Academic journal article Australasian Public Libraries and Information Services

What Talking Books Have to Say: Issues and Options for Public Libraries

Academic journal article Australasian Public Libraries and Information Services

What Talking Books Have to Say: Issues and Options for Public Libraries

Article excerpt

A main element of public library service has always been user expectation and reliance on the provision of new collection resources and formats in addition to traditional services. Today this translates to an emphasis on internet services and online provision of information and collections. The focus of this paper is on spoken word material and audio download services, giving an overview of available audio formats and device features, it covers general issues to consider when making decisions on audio collections and the strengths and weaknesses' of the formats under consideration. Examined are the evolution of audiobooks, emerging technology, and playback devices; service and collection issues, format strengths and weaknesses. Edited version of a paper presented at the Next Chapters conference, State Library of NSW 1-2 May 2009.


For millennia oral storytelling was part of most societies for passing on stories, information and heritage. But when Thomas Edison created the technology to record voice, and play it back, the world of storytelling was revolutionised. Throughout the last century, and this, the development of listening and playing devices and products has experienced a rapid and popular evolution. Development of gramophone recordings, vinyl records, portable cassette recorders, compact disc (cd) players, mp3 players, and computer technology has given the world numerous alternatives for listening to stories, music and information.

The current era for audiobooks began with the advent of internet technology which permitted new compressed audio file formats eg Wav and mp3, to be easily transmitted. Once the file formats were available small portable players with much larger memory capacity became common. The popularity of audiobooks has soared, audio download subscription services have mushroomed and libraries are now faced with a multitude of ways to provide audio services to their users. These massive changes and variety of methods for delivering audiobooks has, as Cec Churm puts it, confused the position, 'and has meant that many libraries have made decisions quickly without any experience or knowledge of its implications for library and library users'. (1)

As the new and ever widening array of choice in formats and technologies multiply so too does the challenge to manage and deliver quality content in ways that are appropriate and can be sustained today and tomorrow. Cassettes are becoming obsolete, and cds are under threat from newer formats. This makes it challenging for users of audio material, but in particular for library services, to provide the most suitable and cost effective audio material and services for users.

It is very clear there is a growing increase in demand for audio and libraries must determine what services and collections can address the needs of traditional and emerging target groups wanting spoken word access. Traditional target groups, such as the print disabled, blind, frail aged, or other persons with a disability, are still heavily reliant on audio material. However the market for spoken word material is much broader, also including computer savvy seniors, baby boomers, and younger people who are embracing spoken audio formats. Why is this so? Possible answers include the rapid availability, ease of access and portability of downloadable audio content. A wide variety of content is available for a relatively low cost and the ease of creating and sharing content online. For example podcasting is attractive to more highly computer literate groups.

In moving from audiocassettes and books on cd to subscription libraries of downloadable audio files, the marketplace of the audiobook has expanded at an alarming rate. At base, the product of talking books essentially remains the same. It is the delivery mechanisms that are driving change. Along with the advent of downloadable audio comes new pricing models and changing patterns of how people are reading. …

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