DAISY Consortium -- Developing the Next Generation of Digital Talking books (DTB)

George Kerscher & Kjell Hansson
Copyright © 1998 DAISY Consortium


The DAISY Consortium is the worldwide coalition of libraries and institutions serving print disabled persons, developing the open standards, tools, and techniques for the next generation of "digital talking books" (DTB).

The goal of the DAISY Consortium is to develop the standards for the next generation of DTB to be used around the globe. The paper will describe the use of existing open standards and Internet protocols in the development and promotion of the standard. Mastering tools and delivery platforms that Consortium members can use will be described. The importance of this development for libraries schools and users of alternative access methods to information will be examined.

It is expected that based on this paper and the presentation, the representatives of libraries and institutions from around the world will be able to make an informed decision to join the DAISY Consortium and be a part of this Earth-shaping activity.


The DAISY Consortium will establish the International Standard for the production, exchange, and use of the next generation of "Digital Talking Books."


To make the dream of a true International standard come true, a number of major talking book producers throughout the world formed the DAISY Consortium in May 1996 to establish a world standard for compatibility among the next generation talking book systems. The comprehensive system for the next generation of information to be delivered to blind or print disabled persons is called "Digital audio-based Information System" (DAISY), and the organizations working together are called the DAISY Consortium. The DAISY Foundation has been legally established in Amsterdam and its organizational structure is in place. Each organization wishing to join signs an agreement and enters either as a full member or as an associate member. The Consortium, which consists of non-profit organizations, intends to develop an open standard based on existing international standards, which can be used by any manufacturer. With an open standard, manufacturers of playback machines and others in the world will find one integrated, large market, which will benefit both end users and service providers of talking books.

Why Change?

Adults and students who are blind or have other print disabilities depend on their national library serving the blind and print disabled for leisure reading materials, school books, and employment related information. Currently analog cassettes, Braille, and computerized books on floppy disk constitute the types of accessible books provided to the clients of libraries for the blind. "Talking books", the common name for an Analog audio recording, provide by far the most people with essential reading materials for intellectual stimulation than any other format.

Most talking books are still recorded on cassettes, which presently provide the most accessible reading medium for visually impaired people. However, it is difficult given today's implementation to look up information in a talking book or even to simply turn pages. Thus the books most commonly enjoyed by sighted people throughout the world - cookery books, gardening books and religious texts - are difficult for visually impaired people to use in ways considered essential to their sighted colleagues. Books used in school or at work require contents pages, indices and other "structure" for fast and efficient reading. The next generation of digital talking books will provide this functionality!

The need to digitize audio collections around the world is clear. Currently, each country has its own system and format for serving its clients. Some countries use the common two-track cassette. Other libraries use a four-track system and still others use a six-track format. The lack of standards severely limits inter-library cooperation. All of the libraries produce books for their blind and print disabled clients and all have seen the end of the analog cassette quickly approaching. With the rise of the compact disc and now the mini disc, the traditional analog cassette is gradually falling into disuse. This is leading to a shortage of inexpensive audio cassettes and the equipment used to produce and duplicate cassette recordings.

Advantages of New System

The digitization of books intended for persons with disabilities provides opportunities to increase the quality and availability of information to print disabled persons. Visually impaired people have the same needs as everybody else: access to all types of information. Information should not be limited to the language of origin or the language group in which visually impaired people live. The visually impaired community is becoming increasingly multi-ethnic and multi-cultural. As culture, education and information become increasingly global in nature, libraries for the blind have been cooperating internationally to develop the next generation of "Digital Talking Books" (DTB's) and then share the books, which are so desperately needed by the people they serve. Major libraries serving the blind and print disabled have agreed to work together to establish the International Standard for the next generation of DTB's.

NOTE:In this document we use the word "book", but we mean any type of information delivered to persons with disabilities. Newspapers, journals, cookery books, textbooks, novels, etc. are some of the materials that can be produced using the DAISY approach.


The International Standards Organization (ISO) and the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) already have developed International standards that can be used by the DAISY Consortium to fulfill the Mission. These existing standards need to be applied for the specific purposes of Digital Talking Books. Standard Generalized Markup Language (SGML), ISO 8879 is the framework in which the DAISY Consortium intends to work. Hypertext Markup Language (HTML) and Extensible Markup Language (XML) are both applications of the SGML accepted standard. Likewise, the DAISY Consortium intends to "apply" these existing standards in the development of DTB. In other words, the Consortium will use existing standards in the development of the new standard for digital talking books.


