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Last modified: November 11, 2002
NISO Digital Talking Books (DTB)

[March 15, 2002]   ANSI/NISO Publishes Z39.86-2002 Standard for the Digital Talking Book.    A posting from Lloyd G. Rasmussen and Michael M Moodie of the US Library of Congress announces the publication of the ANSI/NISO Z39.86-2002 standard Specifications for the Digital Talking Book. The standard was ratified by the National Information Standards Organization (NISO) and approved by the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) on March 6, 2002. The new ebook standard "defines the format and content of the electronic file set that comprises a digital talking book (DTB) and establishes a limited set of requirements for DTB playback devices. It uses established and new specifications to delineate the structure of DTBs whose content can range from XML text only, to text with corresponding spoken audio, to audio with little or no text. DTBs are designed to make print material accessible and navigable for blind or otherwise print-disabled persons. The standard provides specifications primarily for DTB files and their interrelationships. It also includes specifications for DTB playback devices in two areas: player performance related to file requirements and player behavior in areas defined in user requirements." The National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped (NLS) will serve as the Maintenance Agency for Z39.86. The six XML DTDs for the DTB are now available online, together with the full text of the standard in HTML and PDF format. [Full context]

[November 13, 2001]   NISO Ballots the Digital Talking Book Standard.    A communiqué from Lloyd G. Rasmussen (US Library of Congress) reports on the Digital Talking Book Standard being balloted by the members of NISO (US National Information Standards Organization) until December 17, 2001. The draft standard "defines the format and content of the electronic file set that comprises a digital talking book (DTB). It uses established and new specifications to delineate the structure of DTBs whose content can range from XML text only, to text with corresponding spoken audio, to audio with little or no text. DTBs are designed to make print material accessible and navigable for blind or otherwise print-disabled persons. The standard provides specifications applicable to all aspects of digital talking book production and rendering, including authoring tools for DTBs, hardware- or software-based playback devices, and compliance-testing software. Its purpose is to ensure interoperability across service organizations and vendors providing content and playback systems to the target population." XML DTDs are presented in Appendices 1-6 of the specification; in addition to the main DTB DTD, the specification provides a DTB-Specific SMIL DTD, an NCX DTD for Navigation Control, a DTD for Portable Bookmarks/Highlights, a DTD for Resource File, and a Distribution Information DTD. [Full context]

[February 16, 2001]   NISO Releases Draft Standard ANSI/NISO Z39.86-200x for Digital Talking Books.    NISO (US National Information Standards Organization) has released a draft version of File Specifications for the Digital Talking Book [Draft Standard ANSI/NISO Z39.86-200x, Version 3.8] for public review. The standard defines an XML 1.0 element set (DTBook3) for markup of the text files of books and other publications presented in digital talking book (DTB) format; XML DTDs are presented in eight appendices. The standard "presents the file specifications for digital talking books (DTBs) for blind, visually impaired, physically handicapped, or otherwise print-disabled readers... DTBs go far beyond the limits imposed on analog audio books because they can include not just the audio rendition of the work, but the full text file and images as well." [Full context]

[July 04, 2000] A NISO Digital Talking Book (DTB) "is envisioned to be, in its fullest implementation, a group of digitally-encoded files containing an audio portion recorded in human speech; the full text of the work in electronic form, marked with the tags of a descriptive markup language; and a linking file that synchronizes the text and audio portions. As this [spec] document illustrates, such a structure will allow the DTB user a broad range of capabilities not possible with current talking books. [As of] March, 1999, DTB work focused on the markup language for the DTB text file. The group decided to use XML (Extensible Markup Language) instead of HTML, as it would provide much more power and flexibility. In cooperation with the DAISY Consortium (, a working group developed an XML Document Type Definition (DTD) for application to digital talking books. The DTD defines the set of allowable tags and sets rules for how they can be used."

