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Created: March 15, 2002.
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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.

Bibliographic information: 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).

The files comprising a DTB fall into ten categories: (1) Package File; (2) Textual Content File; (3) Audio Files; (4) Image Files; (5) Synchronization Files; (6) Navigation Control File; (7) Bookmark/Highlight File; (8) Resource File; (9) Distribution Information File; (10)Presentation Styles.

From the Foreword: "For many years, 'talking books' have been made available to print-disabled readers on analog media such as phonograph records and audiocassettes. These media serve their users well in providing human-speech recordings of a wide array of print material in increasingly robust and cost-effective formats. However, analog media are limited in several respects when compared to a print book. First, they are by their nature linear presentations, which leave much to be desired when reading reference works, textbooks, magazines, and other materials that are often accessed randomly. In contrast, digital media offer readers the ability to move around in a book or magazine as freely as (and more efficiently than) a sighted reader flips through a print book. Second, analog recordings do not allow users to interact with the book by placing bookmarks or highlighting material. A DTB offers this capability, storing the bookmarks and highlights separate from, but associated with, the DTB itself. Third, talking book users have long complained that they do not have access to the spelling of the words they hear. As will be explained below, some DTBs will include a file containing the full text of the work, synchronized with the audio presentation, thereby allowing readers to locate specific words and hear them spelled. Finally, analog audio offers readers only one version of the document. If, for example, a book contains footnotes, they are either read where referenced, which burdens the casual reader with unwanted interruptions, or grouped at a location out of the flow of the text, making them difficult for interested readers to access. A DTB allows the user to easily skip over or read footnotes. The Digital Talking Book offers the print-disabled user a significantly enhanced reading experience -- one that is much closer to that of the sighted reader using a print book."

From Section 1.4 on Accessibility Issues: "Digital Talking Book files, streams, transformation processes, and players have been designed to present their content to people with a wide range of abilities and disabilities. They are designed to allow presentation in forms other than conventional print, due to the inaccessibility of printed documents to these users. It is in the best interest of users that, to the greatest extent possible, files, streams, transformation processes, and players make information available in as many presentation modes as practical, including human-narrated audio, Braille, synthesized speech, large print with user-specifiable size and text re-wrapping for players with visual display, and text and audio synchronization and other enhancements for persons with learning disabilities. Users will also be greatly benefited if controls on players are readily usable by people with a wide range of manual dexterity."

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