Audiobooks and Ebooks; Literature Review and Implications for Libraries

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Audiobooks and Ebooks; Literature Review and Implications for Libraries

Jessica E. Moyer

Doctoral Candidate, Literacy Education

University of Minnesota, Twin Cities

Audiobooks and Ebooks; Literature Review and Implications for Libraries

Abstract: Both audiobooks and ebooks are growing and popular formats for library collections, yet compared to print books little is known about them and even less has been written. This literature reviews attempts to overview all the research about audiobooks and ebooks with findings that impact public libraries, including research from library science, education, psychology, computer science, and medicine. Research about all age groups, from preschool through older adults is included. The first section covers audiobooks, the second ebooks and the final section discusses the implications of these research findings for all types of libraries.


Audiobooks and ebooks are increasingly popular and important formats for libraries to consider in terms of collection development and services. This paper reviews the current state of the research literature for audiobooks and ebooks, and the discusses the implications for library services and collections. As audiobooks increasingly come digitally and ebooks provide text to speech functions, the lines between these two once distinct formats is blurring. Additionally several of the key studies in these areas use both audiobooks and ebooks separately or together.

The research included in this review is drawn from library science, education, psychology and even medicine, in the form of journal articles, dissertations, reports, surveys, and even blog posts, up through November 10, 2010. Library and Information Science Full Text Abstracts (LISTA), Library Lit, ERIC, Science Direct, Education Full Text, Digital Dissertations and Google Scholar were all searched using audiobook* as keyword, and the search string “kindle OR nook OR ebook” OR "e-book." Additional materials were located by tracking down citations in news stories and in the reference lists of key articles, as well as through the author’s personal collection of online bookmarks.


Over the last 10 years audiobooks have moved from a small part of most public library collections that had a dew dedicated listeners (often with long commutes) and an almost non-existent commercial market to being a favorite for library patrons. The advent of affordable and easy to use personal digital music players which supported audiobook files, the creation of online downloadable audio collections aimed at the consumer market like, gradual growth in digital audiobooks that can be checked out by library patrons, and widespread popular interest in audiobooks has all led to audiobooks being one of the fastest growing and successful formats for both libraries and consumers. Audiobooks have also become increasingly accepted in classrooms and school library media centers and are even showing up in academic library collections. Clearly they are a format that has seen its time and with that comes the need for understanding the research about audiobooks and listeners.

This section of the paper is divided into 3 sections, LIS research prior to 2006, Education and other research pre 2006, and Research published from 2006 to 2010.

Research Based Readers’ Advisory: Library and Information Science and Industry Research and Practice pre 2006

Research Based Readers’ Advisory by Jessica E. Moyer is the only LIS publication that reviews research on audiobooks and audiobook advisory.1 Below is a condensed overview of the Research Review section of Chapter 4, which reviews LIS research, some educational research, and industry research, all prior to 2006, but after 2001, an indication of the new and growing nature of this area.2

Chronologically, the first audiovisual advisory publication appears in The Readers’ Advisor’s Companion, “Viewers’ Advisory.”3 The title of Pitman’s chapter, “Viewers’ advisory: handling audiovisual advisory questions,” leads readers to believe that this chapter will either be a how-to for audiovisual readers’ advisory or some research on audiovisual readers’ advisory. The chapter turns out to be a mishmash of suggested places to look for AV information any reference librarian should know, with altogether too much personal opinion and a nearly complete lack of analysis. Only the last section, ‘Nontheatrical video,’ is worth reading. Librarians working with AV are given a list of sources for reading about and finding videos. Pitman’s reference list is as disappointing as the rest of his chapter. For librarians looking to become better readers advisors for AV materials, or AV librarians wanting to learn more about doing advisory for their patrons look elsewhere.

