carHave you listened to a good book lately? More and more people are experiencing books through listening. Audiobooks have largely displaced books-on-tape (audio cassette) They can be used anywhere you can't hold a book and have something to do that doesn't require concentration. Whether cooking, cleaning, exercising, mowing the lawn or working in the garage, listening to a book is a great way to rejuvenate your mind. Rather than passing time with a popular magazine in a waiting room or line, why not turn on a book? Commuters and vacationers traveling by car, bus, train, or airplane can all enjoy books alone or as part of a family activity.

Audio Books by William C. Robinson from his course lecture notes for Contemporary Book Publishing in the U.S. at the University of Tennessee provides a brief history and summary of audiobook publishing.

People who criticize audiobook listeners as "nonreaders" or "missing the joy of reading" are being charged with "sense discrimination" by those who enjoy this reading option.

checkRead Clark, Ruth Cox (Spring 2007). Audiobooks for Children: Is This Really Reading?Children & Libraries5(1), 49-50. Retrieved from Education Full Text database.
Brief article discusses some issues and ideas for audiobooks.

correctionsquestionRead and / or listen to Gaiman, Neil (Nov 2009). Heard Any Good Books Lately? (7:48 minutes) NPR Morning Edition
An author and listener who enjoys a good story; Neil Gaiman looks at the future of audiobooks.

checkRead Maughan, Shannon (2010). Audiobooks 2.0 (Access requires login). Publishers Weekly; 257(19), 11-16. Retrieved from EBSCOhost..
This article deals with the growing popularity of digital or downloadable audiobooks.

checkRead Wolfson, Gene (2008). Using Audiobooks to Meet the Needs of Adolescent Readers (Access requires login).  American Secondary Education36(2), 105-14. Retrieved from Education Full Text database
Audiobooks can help improve fluency, expand vocabulary, activate prior knowledge, develop comprehension, and increase motivation to interact with books.

questionListen to an audiobook on a topic of your choice (See if you can locate a copy at a nearby public library) such as an Audie winner (Audio Publishers Association - APA honors the best titles in audio publishing). Listen in the car, doing housework, or relaxing, then create a list of the advantages and disadvantages of this format. Consider sharing the listening experience. How does that change the experience?

Audiobook Issues

We’ve known for a long time that reading to children is critical to the love of reading. This may also be true throughout life. Audiobook users can enjoy the voice of a dynamic narrator and get lost in the storytelling experience. Beyond the pleasure of good subject matter, the experience can reduce stress, promote relaxation, and reduce eye strain. By adding yoga, dish washing, or stuffing envelopes, people can even become more productive through multitasking.

There are many issues associated with audiobooks including length, format, organization, and selection issues.

Dr.J's Jags & Jabs
image of Larry JohnsonFor me, listening to audiobooks on CD (Rather almost two decades ago, it was cassette audiotapes) was an acquired taste. I had to get used to switching tapes (discs) and learn the in-and-outs of working with the technology before it became routine. Isn't that the way it is with almost any new technology? At first you have to relearn or learn new procedures, sometimes it takes a little longer when you are comfortable with the another way of doing things. Newer technologies do not usually exactly replace an older method, rather they do similar things in a little different fashion. Like many people, I first listened to audio programs while making a long commute back and forth to a campus. Today I still listen to audiobooks, some instructional / informational programs, and other types of spoken word programs.

Stephen King weighted in with his enthusiasm and some pet peeves in one of his Pop Of King postings: Hail to the Spoken Word.


Abridged versus Unabridged

John AdamsFor people who listen to books in their car, unabridged works are referred to as "cross country" titles and abridged titles as "cross town" titles.

Unabridged means that the complete book is included in the audiobook version. Abridged versions have been edited and only include a portion of the complete work. Subplots, characterizations, and detailed descriptions are often eliminated. For example the unabridged version of David McCullough's book John Adams is read by Nelson Runger and contains 26 CDs. The abridged version read by Edward Hermann costs less than half as much money and contains only 9 CDs or 6 audiocassettes. That's a big different in content and cost.

check For a discussion of this issue, read the off-site article: Whitten, Robin (Jan 2002). Speaking of Audio: Selling Unabridged Audio -- The Complete Audiobook. Bookselling This Week.

questionListen to the abridged and unabridged version of the same book. Share you experience. Which do you prefer and why?

