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NLS Press Release

Contract agreement launches the next generation audiobook program for blind and physically handicapped readers

For Immediate Release:
March 1, 2005
Contact: Robert E. Fistick
(202) 707-9279 or [email protected]

WASHINGTON, D.C. - The National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped, Library of Congress (NLS) has contracted Battelle, a leading technology innovation firm, to design and develop a digital talking-book playback machine. The agreement is a milestone in the NLS project to convert its current analog audio system to a flash-memory digital format.

To ensure product accessibility for NLS patrons, experts in disability and technology issues will serve as subcontractors on the project. They are: HumanWare, formerly VisuAide, a leader in digital talking-book technology; National Federation of the Blind, the largest organization of blind persons in the United States with more than 50,000 members; and Trace Research and Development Center at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, which makes information technology and telecommunications systems accessible by people with disabilities.

"We are excited to have brought this exceptional group of companies on board. We have great confidence in their capabilities and we know that the product they design will be a success for our patrons," says Frank Kurt Cylke, NLS director. "This is a major step in realizing our goal of having 60,000 playback units and several hundred thousand digital talking books ready for patron use by 2008."

The completed system will include a digital talking-book playback machine and a flash-memory cartridge that stores the audiobook. The items will be lightweight, portable, and durable enough to survive years of heavy use.

"The digital talking-book system will be designed with the blind and physically handicapped user in mind," says Michael Moodie, NLS deputy director. "Unlike audio players aimed at the general consumer, ours will use tactile features, color differences, and large-print labels to inform users with various kinds of visual impairments about its functions."

The national program distributes more than 23 million free audio and braille books and magazines to blind and physically handicapped patrons through a network of regional and local libraries each year.

More than 23 million copies of recorded and braille books and magazines were circulated to a readership of 799,718 in 2004. The international Union Catalog provides access to 423,500 titles (19 million copies). Audiobook readers borrow an average of 31 books and magazines a year. Braille readers average 20 books and magazines a year.

An overview of the NLS digital talking-book project may be found in the Current Strategic Business Plan for the Implementation of Digital Systems at

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Posted on 2011-01-10