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Research on a future digital talking book is going on in over twenty countries. The National Library Service is seeking public comment on a draft document describing the features envisioned for the next generation of talking books.

The Canadian National Institute for the Blind Library has a "Frequently Asked Questions" page about its progress in the transition between cassette talking books and the digital talking book.

The Industrial Designers Society of America (IDSA) and the National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped, Library of Congress, conducted a student design competition to challenge student designers to create the next generation of digital talking book playback machines. The winners were announced in June, 2002.

The Final Draft of "File Specifications for the Digital Talking Book" has been released by the National Information Standards Organization (February 1, 2001).

"Digital Talking Books, Progress to Date" (2002) is a revision of "Digital Talking Books, Planning for the Future" (1998), describing the plans for a digital talking book and the steps accomplished so far.

The question of digital rights management, so dear to the hearts and wallets of writers and publishers, is dealt with in detail in "Rights Management in Digital Talking Books," a Report of the Digital Rights Management Working Group, Digital Talking Book Committee, National Information Standards Organization (NISO).

The Canadian Heritage Millennium Digital Collection "is made of 500 seminal English and French novels, poetry, speeches, historical documents, and other texts, spanning 500 years of Canadian letters." The Collection contains four different formats: digital audio synchronized to text, electronic Braille, electronic text and websites.

The DAISY Consortium is also working on a prototype of a digital talking book, with contributions from researchers in the U.S.A., Canada, Europe and Japan.

One of the first reports on the design, use and evaluation of the DAISY system is by Sarah Morley, "Digital Talking Books on a PC: A Usability Evaluation of the Prototype DAISY Playback Software" [1998].

The American Foundation for the Blind presents a working model of the DAISY digital talking book in the form of Dr. Martin Luther King's "I Have a Dream" speech.

The DigiBook Project is developing new techniques for the production of talking books, combining digital speech processing with a structured machine-readable electronic text.

"Digitization of the Book: A Report on Present Trends" is a superb overview from an international perspective of the issues, technologies and prospects for the digital talking book.

Jan Engelen and Tom Wesley, "Surmounting the Copyright Hurdle: the SEDODEL Project," discuss the problems with copyright and dissemination of electronic documents, and how a program of secure document delivery to the blind and visually handicapped can obviate the problems.

Recording for the Blind and Dyslexic is working on AudioPlus, a way of coordinating text and audio files to increase ease of navigation.

"Hybrid Book: A New Perspective in the Education and the Leisure for the Blind," by Paolo Graziani, Andras Arato and Terez Vaspori, describes a technique for creating a new form of talking book, in which "structured ASCII text, in a modified HTML format, is synchronously stored on a CD-ROM with compressed human speech. The HTML source and the human speech records are integrated by means of a pre-compiler."

Information Technology and Disabilities, on online-journal, devotes an entire issue (August, 2000) to reports on recent developments in the creation of the digital talking book.

George Kerscher, a researcher for RFB&D, has published a good description, fairly accessible to those of use who aren't computer scientists, of a possible future talking book: "Structured Text, the Key to Information Now and in the Future."

Microsoft Reader software will be combined with PulseData's Braille Note personal data assistant to provide access to e-texts through speech and refreshable braille display.

T. V. Raman has devised AsTeR (Audio System for Technical Reading) to make it possible for complicated scientific and technical material to be put into audio format.

A full exposition is Raman's "Audio System for Technical Reading."

Raman is also the author of "Auditory User Interfaces: Toward the Speaking Computer" (Boston: Kluwer, 1997).

Gerry McKiernan compiled and maintains "The Next WAVe(sm): Auditory Browsing in Web and non-Web Databases," "a clearinghouse of projects, research, products and services that describe or apply auditory interfaces, displays or interactive technologies to enhance use and access to Web and selected non-Web databases. Selected significant reports, papers, and articles are also provided for each profiled activity. The clearinghouse is arranged by the name of the university, corporation, or other organization with which the principal investigator of a project is currently, or was formerly, affiliated. A general bibliography of applicable works is also provided."

The National Institute of Standards and Technology and the Video Electronics Standards Association hosted "Electronic Book conferences," in 1998-2002, devoted to devices which integrate displays and storage media for new learning, work and entertainment tools such as hand-held electronic books. . . . The goal . . . is to illustrate the current and future capabilities of a hand held electronic book (E-book). . . ." If the common format turns out to be a stable variant of SGML or HTML, and if the hand-held book itself is accessible, the electronic book may well be compatible with common screen-reading programs--enormously increasing blind people's access to electronic texts.