Fortunately for eager AV advisors there are some other useful publications. Nonfiction Readers’ Advisory includes an excellent chapter by Michael Vollmar-Grone, “Hearing and Seeing: the case for audiovisual materials.”4 While having a practical, rather than research focus, this chapter is still an important contribution to audiovisual readers’ advisory. Vollmar-Grone starts his chapter with a review of audiovisual materials over time, from the first time a presidential election was broadcast over radio (1920) to the increasingly prominent role of the mass media in today’s popular culture. This is an excellent background and a nice introduction to this solid chapter. A nice touch is Vollmar-Grone’s use of terms and definitions, audiovisual materials instead of the utterly generic nonprint materials and information materials instead of nonfiction. Vollmar-Grone also includes a brief section on the historical role of AV in public libraries, which is important for understanding the role of AV in today’s public libraries, which leads into a discussion of reasons why AV is underutilized by librarians. He cites primarily unfamiliarity with formats, lack of reference sources and the difficulty in accessing materials in linear formats.

Vollmar-Grone’s next section, ‘media literacy’ is one of the longer ones, but also very important and relevant – media literacy in today’s media saturated world. This chapter may be a few years old but media literacy is not only still a big issue, but maybe even more important today than it was in 2001. Vollmar-Grone does an excellent job addressing the tension between media as entertainer versus media as an informer. Librarians working with teachers (and administrators in some libraries) may need to work hard to overcome this tension and Vollmar-Grone’s clear discussion of these issues will certainly help.

In the last section Vollmar-Grone moves into the practical challenges affecting readers’ advisors. First, he points out that all readers’ advisors should also be viewers’ advisors and listeners’ advisors – the goals are the same: helping people find what interests them. This is such an important point and it is heartening to see Vollmar-Grone make it right at the beginning of this section. Two pages of guidelines follow for readers’ advisors working with listeners and viewers. The chapter concludes with an excellent annotated list of suggest resources.

In “Special Needs/Special Places,” in Reading and Reader Development Elkin brings an international research oriented perspective to this discussion.5 Elkins’ focus is readers’ advisory for patrons with special needs, which she defines broadly: “The range is disabilities is wide and includes motor, visual, aural, intellectual and emotional. Many of us probably have disabilities which are not even acknowledged as such.”6 Many of the readers included in this category are best served with audiovisual materials and in particular, audiobooks.

As in other chapters of Reading and Reader Development, Elkin does an excellent job reviewing the research in this area. She starts with a particularly important section, “Value of reading for people with special needs,” which supports the premise that reading can be particularly important for people with special needs, as “people find what they need in what they read.”7 By providing this review of research related to the value of reading for patrons with special needs Elkins gives libraries the knowledge that there is such research and a place to go when they need to find it. In this section Elkins includes two important quotes, powerful to be worth repeating here in their entirety. Mathias, quoted in Elkin:

“Books are not just print, they are sound and vision, large print, large format, CD-ROM. Books can be read using eyes, ears, hands and fingers.... Reading should be a pleasure not a punishment, and there is joy, satisfaction, and achievement in encouraging any child to read independently, but even more so when the child has special needs.”

“In the context of reading for adults with special needs, reading might be defined as being about the right book in the right format for the right adult at the right and in the right place. Almost inevitably, libraries and librarians play a significant role in ensuring this is a reality.”8

For librarians who do readers advisory, Elkins’ next section, “Reading and people who are visually impaired,” will be useful as many visually impaired readers who listen to audiobooks often have the same preferences and needs as sighted patrons who enjoy audiobooks. Elkin urges all library programs to be welcoming to listeners as well as readers. In order for listeners to make an informed choice, they will likely need a variety of information about an audiobook, information that is not always provided in traditional online library catalogs. Lastly Elkin describes a new partnership in the UK. As part of the Branching Out Project, the National Library for the Blind has shown how popular audiobooks can be when marketed in the library to all patrons. National Library for the Blind has also partnered with Branching Out on other projects to make libraries generally more inclusive and welcoming to visually impaired patrons of all ages.