From the XML Document Type Definition: "The Digital Talking Book 3.0 provides the means to package a published book with the combination of professional narration, navigation into that narration, and the text of the book marked with tags to convey its structure, content, and metadata about the book and its structure. The XML Document Type Definition (DTD) defines the allowable element types and their attributes that can be used to markup the text of the book sufficiently that textual material can be synchronized with the professionally narrated version of that book. The synchronization can permit concurrent display of the text being narrated, and the textual material can be searched to locate material desired for narration. This application of XML is the next generation after the DAISY 2.0 DTD, for the Digital Audio-based Information System. That application developed a Navigation Control Center (NCC) for synchronizing document structure with narration. The NCC will become another XML application derived from the markup of documents tagged using the dtbook3 DTD. Richer structuring capability is one of the objectives of this DTD. The Synchronized Multimedia Integration Language (SMIL) 1.0 will be used. . ." [dtbook3 XML Document Type Definition implementing the NISO Digital Talking Book Version 3-06.]

"The DAISY Consortium is developing the standards for the next generation of information technology for persons who are blind and print disabled. While DAISY is famous for development of the Digital Audio-based Information System many people do not yet know that the specifications are comprehensive and include Etext and Braille in the production techniques. This paper will explain how high quality Braille can be produced using data prepared in the DAISY / NISO DTBook 3.0 XML specification currently under development. . . DAISY Consortium representatives are involved in the National Information Standards Organization (NISO) work on Digital Talking Books (DTB). Some organizations not part of DAISY also participate in these developments. This NISO and DAISY joint effort is producing the formal Document Type Definition (DTB) which in this paper is being called the DAISY / NISO 3.0 XML DTD. Please don't be confused by the terms DTB for digital talking book and DTD which stands for document type definition! In the DAISY DTB there is a clear separation of the audio files and the text files encoded with the eXtensible Markup Language (XML). The linkage between the two separate files is the Synchronized Multimedia Integration Language (SMIL) files. This means that a Braille producer can simply copy the XML files and move them directly into the Braille production process. . ." [Kerscher presentation, see below]

"Currently, talking books for blind, visually-impaired, physically-handicapped, and otherwise print-handicapped readers are generally distributed on analog cassette. The next-generation technology for this application will be digitally based, bringing many improvements in sound quality and document navigation. NISO Committee AQ [] was formed to develop a standard for digital talking books (DTBs) to ensure compatibility among the many authoring and playback systems expected to be developed. A key part of the standard is the Document Type Definition (DTD) for Text Content of DTBs, which is included here along with an expanded version for easier reference. Two other documents referenced below were created in the early stages of the standards effort to define user requirements for document navigation systems and playback devices. Finally, a report on digital rights management issues prepared by a NISO DTB working group is included.


  • NISO - National Information Standards Organization

  • Specifications for the Digital Talking Book. ANSI/NISO Z39.86-2002. Published by the National Information Standards Organization. NISO Press, Bethesda, Maryland. ANSI Approval Date: 03/06/02. Status: Approved and Published Standard. ISSN: 1041-5653. ISBN: 1-880124-54-8. 136 pages. Hardcopy price: Price: $99 (USD). [cache]

  • ANSI/NISO Z39.86-2002 Standard in HTML format

  • DTDs for the Digital Talking Book [cache]

  • NISO Standards Committee AQ
  • XML DTDs and documentation - URLs

  • [November 11, 2002] "Standards for Electronic Instructional Materials." By Alan Kotok. From November 06, 2002. ['Following up on our recent look at Digital Talking Books, Alan Kotok reports this week on U.S. legislative proposals to implement an electronic standard for learning materials: such a standard, likely to be XML-based, could radically improve the lot of visually impaired children at school.'] "Most people with visual impairments rely on methods like Braille to consume material offered in books and other printed media. However, the availability of these materials is limited. Visually disabled school children have an even more extreme problem due to the scarcity of instructional materials in a format they can consume. A bill in the US Congress now addresses these issues for blind students, and if it becomes law, XML will likely play a key role in its implementation. The ability to create and capture text and images in electronic form creates the potential to create learning materials more quickly and easily than before. Ken Pittman's review of Digital Talking Book (DTB) technology in outlined the standards and critical role of XML behind the DAISY technology on which DTB is based. The publishing industry, advocates for the blind, and some states are already at work to put legislative muscle behind these developments, at least for classroom materials... The bill in question is called the Instructional Materials Accessibility Act (IMAA) of 2002. Senator Christopher Dodd of Connecticut, introduced the bill (S. 2246) in April 2002, with 22 Senate co-sponsors from both parties. In July 2002 Rep. Thomas Petri of Wisconsin submitted a similar bill in the House of Representatives (H.R. 4582), with 84 co-sponsors also crossing party lines..."