Digital Talking Book Players and Playback Programs

The eClipse Reader "enables print disabled persons to play talking books with the added benefit of chapter, page, heading and phrase level navigation. In addition to book navigation, eClipseReader incorporates study tools that enables students to take notes, create multiple bookmarkers that can be saved and later reviewed."

Motoaki Kaneko,in "Plextor is a Long Playing CD Book for the Next Generation of 'Digital Talking Books,'" describes the retail version of a CD digital talking book which can store up to 50 hours of human voice recording on a single CD. The PLEXTALK player was promised for commercial release by Plextor in Spring, 1998.

Victor: the Digital Talking Book Reader, based on CD-ROM technology, is produced by VisuAide (Quebec).

In addition, the DAISY organization lists seven software playback programs and six hardware players for DAISY digital talking books, either currently available or under development.

Aurelian Tisne, et al., "A Reading System for Digital Recorded Speech" is a rather abstract discussion of the design concepts relating to a future digital talking book; there are also footnote hyperlinks to other similar discussions.

The Royal National Institute for the Blind has posted two important documents on the future digital talking book, the "EBU Working Seminar on Next Generation Talking Books (1996)" and "User Requirements for the Next Generation of Talking Books."

TeleRead: Bring the E-Books Home promotes "a nonpartisan plan to get electronic books into American homes--through a national digital library and small, sharp-screened computers." How this would benefit blind readers is not quite clear, though if the standard format is HTML, screen readers should be able to handle the electronic book.

One obstacle to the virtual library and the universal availability of digital talking books is the great diversity of copyright legislation around the world. The Royal National Institute for the Blind has a comprehensive review of copyright legislation, "Copyright laws and the rights of blind and partially sighted people: A review of copyright legislation as it affects access to the written word through alternative formats."

"Bridging the Gap in the Provision of Library Services and Literacy Support for the Blind in Realizing the Information Age," a preseminar of the 65th IFLA Council and General Conference (Bangkok, Thailand, August 20 - August 28, 1999), includes a number of papers on the future of the digital library: Hiroshi Kawamura, Director, Information Center and International Relations Division, Japanese Society for Rehabilitation of Persons with Disabilities: "DAISY in Japan; Sigtuna Project and the Japanese Society for Rehabilitation of Persons with Disabilities." Kjell Hansson & Lars Sönnebo, Swedish Library of Talking Books and Braille, "TPB: DAISY/TIPS: Production of DAISY titles using A/D conversion at The Swedish Library of Talking Books and Braille." Chris Day, Royal National Institute for the Blind, UK, "Digital Talking Books: Delivery Systems and the Future." Dick Tucker, "The digital library - prospects for developing countries."

Besides research directed at the next generation of digital talking books for the audience of blind and physically handicapped people who cannot use standard print, there are many recent developments in the creation of commercial digital books aimed at the general public.

The Badger Online Bookshop has several dozen Wisconsin titles on sale and downloadable for $5.00 each. offers by subscription a library of technical computer reference works online and, for purchase, downloadable e-texts of some titles.

Some efforts to create commercial e-books:

The question of the digital format of the future e-book has produced a variety of answers. Take a look at BookWorks for some of the possibilities.

"Mary Wolf's Guide to Electronic Publishers" covers publishers of book-length and shorter ebooks, as well as ebook stores and distributers.

Some conferences on dealing with the future of the electronic book: "The Future of Print Media: A Virtual Symposium on the Digital Transformation of Printing and Publishing" (actually a series of symposia, with proceedings available online)

Ira Goldstein, "Observations on Reading and Publishing in the Electronic Age" is full of information about the future of the book, but uses a totally inaccessible graphical presentation.

The EBX Working Group is an ad hoc group developing a standard for electronic book exchange.

The Open eBook Initiative includes "a specification for eBook file and format structure based on HTML and XML, the languages used to format information for Web sites."

Microsoft would like to see its ClearType technology used on the screens of e-book displays and cooperates with the e-book producers to adopt an industry-wide standard for file formats.

Microsoft is working to increase the accessibility of the Microsoft Reader [March 2001].

Microsoft is licensing technology from Labyrinten Data AB that will "enable consumers to freely switch between the audio and text versions of an eBook," provided that publishers choose "the option of including additional information within their eBooks to enable synchronized audio narration." [June 2000]

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