The next article moves away from the research and book based publications to a more practical, but very important article on readers’ advisory and audiobooks. From the Readers’ Advisory column of Reference and User Services Quarterly comes one of the most important recent additions to audiovisual readers’ advisory. In “Reading with your ears,” guest columnist Kaite Mediatore presents a well researched and accessible article on readers’ advisory for audio book patrons.9 As commutes become longer and readers’ lives busier, more and more readers’ advisory patrons are turning towards audio books. They have a perfectly justified desire to have readers’ advisors help them find good listens just like they help them find good reads. She reveals that like leisure readers, audiobooks listeners are everywhere and everyone. There is no one age group or demographic that doesn’t listen to audio books. And most audio book readers are also avid readers (and already likely patrons of readers’ advisory services).

Using many of the aspects of a traditional print readers’ advisory interview, Mediatore gives plenty of practical, yet research based suggestions on readers’ advisory for listening patrons. In her section on appeal, Mediatore hits on one of the most important and unique aspects of listeners’ advisory, the narrator. Regardless of the plot, the narrator can make or break a listening experience. Additionally Mediatore points out, for some listeners, the narrator trumps genre or other preferences. Some listeners will give anything Barbara Rosenblat or George Guidall narrates a try, regardless of the type of story. Mediatore also talks about books that just don’t translate well to print, because of the style of the writing or the special effects of the print. One recent example is Mark Haddon’s popular the Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime. The text includes many puzzles and other visual effects, which just cannot be conveyed in an audio version. So readers’ advisors need to remember that not all print makes a good audio.

Mediatore cites some important research conducted by Harriet Stow and the Collection Development Committee of the Arlington, Texas PL which indicates that more than 80% of readers prefer unabridged, regardless of whether they want to read nonfiction or fiction. Even nonfiction readers, traditionally thought to prefer abridged, are found to prefer the unabridged so they can control the reading experiences and listen to the sections they want, not the sections someone else has deemed the best.10

Mediatore also adapts the ever popular readers’ advisory tactic of how to read a book in ten minutes, to “Listen to a Book in Fifteen Minutes.” Using this clearly outlined strategy readers’ advisory librarians can quickly and painlessly make themselves familiar with a variety of audiobooks. This may be the most useful part of the article as it provides a step by step method for librarians who are not audiobook listeners to get to know enough about audiobooks in order to advise listeners, which is of course, the ultimate goal.

Greg Morgan provides an international view of audiobooks and services for print disabled readers in “A word in your ear.”11 Morgan describes the Royal New Zealand Foundation for the Blind (RNZFB) and its upcoming initiative to transition from cassette tapes to the DAISY digital talking books for print disabled readers in New Zealand. This article is valuable mostly for librarians who are interested in how other countries serve print disabled readers since it describes the national New Zealand program. It also describes and discusses the DAISY format for digital audio, which as been internationally adopted and is designed for print disabled readers to be able to navigate the text with the same facility as a sighted person with a printed book.

A more recent article on audiobooks is by Skip Auld in Public Libraries.12 Auld has written one of the few articles published in an American library and information science journal that addresses the same topics as Elkins and Morgan. As the first part of the Perspectives column in Public Libraries Auld discusses the Talking Books Program, established by Congress in 1931 and administered by the National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped (NLS) at the Library of Congress.

The first essay by Jim Scheppke is worth reading for its view of how libraries in other countries are providing digital audio to library patrons, such as the Netherlands where in 2005, patrons had access to 30,000 digital audiobooks.13 Scheppke also provides valuable research on the Talking Book Program in Oregon and five other states.

The last article in the library literature about audiobooks comes from the May 15, 2006 issue of Library Journal.14 Kim provides a totally positive view of audio downloading programs, particularly the Recorded Books/NetLibrary program from OCLC. What this article fails to mention is that none of these programs support iPods, the dominant device in the digital audio market. It misses the most critical question: should libraries spend money and staff time on a program that will miss 80% of potential listeners?

