Magazine article American Libraries

Sound Literature: A Guide to Audiobooks for Youth

Magazine article American Libraries

Sound Literature: A Guide to Audiobooks for Youth

Article excerpt

The act of reading is evolving. Today's readers can experience the same story as they toggle between audiobooks in the car, ebooks on the iPad, and paperbacks at home, and young people in particular are naturals in this transmedia world.

Introducing these digital natives to literature as audio--books can be as easy as maintaining a format-neutral policy when referring to reading. As families, classroom teachers, and library workers consider expanding their collections of literature in the 21st century, evolving formats provide challenges to developing and maintaining them.

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The quickly changing world of publishing can paralyze librarians who are hesitant to purchase a possibly short-lived format. As audiobooks shift from physical to digital releases, questions about digital rights management and downloading protocols raise concerns about content ownership versus rental. Availability of both broadband for downloading and the players needed for listening to digital content provokes unease about equity of user access. The result? Libraries need to build their audio collections on a just-enough-for-just-right-now basis. That means focusing on a variety of currently available formats that address the diverse needs of the listener and allocating limited funding to patron-driven selections.

Auditory learners, once frustrated by the dearth of nonfiction audiobooks, now have a multitude of categories to provide enlightenment and education. Some audiobook publishers have produced complete courses, developed and recorded by professors with supplemental texts and online exams, such as Recorded Books' Modern Scholar imprint. Other large publishers offer blockbuster-fiction bestsellers, simultaneous audio and print versions of indie favorites, and scholarly nonfiction. Quality nonfiction for youth, which often contains essential visuals, may have an additional disk in the physical audiobook edition that includes computer-readable images, or may combine text, image, and narration in a streaming digital product. Biographies and memoirs are a fast-growing segment of the market, with the added benefit of an author voicing his or her life story. Even small niche publishers have created audiobooks for a unique clientele, such as Knitting Out Loud. Digital downloads offer a hybrid product: both images and professional narration synced to text.

When creating a balanced collection, librarians need to consider not only the format and genre of audiobooks but also production and narration methods. Audiobooks are not a one-style-fits-all format. Some listeners like evocative audio effects and underlying music. Others are distracted when music and other sounds compete for attention and prefer only narrated text. Some listen best when a cast of readers portray characters. Others have a favorite narrator and will listen to anything he or she reads. Many publishers provide added content such as author interviews. Some specialize in audio recordings of live stage or radio productions. Choose audiobooks with a variety of playing times, as well, from short stories or vignettes to epic-length titles that may span more than 20 hours, focusing on the student-friendly sweet spot of three-to-five-hour titles. Providing a broad spectrum of audiobook styles enables listeners to find a title that fits their particular mood or personal listening preference.

For a diverse collection, track down titles from a large number of publishers. Hunting down a book's audio edition can be frustrating, though. Consumers, as well as schools and libraries, often turn to large online vendors such as Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and to see if a title is available in audio format. However, this will not give a clear picture of the entire range of audio editions produced. Some titles are published as both retail and library editions--often by different companies, with different narrators, and as abridged and unabridged versions. …

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