Most audiobook readers and librarians have very strong feelings about this issue. New users are more likely to listen to short stories or abridged editions. This is a good way to determine which narrators are preferred or to sample an author's work. Listening clubs and casual listeners also like abridged editions.

Established listeners often crave the entire works and are frustrated by what they view as incomplete works. Teachers also seek the unabridged edition when they want students to read along with the book.

In the past many books were only available in abridged versions for audio, however there's a growing trend by publishers to offer both versions of their product. Librarians need to be aware of the needs and interests of their patrons.

CDs versus Downloading

From reel-to-reel and cassette tapes to CDs and MP3s, listeners have experienced many formats over the past century. In the 1930s, the Library of Congress began distributing long-play records for the blind. Since then we’ve experienced vinyl records, cassettes, and CDs. Relatively recent, MP3 and downloadable books were added to the list. Each new entry doesn’t necessarily mean an end to the old. However libraries and their patrons are finding that many programs are not available in the older formats.

For audiobooks, more narrative fits on a cassette than an audio CD. Cassettes generally contain 105 minutes of programming, but CDs only hold about 74 minutes. DVDs hold more information, but people don't always have DVD players in their cars.

There are concerns about starting, stopping, and marking your place on a CD. However, many of the newer CD players return to the place they left off if the CD is left in the player. In addition, it's easy to move from track to track in CDs to return to a specific point.

CDs also have other advantages. They are relatively durable (that is if someone knows how to care for them) and less likely to be destroyed than cassettes (Does anyone remember wrapping the tape around a sticky capstan roller until it jammed or broke? - even spicing could not help what it does to that track!).

How long before CDs are largely a format of the past? Are they already?

checkRead Farrell, Beth (2010). The Lowdown on Audio Downloads (Access requires login). Library Journal; 135(9), 26-29. Retrieved from EBSCOhost.
Provides overview of the advantages and disadvantages associated with downloadable audiobooks at libraries.

checkAlso read Peters, Thomas A. (Jan / Feb 2007). Implementing and Sustaining a Digital Audiobook Service (Access requires login). Library Technology Reports, 43(1), 30-34. Retrieved from Gale Virtual Reference Library.
The article explains how a library can launch and sustain a digital audiobooks service. Vendors discussed include Playaway, TumbleTalkingBooks, NetLibrary, OverDrive, and Audible. Orientation, training, and tech support are covered.

Peters, Thomas A. (Jan / Feb 2007). Comparison Points and Decision Points. Library Technology Reports; 43(1), 15-29. Retrieved from Gale Virtual Reference Library.
Article compares five vendors of digital audiobooks; also examines subject and genre strengths, content characteristics, prefatory and supplementary material, sound quality, and languages other than English.

Self MattersToday, you can still purchase audiobooks in different formats but not every audiobook is available in unabridged form. For example, Self Matters by Phillip McGraw is available only in an abridged edition as a CD and Kindle or Audible audiobook download. You can also read the hardback or paperback book versions. In some instances, one can still purchase a used audiotape cassette edition.

The articles Will CDs and DVDs Disappear? (Sep 2003) by Peter Cohen at PC World and Forrester Report Says Downloads Will Replace Discs (Sep 2003) by Jay Lyman at ECT News Network reminds us that storage media and processes will continue to evolve.

Intershelve or Separate

Since the introduction of audiobooks, there have been movements to intershelve the collection with books. The placement of any library materials should be related to the patrons and their needs rather than ease of shelving or inventory. In collections where audiobooks are kept separate, users tend to focus on the media. In other words, they're going on summer vacation and want a book they can listen to at the beach or in the airplane. The decision about whether it's horror, romance, or self-help content comes second.

In collections that are intershelved, the content is most important. In other words, patrons are looking for everything they can find on dieting or the Vietnam War. In this case, it might be helpful to have audio, video, and book materials housed together.

Books versus Audiobook and Book versus Kit

There's a soft battle raging between book readers and audiobook readers. The Audio Publishers Association (APA) reported that nearly one in four Americans (24.6%) have listened to an audiobook in the past year.