Additional research and related publications for audiovisual readers’ advisory comes from the bookselling and AV industries. Aimed at booksellers, Hutton’s short (and opinionated piece) in Publisher’s Weekly has both good advice for librarians and some great facts: “More than 97 million people drive to work solo each day and the average delay due to traffic congestion has tripled in the last 20 years.”15 Hutton thinks bookstores are prejudiced against audio, frequently hiding it in the back of the store and giving it little advertising space. There are probably a few libraries who also make this mistake. Hutton makes some excellent suggestions for increasing awareness of audio among staff and patrons. For example, “when a customer asks for a new book by Nora Roberts the best response is: “Do you want the hardcover, cassettes or CD?”16 Or now we should add would you like to download it to your digital audio player? That will get both staff and patrons thinking about the different formats available and hopefully decrease some of the discrimination against audio. Hutton also suggests the tried and true readers’ advisory training strategy of getting staff to start a listening program. “when sales people become audiobook addicts, they pass on the addiction to customers.”17 Lastly Hutton provides some suggestions for increasing visibility of audiobooks, including the suggestions of including the audio version at every book signing and always shelving the audio alongside the print in any displays.

Robin Whitten provides the one source of data on the audiobook publishing industry in “The Growth of the Audiobook Industry”.18 Additional and more recent information can be found in the 2006 press releases from the Audio Publishers Association.19 In terms of formats, downloadable audio continues to grow, increasing from 6% to 9% of the market A significant portion of listeners have MP3 players and have downloaded digital audio making digital audio the fastest growing area. CDs also continue to grow up from 63% to 74% while sales of cassettes continue to decline from 30% to 16%. Fiction continues to dominate, at 58% of the market, but nonfiction makes up a healthy 32%, marking the trend of popular nonfiction, noticed in recent years by many readers’ advisors. In general publishers report publishing more unabridged titles and fewer cassettes, in some areas eliminating cassettes entirely from production.20

The data on audiobook readers tells librarians a lot about the listening patrons they are most likely to serve in the library. Nearly 84% of respondents had attended college making audiobook listeners a well educated group. They have higher incomes and many have children. They also read printed books, with more than 94% indicating that they have read a print book within the last twelve months. Listeners are readers too.21

Listeners still greatly prefer unabridged listening and most listeners who purchase their audio do so at physical stores (as of 2006). The percentage of titles borrowed from libraries has also increased, from 38% in 2001 to nearly 52% for 2005. “The most important factors for consumers when selecting audiobooks are price, availability on CD, author, description and narrator.” How do consumers actually select audiobooks? More than 40% use websites and recommendations from friends and more than 30% use information provided at the bookstore and/or on bestseller lists. Librarians barely break 30% even though more than half of audiobooks are borrowed from libraries. One good note is that the more titles a listener listens to a in a year, the more likely they are to ask a librarian for a suggestion.22

Audiobooks: Additional Education Research prior to 2006

The educational literature is rife with examples of ways audiobooks have successfully been used in the classroom.23 One example is in a lunchtime book discussion group for English language learners, in which they get to improve their language skills all while enjoying the same popular books as their classmates.24 Others like Byrom’s early study on using audiobooks with struggling readers, suggest great potential for use of these alternate formats.25

Casbergue & Harris’s literature review is an excellent summation of pre 1996 research on listening and literacy.26 Their review notes the importance of hearing stories for both younger and older children, and segues neatly into an argument for including audiobooks in the curriculum. Despite being several years old, they are already noticing the increasing quantity and high quality of audiobooks for children and teen readers, something that has continued to increase in the twelve years since this article was published. The remainder of the article gives many examples of ways that incorporating audiobooks into reading classes could benefit students (with ESL students, struggling readers, etc.,) all of which are also discussed in the articles on practical applications. They conclude with a section on selection of audiobooks, which is technically out of date, but does make the important and still valid point that abridged texts are to be avoided as it denies students the joy of being involved with the complete, authentic text and reading experience.

One of the only studies of library users of audiobooks, Yingling’s 1998 thesis gathered data on the audiobook listeners of a public library and many of the conclusions are still valid for library collection development.27 Unabridged productions are greatly preferred over abridged, listeners place little significant upon an actor or actress as narrator, and subject is one of the most important factors in selection of titles for checkout. Interestingly Yingling found that a significant number of the listeners did not visit the print books section of the library, showing that there is a dedicated listening audience.

