Category Archives: Audio books

Readers’ Advisory Sessions at PLA 2014: Audiobooks

Today’s post comes from Anna Ferri, the 2014/15 BCLA student representative, one of the two UBC student representatives with RAIG, and a current MLIS candidate.

This year I was bound and determined to make it to the Public Library Association Conference in Indianapolis, March 11-14, 2014. Since the conference is only held every other year, this was my one chance to attend as a student, with both the reduced conference fee and with no one’s agenda but my own interests. Accordingly I went to several Readers’ Advisory sessions and brought back a few tidbits to share. For brevity’s sake, I’ll post a couple separate blog posts during this month on sessions I attended. The full program for PLA is on the conference website, along with an array of handouts for each session that are really worth checking out.

All About Audiobooks: Improving Readers’ Advisory for Listeners

One of the first sessions I attended, and one of the standout sessions of the whole conference for me, was “All About Audiobooks: Improving Readers’ Advisory for Listeners”. This panel included librarians, a representative from NoveList, a board member from the Audio Publishers Association, and the founder of AudioFile magazine. Their incredibly informative discussion was organized around the new audio recommendations feature in NoveList, available with NoveList Plus, and the Audio Characteristics appeal terms they developed for that purpose. But the discussion ranged far and wide and was peppered with a lot of excellent advice.

For instance, remember that your ear cannot skim content that your eyes might skip over. While this may seem like a reference to slogging your way through a long dreary text, the real point here was about the reader’s sensitivity to content. With audiobooks, it can be especially important to assess a listener’s tolerance for foul language, violence, sexual content, or even more particular things like children getting hurt or misogynistic language. It isn’t as easy to skim past or skip over difficult content in the audiobook format.

Another suggestion was that full cast audio plays can be an excellent recommendation for families who are traveling together by car for the summer. A good western or adventure tale with a full cast, sound effects, and good production values can keep all ages engaged and amused. But be wary of how sound effects might impact drivers. A thrilling cops and robbers tale can get a little too exciting for mom or dad when the sound of a siren comes blaring out of the stereo.

Appeal Characteristics for Audiobooks

It was exciting to hear that NoveList has taken the time to develop a rich set of appeal terms (34 to be exact) around audio characteristics. These are listed at the end of their downloadable guide to appeal terms. These terms can be used to group together or help delineate audiobooks in a way that is relevant to how listeners experience narration and production along with the more traditional plot, tone, writing style, etc. Whether used within the bounds of NoveList or just kept on hand as a ready way for any librarian to discuss audiobooks with patrons, they are a fascinating and potentially useful list.

“Detached”, for instance, refers to narration that is “emotionally removed from the story” and can ask the reader to do more of the emotional work or interpretation of the novel. Remember that the audio appeal characteristics refer to the narration style and not to the emotional content of the book as a whole. Audiobooks with a “detached” narrative style can be especially good for book clubs. The panelists suggested Night by Elie Wiesel as read by George Guidall as an example of an effective use of this narrative style.

Audiobook RA Resources

The panel also listed several of the key places to go to keep up to date on quality audiobooks. Of course there’s a bit of a bias towards resources curated or sponsored by organizations represented on the panel, but these are still some excellent places to scan for keeping up with current audiobook trends.

The Listen List – A yearly list from ALA’s RUSA of 12 excellent audiobook titles including fiction, non-fiction, poetry, and plays, each presented with a description of their appeal and several listen-alikes.

AudioFile Earphones AwardsAn ongoing recognition of the best audiobook narration in current tiles published in the AudioFile magazine and available on their website.

Audie Awards – Sponsored by the Audio Publishers Association, these awards recognize “distinction in audiobooks and spoken word entertainment”. Both the winners and finalists from past years can be found on their website. – A new website from AudioFile that is updated weekly with a curated list of select audiobook reviews. One especially nice feature is a little button at the top of the page that brings you to a list of categories, including Top Picks, for easy browsing. It’s a ready way to bite off a manageable chunk of the most current audiobooks.

Throughout the month of May students from UBC’s School of Library, Archival and Information Studies will be posting their best Readers’ Advisory tips to the RAIG blog!

What are You Hearing? Podcasts and RA

I know I use huge 80s headphones when getting my dose of Ira Glass.

