Academic journal article Library Technology Reports

Implementing and Sustaining a Digital Audiobook Service

Academic journal article Library Technology Reports

Implementing and Sustaining a Digital Audiobook Service

Article excerpt

Getting Started

At the outset of a digital audiobook service, orientation, training, and tech support almost certainly will be a team effort-witting or unwitting--among the vendor, the library consortium (if applicable), the individual library, the user's friends and family, and the user. Although at first glance it may seem advantageous to have the vendor provide the lion's share of the orientation, training, and tech support, there actually are several compelling reasons for encouraging other members of the team to do a substantial part of this work. At the library and library consortium levels, having staff members fulfill these functions provides a great opportunity for library staff to develop a sense of the value, inner workings, and lived experience of the service. A great way to make your digital audiobook service user-centered is to encourage your library staff members to use the service and to help other users. This will give them firsthand knowledge of the pleasures--and frustrations--of using the service.

Fine Tuning Your Digital Audiobook Service

Once a library has launched a digital audiobook service, there are several ways to make it grow and improve. One way is to add other types of digital audio content--such as old-time radio shows, recent radio programs, audio versions of newspapers and magazines, and music-and even digital objects that bring together audio and visual information, such as motion pictures, documentaries and educational films, television programs, and music videos. At the vendor level, OverDrive has been a leader in the institutional market in mixing in other types of content.

Another tactic for increasing the number of users is to offer orientation sessions (in-person as well as online) to help potential new users learn about the service and how to get started. A person needs to overcome some major cognitive hurdles to learn a rather complex, process-oriented technology before he or she can become a regular user of a digital audiobook service, and the reassurance offered by group orientation sessions can comfort the perplexed.

Another strategy is to loan out portable playback devices. This will allow users to experience the joys of digital audiobooks before purchasing a device. If the library preloads the devices before circulating them, new users will be well on their way. Libraries may want to actually give away personal portable playback devices to generate interest in a new program.

One audiobook service provider may not meet all of the needs of your library and its patrons. Listen-Illinois, a collaborative effort in Illinois, provides audiobook content from several vendors. It is trying to integrate the content and services from OverDrive and NetLibrary/Recorded Books into a larger seamless audiobook service. (1) According to Helene Blowers of the Public Library of Charlotte and Mecklenburg County, that library is pursuing more of a "bake-off" approach. It is offering digital audiobook content from two vendors, then evaluating which proves more useful to the patrons who use either or both services (telephone conversation with the author on October 23, 2006).

Practical Operational Considerations

Should Libraries Get into the Device Business?

The Playaway product contains its own playback device wedded--till destruction do them part--to the content. TumbleTalkingBooks requires a live Internet connection and does not allow the transfer of content to portable offline playback devices. If your library decides to go with NetLibrary, OverDrive, Audible, or a host of other services, however, you will need to consider this question: Should the library purchase portable playback devices to circulate to patrons? There are several arguments in favor of doing so. First, digital divide realities may mean that some library patrons who would benefit from and enjoy digital audiobooks cannot afford to purchase a portable playback device. …

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