Audiobooks join the GPO catalog

A CIA-published book covering 50 years of presidential intelligence briefings is the first audiobook to be offered on the Government Printing Office’s online Federal Digital System (FDsys).

Public Printer Davita Vance-Cooks called the book, “Getting to Know the President: Intelligence Briefing of Presidential Candidates, 1952-2004,” a milestone in GPO’s expansion into more digital publishing formats. It is offered on the site as a free MP3 download.

FDsys already hosts some MP3 audio files, including recordings of Air Force One radio traffic in the wake of President Kennedy’s assassination in 1963, but the CIA book by John Helgerson is the first audiobook. Government has been slow to adopt new book formats, said FDsys program supervisor Selene Knoll.

“The format has been around for a while, but it hasn’t been used much in government for publishing accessible documents,” Knoll said. “We’re starting to see that change.”

“Getting to Know the President,” first published in 1996 and now in its second edition, also is available as a printed book, as an e-book and in PDF format. The agency approached GPO about offering the audiobook on FDsys, Knoll said. “The CIA wanted to make it available to the broadest possible audience and came to GPO to assist with distribution.”

The FDsys platform, which opened in 2009 to replace the GPO Access website, reflects a shift to electronic publishing at a time in which about 97 percent of GPO’s content is born digital. It was designed to support multiple formats, and the addition of an audiobook required no upgrading. “We are ready to put up any kind of public file format that agencies come to us with,” Knoll said.

GPO created a metadata package for the book’s files using the Open Archival Information System, an industry standard reference model for packaging permanent data about electronic files.

The shift to digital formats has cut costs and expanded availability of publications at GPO. According to the printing office’s most recent annual report overhead costs for fiscal 2012 were held at 2008 levels. FDsys now delivers about 44 million document retrievals a month, up from 37 million in 2012.

One of the most popular digital documents now is the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act — aka Obamacare — which GPO spokesman Gary Somerset called “wildly popular.” It has been downloaded 7 million times so far in calendar 2013. With implementation of the law, there has been a lot of interest in seeing what it says,” Somerset said.

The JFK assassination recordings, which spurred a one-day record of 55,856 downloads one day after their release on Jan. 30, 2012, also have remained popular. The 2 1/2 hours of radio traffic between Air Force One, the White House and government officials in Washington, D.C., and elsewhere was recorded by the White House Communications Agency in the wake of John F. Kennedy’s assassination in Dallas on Nov. 22, 1963. They were being downloaded about 2,000 times a month as of September, and that is expected to grow with the approach of the 50th anniversary of the assassination later this month.

FDsys was developed to handle high demand, and additional storage is added as needed, Knoll said. “It’s an ongoing process. This is a living system.”

Spikes in demand can be accommodated through the Akamai content delivery network, and FDsys has not fallen victim to its popularity, she said. “We were prepared for this. We were hoping for this.”

About the Author

William Jackson is a Maryland-based freelance writer.

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