Teachers, and a lesser extent, librarians may be suspicious of audiobooks and not willing to allow them as a substitute for “real reading.” Varley’s essay in Horn Book should go a long way toward changing minds and helping teachers feel more comfortable allowing children to “read” audiobooks just as often as they read print books.28 Varley’s essay is unique in that she discusses the historical use and attitudes towards audiobooks and education, and addresses the traditional differences between adult and children’s use of audiobooks. By combining quotations and research from both education and LIS, with excellent examples from recent audiobook productions Varley makes her case relevant to teachers and all types of librarians.

Diakidoy et al. studied children’s listening and reading comprehension in both narrative and informational texts, one of the few studies to compare the different types of comprehension.29 This ambitious study not only compared children’s comprehension in two formats and two types of reading materials, but repeated the research with 612 children at different grade levels, grades 2, 4, 6, and 8, enabling them to note any changes in comprehension abilities across age groups, from early readers to accomplished teen readers.

Diakidoy et al. found that the relationship between listening and reading comprehension becomes stronger after children have mastered decoding, meaning that readers who have mastered basic reading skills have a strong positive relationships between reading and listening comprehension, and that listening comprehension does not exist independently from reading comprehension. They also found that the differences between listening and reading comprehension decrease with grade levels, and older students were more likely to have equally good or higher reading than listening comprehension, while younger students often had better listening comprehension. Finally Diakidoy et al. found that over all age groups reading and listening comprehension were weaker with informational texts than with narrative texts. This last find has limited relevance for this paper, but great relevance for children’s and adolescent literacy as it shows definitely that regardless of the format, children and teens are weaker at comprehending narrative texts, the same texts that are required for all their subject area learning in secondary schools.

In regards to audiobooks, this research shows the importance of fostering children’s listening comprehension, both for younger listeners who are better at it than reading comprehension, and for older readers who still need to practice listening comprehension. The weaker comprehension of informational texts could also be remedied with audiobooks practice as there are an increasing number of nonfiction audiobooks for younger listeners.

Audiobooks: Education, Library and Information Science and Pscyhology Research since 2006

Many of the recent publications about audiobooks continue to revolve around awards and new technologies, and while important developments they contribute little to the understanding of audiobooks and reading. However, they are of critical importance to librarians as they decide which formats to purchase – do they still buy cassettes? Regular CD’s or MP-3’s? If they go with digital audio, then which system is best for their users? What about the new self contained audio devices, Playaways?

Articles like Hoy’s overview of spoken word materials and downloadable audio services for libraries, including formats and devices, are essential reading for busy librarians.30 She also considers collection development issues and emerging audio and playback technologies. Maughan is one of many articles to note the trend in digital downloadable audiobooks, an increasingly popular option with patrons, consumers, and libraries.31 And Milliot is the first of several articles announcing publishers and retailers are dropping the cumbersome and frequently problematic Digital Rights Management (DRM) encryptions.32 This culminiated in the announcement in early 2009 that Apple is dropping DRM for all the songs in its itunes store. Since Apple and iTunes have been a leader in digital audio and the use of DRM this is likely an indicator that DRM is (fortunately) becoming a thing of the past.

For all things digital there is one single paper that addresses digital audiobooks, specifically for the library market, the 2007 Library Technology Report.33 Although in some aspects it has already become outdated, it is still the best resource for understanding the complex world of digital audiobooks. In addition to a complete listing of web based sources for digital audiobooks, Peters makes clear the rather murky and confusing issues surrounding DRM and Apple’s ipod mp3 player. Written by and for librarians, this report is also full of references and research, making it more than just a practical contribution.

Engelen compares and contrasts the long established audiobook market for visually impaired readers, with the booming commercial audiobook market, from a European perspective, a useful update and alternative to Auld’s “Perspectives” column from 2005. 34 With a practical emphasis and covering a wide range of materials, this would be especially useful to librarians working with visually impaired listeners or those considering new or revised programs or technologies.