SGML has always promoted the concept of separation of "structure" and "content" from "format or presentation." HTML is an application of SGML; which means, HTML uses SGML principles and notation in the implementation. HTML 4.0 reached recommendation status in December 1997 and this version offers many appealing features important to DTB:

HTML 4.0 supports:

Cascading Style Sheets (CSS)
CSS provides a mechanism to separate structure and content from presentation. In this way different types of formatting can be applied to the structure depending on the users preferences. The user can have style sheets that fits their requirements. This applies to visual and to audio formatting. Data produced in this way is much more flexible and portable between different playback devices.
International Character set
Now all languages in the world are supported through language attributes and a character set that can represent even the "double-byte" character sets.
Class attributes
Authors of the HTML 4.0 specification wanted to give content creators the ability to tailor the HTML elements and provide more semantic information. Now class attributes can be applied to most HTML elements that allow the content creator to add semantic information to a normally used structure. This means that an element that was in the past just used to represent a heading could now be used to represent a poem, a recipe, a sub-section, or other structures found in books without changing the underlying file structure or the playback software. This combined with CSS make HTML very flexible.
Web Accessibility Guidelines
The Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI), a program of the W3C developed guidelines for HTML 4.0. These guidelines along with the training programs and work with browser manufactures and developers of authoring tools will make HTML much more friendly to persons with disabilities. Using the same system for DTB as is used on the web ensures more consistency between the system used for persons with disabilities and the mainstream population.
Extensible Markup Language is another application of SGML that is gaining popularity for Internet and other applications. The systems of HTML and CSS are compatible with XML and XML should prove to be a useful way to go beyond the current specification. In fact the other component of DTB is the synchronization of the structure and text with the sound recordings. The system under development uses XML for the notation.

Synchronized Multimedia Integration Language (SMIL)

Another project of the W3C is to develop the exchange specifications and inter operability characteristics for multimedia applications. This working group produced the first draft of the specification in November 1997. Synchronized Multimedia Integration Language (SMIL) (pronounced smile) is an application of XML and allows content creators to combine video, audio, graphics and text in a time-based presentation. Primarily it is the HTML structure and text and the audio characteristics of SMIL that are used in the DTB. It is also simple to include graphical images and associated audio descriptions, if that should prove to be useful in DTB. The specification is in draft status at the time this document was submitted, but it is expected to reach recommendation status for the first version in the second quarter of 1998.

SMIL may become the leading system throughout the world for delivering multimedia applications, or some other system may become dominate, but the information needed to produce DTB is stored in a well defined International standard. It may be necessary to transform the synchronization information to a new syntax, but all the information is created in such a way as to make it portable to a new system with the push of a button. In other words, the notation may change, but the information is stored in a non-proprietary easily modified specification.


Libraries and other institutions serving persons with print disabilities transform printed books into accessible versions. It is clear that an extremely important component of the DAISY system are the tools that will make it easy and efficient to produce books. By "books" we mean any type of information: newspapers, journals, textbooks, novels, dictionaries, etc.

The first examples of a production system were sponsored by Talboks- och punktskriftsbiblioteket, TPB in Sweden. The development company "Labyrinten" was contracted to produce the mastering system. This was the first system that demonstrated the basic functionality of the new concepts behind a DTB.

The production tools incorporate the recording system that provides for the mechanisms to include the structure, content, and the synchronization information between the audio recording and the structure and text. This system must be fast efficient and easy to use for the libraries. The production system is at the heart of the DAISY Concept.

Currently, the DAISY Consortium is engaging in research, development and contract negotiations on production systems that will meet the requirements of the producers. It is expected that the Consortium will be making production tools available to Consortium members that are SMIL and HTML compliant. The Japanese Society for Rehabilitation of persons with Disabilities (JSRD) through their "Sigtuna" project will be making a recording system available to Consortium members as soon as the specifications are adopted by the W3C. It is expected that this will take place in the Spring of 1998.

Data Reduction

It is instructive to point out that audio files are normally very large. A book of 500 pages may be only 1 megabyte if only text is included, but including the human recording will take several gigabytes. This is much more than is normally stored on a standard CD-ROM. This is a factor that makes it difficult to produce a system for a book that will fit on a single CD-ROM. However, the Consortium has made great progress in this area. Some systems, such as MPEG, can store 50 hours of high quality recording in the storage limitations of a CD-ROM. This is one of the major factors that demands that the Consortium proceed in concert with mainstream technology for highly efficient compression techniques.


