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'Dooks' For The Blind

It will be a talking book that even looks like a book, although most of its users will never see it.

Instead of a cassette tape, it will have no moving parts but will read a volume digitally from a card smaller than a credit card. The dull silvery cover folds on a hinge to the size of a normal book from a library shelf.

When open, it looks like a book with just two thick pages, divided by a hinge. A series of differently shaped buttons along the edges will enable the blind reader to turn pages forward and backward, skip quickly, insert bookmarks, search for a remembered passage.

The wooden model will be reproduced in plastic. The principles of the hardware are known, but it will take three to four years to adapt them so that the new digital readers are no more expensive than the tape readers in today's talking books.

The section of the Library of Congress that circulates talking books for the blind exhibited on Monday the winning model from among 146 entries from 28 design schools. It came from Lachezar Tsvetanov, a 23-year-old student of industrial design from Sofia, Bulgaria, studying at the University of Bridgeport, Conn. He won a $5,000 first prize.

"We wanted something that would look good in a living room or a dining room," said Frank Kurt Cylke, director of the National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped.

The library serves almost 730,000 readers of books and magazines with cassette tapes that are read to them by about 500,000 bulky plastic players. The players look like oversized telephone answering machines. The catalog holds more than 350,000 books and magazines in 22 million copies. This system will become obsolete as machines and tapes wear out and parts become hard to find.

An improved sound system in the new digital readers will benefit older users who cannot read braille, the system of raised dots that enables the blind to read by touch.

Over three years, the library will convert about 30,000 titles, mostly standard works and bestsellers, to the new technology at a cost of about $75 million. The software already exists and is being used to start the adaptations.

After electronic details of the new system are worked out, bids will be sought for the manufacture of 50,000 players. The goal is to put the first of them into the hands of users by 2008 and to add 50,000 a year over the following 10 years until the cassette players are replaced.

The "dooks," as the library calls them, will not be on sale but will be distributed free to those who need them, as the current tape players are.

By Carl Hartman

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