Downloadable and streaming audiobooks have been on my mind again. Recently, some articles came out about the benefits of audiobooks for literacy; a revelation that probably surprised few of us in children’s and school library services. We did not create the Odyssey awards for nothing. ALA Editions published a wonderful book about it by Sharon Grover and Lizette D. Hannegan “back” in 2012. Last year, Rachel Wood from Arlington Public Library wrote an ALSC Blog post that stands as a primer for building an e-audio collection. But it always feels like a topic needs to come around a few times before the greater profession and the greater public latches on.
Perhaps it is not always content that is the way to hook a reluctant reader but format too. Dan Cohen from the DPLA wrote an article for The Atlantic talking about the powerful role that smartphones play in the lives of today’s teens and how this may be a way to bridge the digital divide. One of my own young relatives revealed to me that because she has difficulty reading, she uses audiobooks to keep up with her English class assignments. She finds and streams audiobook editions of assigned books on her smartphone. Recognizing that most parents and caregivers have smartphones, many libraries, like Spokane County Library District, are emphasizing their media mentor skills to recommend downloadable and streaming audiobooks and related apps for them to use with their children.
In the past, a former children’s librarian could feel alone in the greater e-content world. Too often children were not considered during e-content discussions. (Besides my fellow children’s librarians, who else at a meeting would excitedly prattle on about an audiobook of Winnie the Pooh in which Judy Dench gives voice to Kanga.) Now, we live in a world of Bookflix, Tumblebooks, and Overdrive Read-alongs. When children’s e-material did not circulate well during the early years of e-content platforms, I still believed it was worth building a collection. I knew at some point, this part of the market would grow. And, with the growth in downloadable audiobook circulation and sales, the time is upon us.
Let’s admit. Unlike a book, a physical audiobook can be clumsy (yes I know, for some downloading from the library can be clumsy as well). I tried the entire carry ten discs onto the subway thing when I had longer commutes, and yes, I did miss a few stops because of a wonderful narrator. As well, technology has changed so rapidly as concerns personal electronics. A few months ago, a member of an audiobook award committee told me she had a hard time finding a store near her that still sold Discmans (she wanted one so she could listen for her committee while she went on her walks). In the age of tablets, smartphones, and smartwatches, I think more focus needs to be on downloadable and streaming e-content.
To paraphrase Ranganathan: every young listener, their downloadable audiobook, and every downloadable audiobook, its young listener.
Michael Santangelo is the Electronic Resources Coordinator for BookOps, the shared technical services department for the New York Public Library and the Brooklyn Public Library, and the current chair of ALSC’s Children and Technology Committee.