From the beginning the DTB development focused on a recording and playback systems for demonstrating principles of digital talking book techniques. For playback a Windows version was developed for use with ordinary multimedia PCs. During 1996 a DOS version called DAISY Study Studio was developed. This software had built-in functions for note taking and marking parts of the DTB. For students and other professional users it might be sufficient to start using new digital talking books on computers in a study or work situation. However, when reading a leisure title or a cookery book you need some kind of player. This player must be able to utilize all the advanced functions built-in when recording a book.

Plextalk ™ by Plextor

The Japanese company Plextor started in 1994 to develop a CD-ROM based player for digital talking books.

Basic concept

Plextalk is based on a brand new concept which uses the medium of CD-ROM. It offers a variety of reference modes which permits the reader to go quickly and efficiently to any part of the book. The cross keys and information key give immediate access to any point in the text and instant recognition of where you are within the text.

The CD-ROM discs created by the DAISY system are compatible with Plextalk, so you can take full advantage of all the benefits and index information that DAISY has to offer.

Field Trial

In 1996 the DAISY Consortium Field Test Committee took on its first mission. Together with representatives from European World Blind Union the Consortium and the Japanese testing organization formed the International Committee for World Field testing of DAISY and Plextalk.

The Plextor Company produced several hundred machines that were shipped in December 1996 to different countries which had expressed interest to take part in the testing. The Consortium provided version 0.99 of DAISY Recording System to those institutions and libraries that were interested in producing their own testing material. Other test sites could lend material from other libraries i.e. Royal National Institute for the Blind in UK and The Swedish Library of Talking Books and Braille.

During the period January through June 1997, around 900 persons in 28 countries tested the players and filled in questionnaires. The result from the field trial was presented in its preliminary version at the consortium meeting in Copenhagen in August 1997.

New player

Plextor company have announced sale of their new and modified Plextalk machine in April 1998 this version is very much built on the knowledge and user inputs from the field trial.

Victor ™ by Visuaide

VisuAide is a Canadian based company that has worked in the disability field for more than ten years They are working with the DAISY Consortium to develop a portable playback device. The model on display at the CSUN conference accepts DAISY books on CD-ROM. The player will accept the old DAISY format and the new HTML and SMIL formats. The interface is currently in French and English and is planned for other languages.

The unit has a high-tech and professional look. It weighs 1 kg. and measures 6 1/2 by 8 1/2 by 2 inches. The system is upgradable through a system CD-ROM, so new software and support can be added. The unit is a "caddy-less" unit designed for students and professionals. The features include:

WebSpeak ™ & Sigtuna Browser ™ by Productivity Works

In addition to the portable units described above, the DAISY Consortium through its member organizations have supported the development of a non-visual, self-voicing, web browser. Initially Recording For the Blind & Dyslexic (RFB&D) worked with Productivity Works to extend their product, "WebSpeak" to work with early implementations of DTB. The Japanese Society For the Rehabilitation of Persons with Disabilities (JSRD) initiated a major project, code named "Sigtuna" to bring the Internet closer to all persons with disabilities.

JSRD sponsored the addition of Japanese character support to the WebSpeak product. With a Japanese synthesizer, WebSpeak is now enabled for Japanese speaking users. This browser has been named the "Sigtuna Browser" and JSRD is expected to make this available at no cost through Internet download. The Sigtuna Browser supports the DAISY file specification and can be used in Japanese or English to read DAISY books. Of course the Sigtuna Browser can be used to surf the Internet as well.

The Sigtuna project has contributed in other ways. With Productivity Works, the Sigtuna project is developing a system to access the web through a standard telephone. JSRD is an excellent example of a DAISY Consortium full member that is taking a leadership role in the Consortium. When any Consortium member moves forward on a project, all Consortium member organizations benefit. We can see this attitude in all of the full member organizations in any number of projects that are running all over the world.

NOTE: Productivity Works participates in W3C, SMIL, NISO, and DAISY file specifications developments. This company is presenting a paper at the CSUN conference and will be displaying their products at their booth.


The DAISY Consortium provides for "full" or "associate" membership for libraries, colleges, and non-profit organizations serving persons who are blind or who have other print disabilities.

Full Membership

Full membership is intended for organizations that want to be a driving force in setting the world-wide standard for the next generation of information for persons with print disabilities. An organization considering joining as a full member must have a philosophical commitment to the mission and should want to take a leadership role in developing and implementing the DAISY standard. This level of commitment carries a financial and a human resource commitment that is substantial. Only full member organizations participate on the Steering Committee and have a vote in the policies and practices of the Consortium.

