Library looking into digital books

The National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped

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The Library of Congress may go digital to reduce costs and improve services

for blind and physically handicapped people.

The National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped (NLS)

converts printed material to audiotape or Braille and sends it free of charge

to those who qualify. NLS serves more than 765,000 people and has more than

22 million audio books in 40 languages in its archive.

But audio books are bulky to store and expensive to send. LOC believes it

can solve the storage and shipping problem by transferring all the NLS'

materials to digital form. Most documents will be transferred to CDs, but

some will be made available on the Internet. In December, for example, LOC

released more than 2,700 Braille books online, and NLS hopes to add at least

40 new titles each month.

During the past two years, LOC has been working with regional libraries

and the National Information Standards Organization to establish a digital

talking book standard. The standard will determine the best way to save

documents, which may include CDs, magnetic tape or Internet files.

LOC already has installed its first digital recording studio and digital

duplication system in Cincinnati. The Digidesign Pro Tools 24 system, which

operates on a PC, will enable Library personnel to record and copy audio

books onto CDs. Beginning in 2001, companies contracted to produce audio

narrations will have to provide digital recordings.

NLS launched a cost analysis of its talking book program last week to identify

and categorize program costs. Northrop Grumman Corp. and representatives

of cooperating national libraries are performing the analysis.

NLS hopes the cost analysis, due for completion in September, will help

to "build the platform for the library to launch its new digital talking

book service," said NLS director Frank Kurt Cylke.

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