Online Books and Audiobooks

By van, Horn Royal | Phi Delta Kappan, October 2007 | Go to article overview

Online Books and Audiobooks


van, Horn Royal, Phi Delta Kappan


RECENTLY, my relatively negative perception of the availability of online books and audiobooks changed radically. It all started when I read a short blurb on the website http://manybooks.net. Manybooks was created by Matthew McClintock, who graciously runs the site as a service to the Internet community. Currently, the site has nearly 18,000 books online. Unlike Project Gutenberg, which specializes only in public domain books that are usually very old, Manybooks also has recent public domain books and books licensed under Creative Commons agreements. (More on Creative Commons below.) For example, Halo, a science-fiction thriller by Tom Maddox, is relatively recent and was published in 1991. An example of a recent addition to the site, though not a recent book, is Herman Melville's Moby-Dick.

The Manybooks website is one of the best-designed sites and could serve as an exemplar of a clean user interface. One of the most amazing aspects of the site is the availability of books in 21 different formats, including Acrobat (pdf) regular and large type, rich-text format (rtf), iPod notes, and formats that many cell phones can display. In some cases, audio versions of the books are available. The site also features book reviews, lists by popularity, lists of most downloaded, and so on. It's hard to believe that the site runs on a Macintosh Mini running public domain Apache server software. Incidentally, the last time I checked, about 60% of the world's websites run on Apache server software.

Creative Commons at http://creativecommons.org is a volunteer organization that helps writers, artists, musicians, videographers, and others change the copyright on their work from "all rights reserved" to "some rights reserved." Effectively, the creators of works can retain ownership and commercial rights, while allowing others to use and share their work so long as it is not for profit. Material that offers a Creative Commons (CC) license differs from material in the public domain. With the latter, you can do anything you want, including copying it, altering it, and selling it. An interesting video titled "Want to Work Together?" appears on the CC website. At the home page, click on the "Find CC Licensed Work" button. It was while exploring the Creative Commons home page that I found out about Libri-Vox.

LibriVox (www.librivox.org) was started in August of 2005 by Hugh McGuire. Its objective is "to make all books in the public domain available, for free, in audio format on the Internet." The following principles guide that work. "LibriVox is a noncommercial, nonprofit, and ad-free project. LibriVox donates its recordings to the public domain. LibriVox is powered by volunteers. LibriVox maintains a loose and open structure. LibriVox welcomes all volunteers from across the globe." As of this writing, the site has had over 1,000 volunteers read books aloud and donate the recordings. Here are a few of the hundreds of titles: The Three Little Pigs, by Leslie Brooke; Robinson Crusoe, by Daniel Defoe; and, of course, all of Mark Twain's books.

You can browse the LibriVox collection, but using the search function works better. Out of curiosity, I searched for audiobooks about Christmas and found over a dozen. I listened to a portion of A Christmas Carol, which was read by various people including a father/ daughter team reading one poignant section. If you would like to get ready for the holiday season early, you might think about downloading a few Christmas audiobooks and poems. The site also has a few readings of classic carols and hymns.

Another interesting site for audiobooks is Recording for the Blind & Dyslexic (RFB&D) at www.rfbd. org. RFB&D is a nonprofit organization that has over 30,000 audiobooks available, including recent best sellers and textbooks. For example, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows is now available. Individual students with a letter certifying a visual disability can register for a one-time fee of $65 and an annual renewal fee of $35. …

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