  • [October 18, 2002] "The Digital Talking Book." By Ken Pittman. From (October 16, 2002). ['Ee have an investigation of how XML is being used to implement the Digital Talking Book and enhance talking book facilities available to the visually impaired.'] "The talking book is not new. We've enjoyed talking books for nearly as long as we've had recording devices. The question being asked today is whether the use of XML can permit the Digital Talking Book (DTB) to provide new ways of managing information, particularly for the seeing and seeing-impaired communities? This article will look at the technical elements of DTBs: the standards that facilitate their use, effective information management, copyright and security issues, and a look at future applications. The core application of DTB is the conversion of a book into speech. In predigital applications, a narrator reads the book and the publisher reproduces the narration with a commercial replay device. Analog output provides users with basic functionality: play, fast-forward, stop, and rewind. Any charts, graphs, and visual aides used in the original book are lost in analog, linear narrations. That's especially problematic for scientific texts. Despite significant efforts by Recording For the Blind & Dyslexic and the National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped (NLS), a division of the U.S. Library of Congress, less than 10% of published books ever make it into an accessible format... The US Congress is considering the Instructional Material Accessibility Act. Still in committee, this bill would require material used in educational institutions to provide or produce an electronic output of the text compatible with a given DTB standard to facilitate a wider use of text book materials within the visually challenged community. Publishers and educational institutions are supporting the bill. Whether the audio portions of books prove to be a marketable opportunity for publishers is yet to be determined. What is clear is that the visually-impaired community is receiving support from the highest institutions to produce much more robust reading solutions for both educational and leisure reading..."

  • [November 13, 2001] File Specifications for the Digital Talking Book. Draft Standard (subject to change). Draft ANSI/NISO Z39.86-200X. 132 pages. ISSN: 1041-5653. ISBN: 1-880124-52-1. Ballot Period: November 1, 2001 - December 17, 2001. Also in HTML format. [cache]

  • "Subcommittee AQ of the National Information Standards Organization (NISO) is developing a standard for digital talking books (DTBs) for the print-handicapped. A key component of a full-featured DTB will be the incorporation of the full text of the book synchronized with a human speech recording of the book. To make the text file navigable, it will be marked up with an Extensible Markup Language (XML) tag set defined by a Document Type Definition (DTD) designated dtbkn-nn.dtd. NISO subcommittee AQ is developing this DTD in cooperation with the DAISY Consortium." See Version 7, 2001-01-31 or later. NISO Digital Talking Book Version 3-07 = dtbk3-07.dtd revision 3-07 2001-01-31 Harvey Bingham [cache]

  • Digital Talking Book DTD 3-06. 1999-09-24. [cache]

  • DTD Documentation - Version 3. By Harvey Bingham, George Kerscher, Michael Moodie, and the Markup Specification Team. "This document expands upon the XML Document Type Definition implementing the NISO Digital Talking Book Version 3-06..." [cache]

  • Document Navigation Features List; [cache]

  • Prioritized List of Features for Digital Talking Book Playback Devices

  • DTD comments to: - Specifications and Guidelines Work Team (SG)

  • "Braille Production the DAISY Way" By George Kerscher. Presented at 65th IFLA Council and General Conference. August, 1999.

  • Marburger Beiträge zur Integration Blinder und Sehbehinderter, Nr. 1/2000

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