Discover the unique history and many uses of the audio book.
Audio books are the recorded reading of a book by the author, an actor or a professionally trained public speaker. Many audio books include sound effects to accentuate the narrated story. Often the narrator will portray different characters through changes in the pitch of their voice, their accent or inflection. Audio books are available in many book genres, including classics, childrens books, education, fiction, romance novels and reference titles.
The original audio books were called talking books and were available from the Library of Congress's National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped (NLS). The NLS was created by the American Foundation for the Blind (AFB) in the 1930s and was endorsed by Helen Keller during her service to the AFB. The NLS program ceased in October 2009, though the titles will still be available through publishers involved with the NLS.
In 1952, poets T.S. Eliot, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Robert Frost and Dylan Thomas began to record their poetry on vinyl records. In the 1970s and 1980s, audio books, or books on tape, were created from the original poetry recordings. Audio books gained more popularity in the 1990s as books on tape.
Audio books are the most commonly used tool in assisting persons with visual impairments or reading difficulties. The volunteer organization Recording for the Blind & Dyslexic (RFB&D) is a national audio books library source for disabled readers. Audio books are made available to RFB&D members in all subjects and at every grade level or age group.
The popularity of audio books has grown with new technologies. Listeners are no longer limited to using audio books in their cars or home stereos. Today, audio books may be downloaded onto MP3 Players, iPods, cell phones, iPhones or any other compatible personal digital assistant, commonly called a PDA. Audio books allow listeners the opportunity to multitask during daily routines, such as coupling exercise or a daily commute with recreational or educational reading.
Audio books are a great learning tool. Many children's books are recorded as audio books to aid literacy. Audio books can also be used as supplemental tools when teaching a child to read. The audio book allows children to enjoy more of the story being read by alleviating some of the work involved. Children can read difficult words along with the narrator, which helps them practice correct pronunciation.
Audio books can be found in local book stores and large bookstore chains such as Barnes & Noble and Borders, both of which provide more than 21,000 audio book titles. Bookstore Web sites allow customers to special order audio books not found in stores.
An alternative to buying audio books is borrowing them from public libraries. Libraries such as the Boston Public Library list thousands of titles of available audio books divided by category. Borrowing audio books is a cost-efficient alternative to buying audio books. This is particularly true for listeners who use many audio books or for audio books that will not get multiple uses. There are many online sites that also sell audio books for download or provide rental audio books through the mail, such as Simply Audiobooks.