A lot of books are not available as an audiobook, especially books that are not popular with mainstream readers. And generally the paper edition is produced first, and you will have to wait a period of time before the audiobook comes out. However, a few books are now only available in the audiobook format. These original productions include classics, collections, and lesser known works. For example, you can hear The New Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, The Dalai Lama in America, and On the Road with Charles Kuralt. In other cases, an audiobook may come with a book, booklet, and other materials like puppets or posters. Some children's books come with or without a CD or tape.

Consider the end user. Where is the greatest need? Most of us would not attempt to read a book while driving a car. And the experiences of reading a book and listening to a book are different. We use the two forms in a different manner.

Author versus Professional Narrator

FrogsA greatest benefit of audiobooks is the ability to hear words aloud. This is particularly true with poetry where the flow of words is so important. The narrator can make or break the quality of an audio listening experience.

Sometimes the author reads the material. For example, Jack Prelutsky, author of The Frogs Wore Red Suspenders, is a great performer in addition to a children's poet.

When selecting an actor or narrator, producers consider the characters in the book such as the gender and age of the main character. The setting of the book and associated accents are also taken into consideration.

Because narrators sometimes do the voices of many characters, they are often trained in the classic theatre.

questionListen to excerpts from at least three different audiobooks and compare the narrators. What are the characteristics of an effective narrator?

Learning with Audiobooks

Audiobooks can motivate students to read. They allow children and young adults to enjoy a book at their interest level that might be above their reading level such as Charlotte’s Web or The Incredible Journey. In addition, children who read slowly can still participate in class activities.

For very young children and people learning English as a second language, audiobooks provide a way to learn the patterns of language, focus on objects, and learn expressions. They are also good examples of fluent reading for children and young adults.

Audiobooks can take the "read aloud" burden off the teacher and parent. For example, if you have a hard time getting through Where the Red Fern Grows without crying, let Richard Thomas read it aloud to the class.

Soldier's HeartcheckRead the off-site article Why Audiobooks Matter by LeVar Burton at

checkRead Benefits of Audiobooks for All Readers by Denise Johnson (2003) at Reading Rockets.

checkRead the webpage, Learning with Audiobooks from Audio Bookshelf for more classroom ideas.

questionChoose a genre of literature that you enjoy and identify three audiobooks you'd like to read. Use some of the references in the article to gather ideas.

Encourage students to become better listeners and readers through audiobooks. Strategies for using audiobooks with children vary. Some teachers encourage their students to read the book along with the tape during the first reading. This familiarizes students with the story. During subsequent readings, students concentrate on the words.

Some learning is formal, while other is informal. Some parents encourage reading through modeling. They provide audiobooks in the car and encourage listening for relaxation.

Bud Not BuddycheckRead Marchionda, Denise (Aug / Sep 2001). A Bridge to Literacy: Creating Lifelong Readers through Audiobooks. The Audio Bookshelf.
and / or Beers
Kylene (1998). Listen While You Read. School Library Journal.

checkRead the off-site article by Kaiser, Marjorie M. (Spring 2000). Bud, Not Buddy: Common Reading, Uncommon Listening, The ALAN Review; 27(3).
Summarize the model described in the article. Working with a teacher, develop a common reading experience around an audiobook of your choice.

questionUse Listen to Any Good Books Lately?at Childrensroom for additional audiobook title ideas.

Create a list of the strategies that these and other authors described for using audiobooks with students.

Audio Book Articles

In addition to the many articles already discussed on this page, many other materials are available on the web and in print. Explore articles in your interest area.

Audio Book

There are resources for selecting audiobooks. Look for recommended lists in the professional journals and other sources. Explore a few:


Professional journals such as the School Library Journal and Library Media Connection often publish reviews. Some audiobook distributors and producers provide collected reviews.

Jeanette Larson writes audiobook articles for Library Media Connection. Read one of her latest: (Jan / Feb 2011) Listen Up! What's New in Audiobooks (Access requires login); 29(4), 44-45.

Audiobook Distributors

When selecting audiobooks, it's useful to go to distributor and publisher websites. They often provide excerpts from their audiobooks.

The National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped (NLS) at the Library of Congress provides an extensive index of vendors / distributors of recorded materials for purchase, rental or loan: Guide to Spoken Word Recordings.

Print References

Audiobook News and information

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