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Oral History Interview: Frank Kurt Cylke

Identifier: 05-C2011.4

Scope and Contents

1 audio recording, 1:19:28 in length. An interview log with time stamps has been created, but the recording has not been transcribed. 0:00    Introductory Statements / Disclaimers 0:56    Family Background / Education 3:37    Primary / Secondary / Higher Education 4:27    Why library school? 5:34    His dream goal / Cost of Library School 6:45    Career path before the Library of Congress 7:48    Library of Congress 8:00    Library for the blind / The library world was in an upset 8:33    Sent to do battle with Dr. Jernigan 9:50    What was the problem with the library? 12:06    Addressing Issues 12:57    Technology starting in the 1970s 13:12    Wire to Cassette Technology 15:48    Users of the Programs 16:09    Overview of what Cylke did / Size of the staff 17:12    More on Technology (Again) 17:48    Working in a federal environment 18:44    Popular Novels 20:17    The evolution of Kurt’s relationship with Kenneth Jernigan / Damage control 24:30    History of the situation / ACB vs. NFB 26:10    Visit from four ACB members / Cylke’s relationship with the ACB 27:54    A policy of meeting twice a year with NFB / Presentations of texts 30:27    When did you start the digital conversion? 33:38    Was the divided house only because of your predecessor? 34:38    Who was Jernigan? 37:28    Cylke’s in Jernigan’s pocket! / No real conflict 39:28    Judy Dickson / Network 42:15    Jill Louis / Is there a need for libraries? 44:35    New technology to automatically download books 47:06    Has your relationship changed with the NFB since Jernigan’s retirement? 47:22    How do Jernigan and Maurer differ? 50:30    I’m not blind stories! 51:17    Proportion of blind staff members. 52:12    Judy and Cylke are not members of the NFB or ACB 54:00    Bad relations with the NLS and the ACB? 57:55    Experience with other noteworthy members of the NFB - Adrianne Asch 1:02:03    Modified participatory management 1:02:43    The Library of Congress reports and politics 1:06:25    Psychology of Federal Government Employees 1:08:54    Awards / Jernigan Award 1:11:25    International cooperation / Founded IFFLA 1:13:04    Daisy 1:15:10    Hobbies / Arthur Ransom / Sailors 1:19:18    Closing remarks


  • Created: 2011
  • Other: Majority of material found in 2011
  • Other: Date acquired: 08/10/2011


Conditions Governing Access

Access to these papers is governed by the rules and regulations of the Jacobus tenBroek Library. Consult the Archives staff for further information.

Conditions Governing Use

The Jacobus tenBroek Library holds copyright on some, but not all, of the material in our collections. Requests for permission to publish material from this collection should be directed to the Archives staff. Researchers who obtain permission to publish from the Jacobus tenBroek Library are also responsible for identifying and contacting the persons or organizations who hold copyright.

Biographical or Historical Information

Cylke retires after four decades as NLS director After 38 years of service, Frank Kurt Cylke retired as director of NLS on February 28, 2011. During his tenure, Cylke shepherded the talking-book program into the digital age, overseeing the transformation from analog audiocassette books, magazines, and players to books on flash-memory cartridges and digital talking-book machines. Under his leadership, circulation increased to more than 27 million audio and braille books and magazines and readership increased 155 percent.   The concept of using digital media was first introduced in 1990, when representatives of four national agencies serving blind and physically handicapped individuals met in Dublin, Ireland, and agreed to full exchange of technological information. Beginning in 1997, NLS coordinated the development of ANSI/NISO Z39.86-2002, the national standard for the Digital Talking Book (DTB), which the National Information Standards Organization (NISO) approved in 2002. The standard made electronic resources in DTB format more accessible to print-disabled readers worldwide. In August 2009—after nearly two decades of extensive research, planning, design, production, testing, and modification—distribution of the digital talking-book system was fully underway. The process required ongoing consultation with patrons, librarians, and contractors across the country and around the globe. "Many, many steps were taken to ensure the materials were appropriately designed, thoroughly tested, and properly produced," said NLS Materials Development Division chief Michael Katzmann, whom Cylke hired as head of the Engineering Section in 2005 and tasked with implementing the transformation from analog to digital. "Kurt made certain we didn't proceed until we were ready," Katzmann recalled. Under Cylke's stewardship the NLS Braille and Audio Reading Download (BARD), designed by automation officer Michael Martys and research and development officer Neil Bernstein, was launched as a pilot project in October 2006. The pilot program was recognized by the Blind Bargains Access Awards as Website of the Year in 2008, based entirely on submissions from visitors to, a leading online resource for blind and visually impaired people. The service was open to all eligible patrons in April 2009. The total number of downloads during BARD's first three months was 1,606 books and 295 magazines. On February 21, 2010, BARD had its 1 millionth download, Charlotte's Web. In 2004, Cylke created the 10-Squared Talking-Book Club to recognize the more than 1,600 centenarians who were active readers in the program. Edna White, 103 years old from Jacksonville, North Carolina, was the club's first inductee on October 24 of that year. Since then, more than 450 patrons have been inducted. NLS/BPH: NEWS, April-June 2011, Vol. 43, No. 2

Note written by


1.00 items

1 digital audio recording, 75MB other_unmapped

Language of Materials



Oral history interview with Frank Kurt Cylke collected by Edward Morman on August 10, 2011, in the Recording Studio at the National Federation of the Blind Jernigan Institute.

Source of Acquisition

Edward Morman

Method of Acquisition

Collected as part of the NFB Oral History Program.

Other Descriptive Information

Interview Log prepared by Alexander Lester, June 2016

Archon Finding Aid Title
Anna Kresmer
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description
Code for undetermined script
Language of description note

Repository Details

Part of the Jacobus tenBroek Library, National Federation of the Blind Jernigan Institute Repository

200 East Wells Street
at Jernigan Place
Baltimore MD 21230 US
(410) 659-9314