Full membership should be considered by:

It is possible for several organizations that represent a geographical or language group to pool resources to become full members. These organizations act and speak with one voice within the Consortium. This makes it possible for several libraries to work cooperatively and join the DAISY Consortium.

Associate Members

Only individual organizations can join as associate members to the DAISY Consortium. In some cases organizations have elected to collaborate with other organizations to join as full members, but many other organizations elect to join as an associate member. These organizations may not have the resources to justify full membership, but associate members should be committed to the mission and should be willing to commit to assist in the development and implementation of the DAISY standard. Participation in the Steering Committee is not allowed, but the views and opinions of associate members are always considered.

Associate membership should be considered by:

Financial Commitment

Full members

Full members pay an initial $30,000 U.S. initiation fee and commit to at least three years of annual dues. The annual dues are $30,000 U.S. per year. This means that the first year a full member will pay $60,000 U.S. and in the second and third years they will pay $30,000 U.S. each year. Note: that members joining in the middle of a year will have the annual fee prorated (i.e. if the library joins in July half of the annual fee would be paid the first year.)

Associate Members

Associate members pay $5,000 U.S. per year. Organizations cannot split this fee between several organizations.

Human Resource Commitment

The amount of time devoted to Consortium work varies greatly among the organizations. It is expected that full member organizations send at least two representatives to the semi-annual meetings held in varying locations around the world. To maintain consistency, it is expected that the same representatives attend meetings. In addition to meetings, full and associate member organizations are expected to participate on work teams. It is not required that organizations assign their employees to work teams, but this is one of the most important ways for an organization to become more involved. There is no restriction on how many people can be assigned to work teams. Work team leaders are from full member organizations. Once an organization commits a person to a work team for a certain percentage of their full time job, these people are expected to perform duties as though they were working for the Consortium -- in fact they are, but the member organization pays their salary. This is explained more fully in the "DAISY Communication and Collaboration." Section.

Semi-Annual Meetings Throughout the World

As stated in the DAISY Consortium agreement meetings shall be held at approximately 6 months intervals.

The first meeting was held in Stockholm in May 1996 when the Consortium was founded. Since then the Consortium have had meetings in Cambridge in October 1996, in Zurich in April 1997, in Copenhagen in August 1997 and in Madrid in October 1997. The next meeting will be held in Hamburg in April 1998.

Usually every other meeting consist of one closed meeting for full members only and one open meeting for associate and full members. On one of the days, one or more of the subcommittees call for a meeting.

The inviting member organization acts as host for the different meetings, and the chairs of the steering- and subcommittees prepare the agenda for the meeting.

Since forming the executive committee and electing a project manager it is the Executive Committee and the Project Manager'sresponsibility to prepare documents for the steering committee meetings.

Communication and Collaboration

Communication between DAISY Consortium members can most effectively be accomplished using Internet functions: personal email, discussion lists, FTP, and the World Wide Web. Formally published documents including the "DAISY Strategic Business Plan" and the "Project Plans" will be available on the DAISY web site at http://www.daisy.org. The Executive Committee, (E.C.) representatives of full and associate member organizations, sub-committees, working teams, the Project Manager, (PM) and software and hardware developers will use Internet communication to exchange needed information. Email discussion lists, email, FTP, and the web are communication mechanisms that provide the fast, dependable transfer of information the consortium needs.


  1. The DAISY Strategic Business Plan (in progress) will provide a clear, high-level statement of direction to guide the consortium. This will need to be approved by the consortium's representatives and will be available on the DAISY home page. It is expected that the strategic plan will be revised occasionally.
  2. The "Project Plans" show consortium activity that directly contributes to the implementation of the Strategic Plan. Each authorized project is listed showing the project's mission and scope, the responsible team leader, Phases, steps and tasks, beginning and completion dates, Milestones, mission critical and dependent activities. The overall project plan is maintained monthly by the PM and will be available on the DAISY home page.
  3. "Consortium Communication and Collaboration" is a document describing how the consortium members work together over long distances. Through the following reporting activities, the Project Plan is updated and kept current. This is primarily an email activity.
  4. Monthly reporting takes place on four levels:
    1. Individual working teams and software developers report to the PM and to their sub-committee on their progress.
    2. Each sub-committee reports to the EC and the PM on progress of working teams under their direction.
    3. The PM updates the overall project plans available on the DAISY web site. This will show the overall status of the consortium activity. (This can be emailed to consortium members as well.)
    4. The PM reports on a monthly basis to the Chairperson and to the EC with accomplishments and future plans.


