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NLS: That All May Read

Statement of work

For: Digital talking book distribution analysis. Task 3 - Statement of work (Final report : August 29, 2006)

Section 1 - Introduction

1.1 Background

The National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped (NLS) of the Library of Congress (LOC) administers a free library service to approximately 525,000 eligible residents of the US and US citizens living overseas who cannot read, hold or handle print media because of visual and/or physical disabilities. Under a special exemption of the US copyright laws and with the cooperation of authors and publishers who grant permission to use non-covered copyrighted works in the program, NLS selects and produces annually about 2,000 full-length audio book titles and 45 audio magazines in a specialized 4-Track, 15/16 ips recorded cassette (RC) format. NLS also produces annually about 42,000 specially-designed Cassette Book Machines (CBM) which enable readers in the program to play the recorded cassette books and magazines produced in specialized format.

A cooperating nationwide network of 57 regional (RL) and 75 subregional (SRL) libraries currently store approximately 19,400,000 and loan about 19,000,000 RC books per year to readers in the program, while about 3,500,000 copies of cassette magazines are provided annually from manufacturers on a one-way, disposable circulation basis. Operations in network libraries are supported by a combination of federal, state, local and private funding, while NLS contracts with manufacturers for the provision of direct circulation magazines. Virtually all circulation of books, and all circulation of magazines, is on a mail-order basis which is performed by the US Postal Service (USPS) and the costs of which are covered under a special Congressional appropriation for the same ("Free Matter for the Blind").

Cassette technology has been the backbone of the program for almost 30 years, but it has become outdated in several respects and is nearing the end of its useful life. Compared to cassette-based technology, digital audio technology offers significant improvements to readers in the program, network libraries, and NLS. Furthermore, the impending obsolescence of key elements of RC and CBM technology also warrants the conversion of the system to an appropriate alternative technology. NLS has therefore determined to implement digital audio technology as the framework of the future system. Following extensive research, NLS has established a digital audio book standard (ANSI/NISO Z39.86) and has selected a digital file compression algorithm (AMR WB+) to be used to compress the size of files required for audio books yet retain acceptable audio quality.

While NLS anticipates that most patrons of the program will ultimately download digital reading materials from the Internet using a variety of broadband channels, and store and read books and magazines on portable playback machines designed specifically for use with such a delivery system, several major technological and economic impediments related to the provision of broadband Internet access to patrons are expected to continue for some time. NLS has therefore rationalized that reliance upon such a delivery system must be postponed until technological advances make it economically feasible for most patrons in the program.

NLS has performed extensive research and determined that the first digital audio book distribution system will be based upon a high-density, solid-state, Flash Memory medium, using a "one-book, one-object" circulation protocol (i.e., as is currently used), with books being delivered to readers and returned from readers via the USPS. The transition to this system is planned to begin in 2008 and will require approximately four years to complete.

In addition, the entire collection of digital audio books will be available for download by patrons and libraries, probably in 2007, and certainly by the time digital audio book distribution from libraries is begun. This will allow "early adopter" readers who strongly wish access to a book to obtain it directly from the download site, or Digital Asset Management System (DAMS). Libraries will also be able to download books either for titles for which they are not provided copies, e.g., any of the 20,000 "retrospective" (those already produced on cassette) audio book titles planned to be available in digital format by 2008 that are not ultimately mass-duplicated and allocated to libraries, and/or to make additional copies of titles if necessary (e.g., if no copies of a title are available for circulation in a library’s collection and the library furthermore determines that more copies of that title are required).

The Digital Talking Book (DTB), Digital Talking Book Machine (DTBM), and DTB container for the future distribution system are currently being designed, and prequalifications of potential mass-producers are being evaluated. All new audio book title masters are being produced in digital format, as have all titles beginning in FY 2004 (with some produced in digital format as early as FY 2002), and an additional 10,000 titles in cassette format are being converted to digital format via analog-to-digital conversion; as noted, a total of 20,000 titles are planned to be available in digital format by FY 2008. The specifics of the encryption schema required to provide copyright protection for program materials are being developed. A pilot test for Internet-delivery of digital audio magazines has been completed, and a similar pilot test for digital audio books is currently ongoing.

The ManTech project team completed Phase 1 of the DTB Distribution study in September, 2005. This was a feasibility analysis in which three digital book distribution systems were formulated and evaluated, taking into account both NLS and network library-incurred costs, and both economic and non-economic considerations. It was first concluded that the system in which NLS would provide all audio book distribution from contracted Duplication-on-Demand (DOD) Centers is not economically feasible. It was then determined that a "Hybrid" distribution system - in which audio books with the greatest anticipated demand would be mass-duplicated, allocated to libraries, and loaned to patrons as is currently done, and in which books with relatively low anticipated demand would instead be provided by DOD Centers – would be more economically efficient from the perspective of both NLS and network libraries than would a system in which all DTB titles are mass-duplicated. In terms of non-economic considerations, a comparison of the two systems resulted effectively in a "draw."

However, while mass production of Flash Drives is a mature technology, mass-duplication of Flash Drive DTBs is currently only in a formative stage, while duplication-on-demand of Flash Drive DTBs is non-existent. DOD on a mass-scale will be an inherently more complex process than mass-duplication, requiring greater capital investment, set-up time, and extent of automation of operations. Also, libraries will have to make certain minimum enhancements to their information systems in order to function properly in the future distribution system, especially with regard to working with DOD Centers. For all three reasons, ManTech recommended that DTB distribution begin with the All Mass-Duplication system, probably for the first two or three years of the transition period, but then evolve into a Hybrid system thereafter.

ManTech submitted the final Distribution System Design report to NLS on June 29, 2006, which conveyed the same recommendations as those of the Phase 1 final report, except that distribution of DTBs from DOD Centers was recommended after either three or four years of operation of an All Mass-Duplication system. The primary reason for recommending later implementation of DOD Centers is the extremely formative current state of Flash Memory cartridge mass-duplication technology, rather than complexities associated with information exchange between DOD Centers and network libraries.

1.2 Objectives

The The objective of Phase 2 of this project was to develop the design of the selected audio book distribution system (Task 2), Statements of Work (SOW) for distribution-related operations that would likely be contractor-performed (Task 3), and a transition plan to effect implementation (Task 4). NLS generally intends to implement the Phase 1 project recommendations, but it is possible that NLS may not implement DOD Centers and that DTB distribution would then be performed exclusively via mass-duplication and library-based distribution.

The objective of this report for Task 3 of the project is, therefore, to provide Statements of Work for the implementation of both the All Mass-Duplication and Hybrid digital book distribution systems. To this end, SOWs for four areas of future book distribution operations are presented:

While Item (2) above does not fit the strict definition of operations that would be "contracted-out," since they would be exclusively or largely performed by network library staff, NLS has asked ManTech to include this information in the report because such changes will be necessary in order to successfully implement the future DTB distribution system. It is also noted that enhancements to be made to two of the five Library Automation Systems (LAS) expected to be in use in the future system will likely be performed by network library staff rather than by contractors, but the same functionality requirements will apply to all information systems.

1.3       Scope, Assumptions and Limitations

Several Several points regarding the scope of this report, major assumptions made and limitations encountered are listed below.


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Posted on 2006-12-05