I know I use huge 80s headphones when getting my dose of Ira Glass.

There are a lot of ways to track the shivering swarm of new information from Book World. I read blogs, I read the newspaper, I visit my bookclub, I repetitively poke my friends’ shoulders until they surrender to me their thoughts on Donna Tartt — but I find podcasts the easiest way to learn about different books while on the go.

Here is a sample of some of the book review podcasts I follow:


This podcast is hosted by two librarians of the Twinsburg Public Library. They often talk about a bunch of different books surrounding a theme, which gives me a chance to sample a little bit of everything. They sometimes showcase author interviews as well.

book-review-podcast-logo2009-articleInline-v3 Inside the New York Times Review of Books

Each week Pamela Paul, editor of the New York Times Review of Books, sits down with major authors to discuss their work. This week’s entry (October 20th) includes an interview with Donna Tartt and Helen Fielding, amongst others.

This podcast is brought to the front of my queue when downloaded — witty and fun hosts with great chemistry and eclectic selections. You can also follow the show’s Tumblr, Twitter, and Facebook accounts.


Who were once three are now two, but two “chicks” continue to provide a strong overview of the comic books scene. With comics frequently going for grimgrittydark, I especially appreciate their eye for materials that are suitable for kids and adults.

The_Papa_of_the_Phonograph,_Daily_GraphicSo that’s something for us, but I wonder if it is possible to integrate podcasts into our readers’ advisory work in other ways? I like finding stuff my patrons like even if this means finding stuff outside my library’s collection. Furthermore, podcast listeners are often also readers who are on the lookout for reads that touch upon their iTunes queue.

historyofrome' The History of Rome 

A popular example is The History of Rome podcast by Mike Duncan — it’s exactly what it sounds like. It covered the rise and fall of the Roman empire in weekly segments over several years. This is great for any reader with an interest in classical history or even historical fiction.


RadioLab tells interesting stories of when humanity intersects with science. They also maintain a handy-dandy Tumblr that recommends books related to their shows. This is popular with the show’s listeners who want to continue the themes of the episode with a good book.


Along the science and technology bent is StarTalk, hosted by Neil deGrasse Tyson. He discusses the marvels of the galaxy in witty, engrossing manner with comedians to astronauts. Tyson is also a prolific writer so listeners may want to check out his books in between new podcasts.


This is a great podcast for readers of classic lit. Major works of literature are re-examined with a quirky bent and juxtaposed with modern pop culture faves. Recommend it to those just discovering the classics or any Austenite you can track down.

What podcasts do you follow to keep your readers’ advisory edge? Have podcasts even come up before at the information desk? I’d love to hear from you!

And a quick reminder: Tomorrow is the last day to register for RA in a Half Day! Procrastinators of legend, now is your time!

Reader’s Advisory for Audiobooks

Audiobook Month takes place annually in June, and is much heralded by audio producers and distributors with ready-made lists of the season’s hottest new titles and award-winning productions. The Audies Awards, announced May 30 by the Audio Publishers Association, celebrate not only the Audiobook of the Year, but present additional awards in 28 categories by genre and subject area, audience, quality of narration, technical production, and even packaging.

I discovered the pleasures of audiobooks when my work location changed and I suddenly found myself with two 25-minute daily commutes. The silver lining was more time to read with my ears. An excellent narrator brought a whole new dimension to a work, introducing me to provocative non-fiction, hilarious essays, poignant memoirs and sassy romances that I would never have picked up in print. An easy convert, I quickly progressed to loading up my MP3 player with titles downloaded from Library-to-Go, to make my workouts and noontime walks around the jogging circuit more enjoyable. Before long, the meaning of NPR’s “driveway moments” dawned, as I lingered in the car or did a few more repeats before pressing the pause button. Other audiobook fans extend their listening time while cooking, gardening or doing household chores.

The more you listen, the more discerning you become about voice quality, accents, sound effects, and overall production. Professional narrators who have become personal favourites often lead us into unfamiliar reading territory to hear that beautiful voice perform again. Audio awards lists, both winning titles and contenders, enhance discoverability of new authors, genres and subjects in audio productions guaranteed to be truly exceptional. Check out The Audies, Publishers Weekly’s Listen-Up Awards, Audiofile Magazine’s Earphones Awards and Booklist’s Editors’ Choice Top of the List Audio for outstanding audio titles across various genres and audience levels.