Discussion lists will be created for each sub-committee and working team. Messages sent to the list by individuals registered for their list will automatically be sent to each person on the sub-committee or working team. Any new person joining a sub-committee or working team will have access to the archive of the list they join. This should make it easier for new people to get updated on past activity. This use of discussion list servers should reduce the amount of overall email traffic and focus email on direct activities of the sub-committees and working teams. It is expected that team leaders would receive guidance from their sub-committee members through the sub-committee's discussion list.


The Consortium will explore the use of FTP sites for the transfer of software and other data the consortium members need. For example, refreshes of software would be available for download through an FTP site. This eliminates the need for costly and time-consuming disks to be sent through the post.


As stated above, the DAISY web site would store the formal documents and communications of the DAISY Consortium. The web site would also be used for public relations and standards advancement.


Each working team leader and contracted software developer will report monthly to their sponsoring sub-committee and to the PM. Essentially, a report on the activity of the past month and a plan for the next month are required. This activity plan and report will be compared with the team's project plan and specific deliverables as it applies to the overall Project Plan.

The PM will provide a similar report to the Chairperson, and the EC on activity and plans for the next month and beyond. The updated overall Project Plan will be the mechanism for keeping the whole consortium up-to-date on project status.


Each full consortium member has a voting representative assigned to the consortium and each associate member organization has a nonvoting representative. It is suggested that a second person from each organization consistently participate in consortium meetings and activities. In this way one senior person will be responsible for decisions and another can support in communication and implementation details. It is felt that two persons can more effectively communicate and organize work team activities at their organization.

It is the responsibility of these consortium representatives to communicate inside their organizations. Both consortium representatives should communicate information marked "IMPORTANT" throughout the higher levels of their organization. The email messages marked as "IMPORTANT" must be circulated to the higher management of the consortium member management group. It will be necessary for each consortium representative to "sign off" on these types of communications. In this way important information will be communicated effectively. No problems will be encountered with "not knowing" about business matters critical to consortium activity.


Committees authorize working teams. Committees will have one or more working teams under their guidance. Each working team will have one or more specific projects to complete for their committee and the consortium. These projects need to be clearly defined with a mission and scope statement, detailed project plan, a responsible team leader, and delivery dates. The team members are paid by the organization they represent. Their time spent working on consortium projects is part of their job at the organization they represent. For example, an organization would assign a person to work on a consortium team and that organization would pay their salary and expenses to complete the consortium project. In this way it is clear that participation on work teams is at the discretion of the member organization. A consortium member organization may participate as much or as little as they wish. We hope that each organization will choose to vigorously participate in the overall project through committee and work teams.

Each working team will need a detailed plan; a clear definition of their work and deliverables specified by a time line. It is essential that each person on the team and the consortium itself clearly understand the role of any working team. The activity of a team is identified in the Project Plan and contributes to the success of the Strategic Plan. The working teams must agree to deliver all that is identified in their plans according to the time-lines of their projects.

NOTE: examples will be available to guide team leaders in their project planning and reporting.

Each month each team leader will send a report to their authorizing sub-committee and to the PM identifying:

  1. Accomplishments over the past month
  2. Specific work scheduled for the next month
  3. Long term issues in progress
  4. Any mission critical issues that may be ahead or behind schedule

The role of the working team leader is essential. It is at the level of working teams and software developers that products and other deliverables are produced. The activity of a working team may be the effort of one consortium member or one software developer, or the working team may span many different consortium members.

Meet the DAISY Consortium Members

In the sections above the structure and organization of the DAISY Consortium was described. Here are the libraries and the many representatives working on Consortium activities.

Steering Committee

Each member may have more than one representative but only one vote.

DAISY Foundation

Associated members


Edit and Access Subcommittee

Technical Subcommittee


As stated in this paper, the DAISY Consortium will establish the international standard for the next generation of Digital Talking Books. This is a great mission involving a lot of collaborative work and agreement among many people. The DAISY Consortium is going to work with producers of talking books as well as libraries and other institutions providing service to print impaired people. We also need to cooperate and give support to commercial software and hardware producers, who manufacture products compatible with the new DTB. We welcome any library and other institutions to join us in our effort, as full member, associate member or tester of the different products that will be released in the coming years. Our goal is set and we now simply need to cooperate to make the dream come true.