Musicians Stevie Wonder and Andrea Bocelli will perform during a concluding concert.
(Photo caption): Poster designed by Judith Krimski for the National Braille Press to commemorate Braille’s bicentenary.
BARD named “Website of the Year”
The second annual Blind Bargains Access Awards recognized the NLS digital download pilot as Website of the Year in 2008.
The awards, which recognize the achievements of companies and individuals in the assistive technology arena and beyond, were based entirely on submissions by visitors to BlindBargains.com, a leading online resource for blind and visually impaired people. A nomination period was held in early January 2008, followed by a voting round.
NLS BARD (Braille and Audio Reading Download) will be available to all eligible patrons of the NLS talking-book program later this year.
Murphey Keathley, Arkansas’s first 10-Squared member
Murphey Keathley, the Arkansas Regional Library for the Blind’s first Ten-Squared Club member, passed away February 22, 2009. She was 105 years old. Born June 11, 1903, Keathley did not start reading talking books until she was 99. But by 2009, she had read nearly 700 books. She became a member of the NLS Ten-Squared Club in 2005 at the age of 102. During a reception at the Arkansas Regional Library, Keathley received a plaque from then-NLS deputy director Michael Moodie.
Wisconsin patron wins gold medal
Kelley Becherer, an 18-year-old patron of the Wisconsin Regional Library for the Blind and Physically Handicapped, won a gold medal on September 15, 2008, at the Paralympic Games in Beijing.
Becherer, a senior at Sheboygan North High School, won the women’s 50 meter freestyle. earned two bronze medals in other swimming events.
“The gold feels amazing,” Becherer said. “All my hard work has gone into it.”
During a December 3, 2008, meeting with audio producers, NLS staff updated representatives of the American Foundation for the Blind, the American Printing House for the Blind, Carolina Talking Books, Insight for the Blind, the National Audio Company, Potomac Talking Books, and Talking Book Publishers on various aspects of the analog-to-digital transition.
NLS deputy director Robert Fistick opened the meeting, noting, “It is an exciting time for NLS and libraries around the country.” He thanked the audio producers for “raising the bar for our high-level products.” Fistick also expressed regret upon the announcement that the American Foundation for the Blind will be closing its recording studio, stating that “the foundation has played a historic and leading role in the field of talking-book production.”
Michael Martys, head of the NLS Automation Office, and Robert Norton, head of the Quality Assurance Section, explained the new web-based electronic delivery system for digital talking books, inaugurated on December 8, 2008. The system allows audio producers to send entire digital talking books to NLS via the Internet. Previously producers submitted digital talking books by mailing recordings containing all the components of the book. The electronic delivery system will reduce shipping costs and time, eliminate damage to compact disks during shipment, and enable NLS staff to run a series of automatic quality-assurance tests immediately upon receipt of a talking book.
Michael Katzmann, chief of the Materials Development Division, demonstrated different methods of duplicating book cartridges. The producers were shown duplication software programs that run on both the Linux and Microsoft Windows operating systems.
Following Katzmann’s presentation, John Bryant, head of the Production Control Section, discussed production schedules and containers for digital talking-book cartridges.
“Overall the conference accomplished our goals,” Bryant said. “The producers of NLS audiobooks and magazines received the latest information, plans, and requirements regarding the transition to digital audio. I think everyone left the meeting better prepared for the NLS move to digital audio materials.”
The July–December 2008 issue of News failed to identify several new members of the 2008 Collection Development Advisory Group. The names are listed below, along with their affiliations. We apologize for the omissions.
Consumer organization representative
American Council of the Blind (ACB) Cindy Van Winkle Washington
Randy Pierce New Hampshire (Northern Region)
Lula M. Brooks Florida (Southern Region)
Donna Ryan Montana (Western Region)
Rachel Gould Braille and Talking Book Library Perkins School for the Blind Massachusetts (Children’s/Young Adult)
René Perrance Minnesota Braille and Talking Book Library (Midlands)
Carol A. Taylor Connecticut State Library Library for the Blind and Handicapped (Northern)
NLS welcomed Dawn Stitzel as its new Reference Section head on February 18, 2009. “I am excited to be at NLS,” Stitzel remarked. “I look forward to building on the past successes of the Reference Section and helping to provide the best possible service to our patrons.”
Before coming to NLS, Stitzel served as the director of the Baltimore-based Jacobus tenBroek Library at the National Federation of the Blind, where she designed, implemented, and directed all of the programs in the library, focusing on reference services, distribution of literature about blindness, and collection development.
A native of Georgetown, Delaware, Stitzel earned a bachelor’s degree in history from the University of Delaware at Newark, where she graduated Phi Beta Kappa. As an undergraduate she was selected as a Truman Scholar—a prestigious national award given to fewer than 75 students annually. She went on to earn a master’s degree in international affairs from Drew University in Madison, New Jersey, and then taught English for two years as a U.S. Peace Corps volunteer in rural Thailand. Stitzel earned a second master’s degree in American history from Duke University in Durham, North Carolina, and a third master’s degree in library science from the University of Maryland in College Park.
For three years Stitzel worked as a reference librarian at the Office of Naval Intelligence (ONI) in Suitland, Maryland, where she served as the library’s Internet project manager and coordinated the procurement and implementation of ONI’s library automation system. worked for seven years at the U.S. Naval Institute in Annapolis, Maryland, first as manager of the Library and Photo Archive and then as deputy director of the History, Reference, and Preservation Division. While working at the Naval Institute, Stitzel designed a new library space and planned and oversaw the collection’s move to a new facility.
The National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped of the Library of Congress publishes books and magazines in braille and in recorded form on discs and cassettes for readers who cannot hold, handle, or see well enough to read conventional print because of a temporary or permanent visual or physical handicap.
Through a national network of state and local libraries, the materials are loaned free to eligible readers in the United States and to U.S. citizens living abroad. Materials are sent to readers and returned by postage-free mail.
Books and Magazines
Readers may borrow all types of popular-interest books including bestsellers, classics, mysteries, westerns, poetry, history, biographies, religious literature, children's books, and foreign-language materials. Readers may also subscribe to more than seventy popular magazines in braille and recorded formats.
Special equipment needed to play the discs and cassettes, which are recorded at slower than conventional speeds, is loaned indefinitely to readers. An amplifier with headphone is available for blind and physically handicapped readers who are also certified as hearing impaired. Other devices are provided to aid readers with mobility impairments in using playback machines.
You are eligible for the Library of Congress program if:
- You are legally blind--your vision in the better eye is 20/200 or less with correcting glasses, or your widest diameter of visual field is no greater than 20 degrees;
- You cannot see well enough or focus long enough to read standard print, although you wear glasses to correct your vision;
- You are unable to handle print books or turn pages because of a physical handicap; or
- You are certified by a medical doctor as having a reading disability, due to an organic dysfunction, which is of sufficient severity to prevent reading in a normal manner.
How to Apply
You may request an application by writing NLS or calling toll-free 1-800-424-9100, and your name will be referred to your cooperating library.
News is published quarterly by:National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped
Library of Congress
Washington, DC 20542
All correspondence should be addressed to the attention of Publications and Media Section. To change address or cancel subscription, please enclose mailing label.
Editor: Ingrid Davitt
Writers: Lina Dutky, Yvonne French, Corriece Gwynn, Paula Higgins, Sabreen Madyun, and Wilson McBee.