Other recent practice oriented publications include case studies such as “Audiobooks on ipods: Building a program for a research library.” which details a case study of an academic research library that created an ipod based audiobook collection for patrons with focus on leadership and management skills.35 Ipods were also loaded with podcasts and eventually video seminars. In addition to describing how the program was created and how it worked, Allmang also covers the difficulties in dealing with DRM.

Teachers and librarians new to audiobooks may be unfamiliar with the qualities of a good audio production, and in need of a quick guide to evaluation. In “Sounds Good To Me,” school librarian and chair of the inaguaral Odyssey Award Mary Burkey has written just such an article, a brief overview of the important qualities and elements present in a good audiobook production.36 Cardillo and other industry experts contribute a useful articles which covers three distinct types of audiobook recordings, along with some rationales for using audio with children and teens. The industry viewpoint makes this unique.37

Recent educational articles emphasize the practical aspects of using audiobooks in the library, school library media center, or classroom, or case studies “Getting teens to read with their ears.” which shows how one school librarian successfully used Playaways to reach out to busy high students.38 Teachers and librarians interested in using audiobooks, but in need of convincing research or publications will benefit from the well researched article by Clark, in which she succinctly notes and then rebuffs the arguments against audiobooks.39 Clark also mentions the challenges of introducing audiobooks and most importantly, using research, shows the importance of listening comprehension, and its use as an indicator of later success.

Written entirely from the education point of view and with a more comprehensive literature review, Wolfson covers much the same ground as Clark, focusing on the value of using audiobooks.40 Wolfson deals exclusively with adolescents, whereas Clark’s article is more generally focused on all youth. In addition to the Guidelines and Suggestions for use of Audiobooks, Wolfson has an extensive research based section on why adolescents should be using audiobooks as part of their language arts curriculum, focusing on such important topics as allowing struggling readers to focus on the words and the story instead of struggling to decode, allowing all students to enjoy and experience the same texts, regardless of reading ability, and developing or honing listening comprehension skills. Up to date, clear, and to the point, this the perfect article to give to an administrator or teacher reluctant to use audiobooks, and any librarian not yet convinced of the value of spending precious collection dollars on audio collections.

Montgomery’s paper includes an extensive literature review similar to Clark and Wolfson that also includes some more recent works.41 Sections on the consequences of below grade level reading, and fluency and comprehension for native English speakers and Second Language Learners, are especially helpful for school library media specialists. Examples of tested techniques audiobooks in practice at libraries and classrooms will be useful for all librarians interested in working more with youth and audiobooks.

Cooper contributes an action research article based on a year long project conducted in his classroom.42 Inspired by a student who had difficulty with silent reading, he used audiobooks with small groups during silent reading time,. At the end of the school year, ten students were reading significantly above grade level and one was significantly below grade level. Fifteen students increased more than one and a half grade levels. Nine students increased about one grade level and two students showed limited growth. Six students showed growth of more than two grade levels. Cooper concludes that books on tape do have a positive impact on students’ test score results and comprehension. At-risk students were able to improve up to the basic level and a few up to the proficient level. The basic and proficient students were able to increase their levels, with many improving to the advanced level. Students also showed improved attitudes toward reading, especially those reading below grade level and reluctant boy readers.

There is a small, but significant collection of purely research based articles on audiobooks, and most have been published in the last few years, another indication of the growing popularity of the audiobook among all age groups. These works come from education, library and information science, medicine and psychology, showing the multi-discplinary nature of studying reading and audiobooks.

In Winn et al., they rely on the research about teaching children and adolescents reading skills, when developing new ways of teaching adult learners.43 The same argument can be made in reverse, that strategies and research which apply to adult learners, can also be applied to adolescent students. Winn et al., focus on fluency and the cognitive limitations of slow and struggling readers that limit both fluency and frequency of leisure reading. “the importance of developing fluent reading in order to enhance reading skills and appreciation of literacy.”44 They use two strategies, repeated reading and listening while reading, which can be applied to audiobooks. Here it is used as a more able reader reads the text aloud while the struggling reader follows silently along with their own copy of the text.