As with movies, it’s fun and enlightening to occasionally compare the print and the audio versions. While some print titles fall flat or even grate in audio, an average book can become a much fuller experience in the hands of an accomplished reader.

How to promote this format? Include audiobooks with your staff picks displays to encourage patrons to try something new. Try displaying the audiobook along with a print copy of a title, or promote a selection of titles appropriate for family listening. Highlight memoirs, travel and autobiographies read by the author. Display great beach reads in a new medium or challenge your patrons to tackle a classic or a title they’ve always meant to read.  Some libraries sticker print editions to indicate the title is also available in an alternate format such as ebook or downloadable audio.

On your web site’s staff picks lists, feature a list of award-winners available in downloadable audio format, or a list of audio works by top narrators (for suggestions see Audiofiles’ Golden Voices and ALA’s The Listen List ), or a long list of fan favourites on the Literate Housewife blog ).

With summer approaching and school holidays beckoning, what better time to promote your audio collection, whether it be physical CDs to take along on those long summer road trips, or downloadable audio delivered via mobile device while hiking, cycling or just chilling out on the deck.  As a number of library blogs have noted, audiobooks are great for family listening too, keeping everyone in the car entertained while painlessly increasing literacy skills.

Here’s to a few more converts to the art and craft of audiobooks!

Colleen Stewart, Head, Collection Services, GVPL

Audio Book Advisory

Vintage mixing board in low light.

Photo Credit: Phil Dokas (Creative Commons license)

I love a good audio book.  By listening to a book while accomplishing domestic duties, exercise, crafting, a long road trip or commute, I add a bit of enjoyment to my chores and increase my “reading” time.

Audio book narration is a performance.  Hearing a talented actor give voice to the characters’ dialogue enlivens the reading narrative experience.  My mind’s ear flattens other languages, dialects and accents.  Hearing Australian actor Dan Wyllie. (Muriel’s Wedding) read Tim Winton’s Breath evokes the 1960s small town surf culture of the West Australian coast setting.
As for our patrons, many are long-time devotees of audio books. Some will try an audio book when faced with a long wait list for a popular title. Others listen through necessity.  According to the Audio Publishers Association’s consumer survey findings, the audio book audience is growing. Their annual survey revealed that 24% of respondents have listened to an audio book in 2011 (compared to 19% in the 2010 study) and sales reflected this growth – the size of the industry is now 1.2 billion. 
Talking about audio books in the library is very similar to your typical readers advisory print book conversation with the addition of a few extra questions:
  • Do you listen through necessity? This question can help determine if the patron is able to take advantage of the larger collections of talking book collections available to people with a print disability through InterLINK member libraries with the support of the Canadian National Institute of the Blind.
  • Will you be listening alone? With family?
  • Abridged or unabridged?
  • CD or downloadable?
  • Do you like a particular narrator?
Five Good Things for Librarians to Know about Audio Books:
  1. Some narrators are known as Golden Voices.  Jim Dale and Davina Porter are widely beloved. Audiofile magazine lists 21 Golden Voices in their Hall of Fame
  2. Compilations of radio shows i.e. NPR’s Driveway Moments and collections such as the Massey Lectures are entertaining non-fiction audio book options.
  3. Audio books are reviewed in most of our go-to collection development sources such as Library Journal, The New York Times Book Review, The GuardianBooklist and Publisher’s Weekly.
  4. Audio books are awarded Grammys!  Michelle Obama is one of the The Spoken Word Album nominees this year.   Other audio book awards include the Audies  and The Listen List awarded by ALA’s RUSA
  5. People continue to borrow audio books on CDs but digital downloads and streaming audio books are on the rise. According to a recent Pew Research Centre report, Library Services in the Digital Age: “About 17% of the 53% Americans who visited a library in the past 12 months say they visit to borrow or download an audio book.” Overdrive will be releasing their 2012 statistics at ALA Midwinter. 

42 second diversion: Listen to Junot Díaz record the opening lines of This is How You Lose Her.

Do you read audio books? What are your favourites?