The same method can be reproduced using audiobooks as readers can listen and follow along on the printed texts at the same time. One advantage of using audio is that the student has some privacy and another person is not required in order for the student to practice reading. Winn et al. found that there were no significant differences between the students who were in the repeated reading condition or the students in the listening while reading condition, but both conditions had significantly higher scores than students who were in the control and didn’t use either strategy. While this research did not use audiobooks, it does provide strong and convincing evidence for the use of audiobooks with strugglers readers of all ages and the need for more research that study links between listening and reading comprehension.

Using students in grades 2 and 5, Stone Harris studied the effect of audiobooks on reading comprehension, but unlike previous studies found no significant differences in comprehension between students who read books and students who listened to audiobooks. Some of the results do point to higher gains made by the younger students which does match up with the results found by Grimshaw et al and others.45

Studying students in upper level elementary grades who had been diagnosed with a reading disability Esteves looked at the efficacy of using digital audiobooks paired with print texts, versus traditional print books, during silent reading times. She found that the students in the audio assisted group made much more significant gains in reading fluency, more evidence for the impacts of audiobooks on struggling readers.46

From psychology Kurby et al. write about Auditory imagery experiences (AIEs), which occur when readers simulate character voices while reading.47 Their project assessed how familiarity with voice and narrative contexts influenced activation of AIEs. Participants listened to dialogs between two characters. Faster responses to matching than mismatching voices were consistently obtained for familiar scripts, providing evidence for AIEs. Transfer to unfamiliar scripts only occurred after extended experience with character voices. These findings define factors that influence activation of speaker voice during reading, with implications for understanding the nature of linguistic representations across presentation modalities. A similar claim might be made about the perceptual features of textual speech – readers should experience AIEs during comprehension if perceptual representations of the character’s voice are present in memory to support such imagery. In a related work, Sarkamo et al. Studied stroke patients and the effects of music and audiobooks on longterm gains in verbal memory and early sensory processing, concluding that listening can have significant positive effects that may lead to recovery of higher cognitive functions.48

Milani et al. studied children and adolescents with dyslexia in an experimental design using school and leisure reading texts.49 Students in the control group continued to use printed texts, while those in the experimental group used audiobooks. Milani et al, found that the students using audiobooks experienced significant improvements in reading accuracy, gains in general school performance and motivation and engagement for involvement in school activities, strong evidence for the importance of using audiobooks with struggling or learning disabled readers.

Lo, in a paper presented at 2009 IFLA World Congress conducted a similar study, looking at Naxos Spoken Word Library (a digital audiobooks collection) and children’s motivations to read with 5th and 6th grade students in Hong Kong.50 Lo found that the availability of the digital audiobooks collection in the school libraries did not increase student’s motivations to do leisure reading or listening, and that girls were more likely to use the library for leisure reading or listening and use the Naxos collections. He attributes these results partially to a lack of materials that interested many of the student readers, especially the boy readers and concludes that if the library is to succeed in attracting and motivating readers, but especially boy readers, then the collection needs to better reflect their interests, a result that is relevant to all types of libraries serving listeners.

Rubery, a humanities scholar, overviews recent development in digital and audiobook technologies, in a manner designed to be understand by non-specialists, a useful summary for librarians without a technical background.51 He also makes connection between today’s audiobooks and the popular pastime of the Victorian era of reading aloud and reflects on attitudes towards reading aloud and listening to audiobooks.

Ross’ survey has implications for audiobooks as he finds that over 40% of current library users own an iPod and 30% another mp3 player and almost 70% of library patrons already listen to some form of audiobooks.52 Unlike the APA data which chows heavy use among younger listeners, the majority of patrons who borrowed library audiobooks were over 5 and the library was their primary source for audiobooks, with the far distant second choice the Internet followed by itunes.

There a few detractors who are opposed to audiobooks, but these are found primarily in the visually impaired community and their arguments revolve around those who learn Braille and “read” texts, versus those who get all their “reading” through listening. Some researchers are concerned that those who only listen may fail to develop certain areas of the brain and that members of oral societies think differently than those of literate societies, and their concerns are being validated by brain imaging studies, but these results cannot be generalized to the larger population.53

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