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Listening Advisory? What’s That?

by on December 1, 2013

Readers’ Advisory is not just about finding someone another good book to read. It is also about helping listeners find that next good audiobook. A few months ago I hosted a readers’ advisory discussion via our internal listserv asking “Do you listen to books? If so, what title(s) have you listened to recently and why?” This discussion was very lively and the staff provided similar reasons for where, when, and why they listen to audiobooks. Unfortunately, there was very little said about how they find ‘good’ audiobooks.

This had me thinking that perhaps it was time to compile a list of tools staff could use to find audiobook reviews, audio award lists, or learn a technique which enables them to quickly to evaluate audio titles. Some useful review sources for finding good suggestions are:

  • Audio File Magazine which is the only print and electronic resource which reviews audiobooks for professionals and consumers.  They also provide a means to note excellence in audio titles by assigning the Earphone Awards for exceptional productions and giving the Golden Voice Award to outstanding narrators.
  • Booklist produces ‘Audio Book Previews’ twice a year, usually in the February 1 and June 1 issues. Mary Burkey writes about audio on the Booklist Online Audiobooker blog usually posting multiple times a week. The journal also hosts free Audiobook webinars in June and October of each year which can be useful for learning about trends, forthcoming releases, and hot titles.
  • Library Journal provides reviews of audio books in each issue. The reviews can be accessed online under the ‘Media’ reviews category for Audiobooks. LJ also hosts occasional Twitter chats about audiobooks and libraries using the #ljaudio hashtag.

One way to find the best audiobooks is to check audio awards lists which can provide even more title suggestions for customers. The top audiobook awards are:

  • The Audie Awards®, given for excellence in audiobook and spoken word productions, are sponsored by the Audio Publishers Association (APA)
  • The Grammys which give awards not only for music but also in the Spoken Word and Comedy categories.
  • The Listen List: Outstanding Audiobook Narration, established in 2011 by the Collection Development and Evaluation Services section of the Reference and User Services Association, a division of the American Library Association. A committee evaluates audio title throughout the year and compiles an list which seeks to highlight outstanding audiobook titles that merit special attention by general adult listeners and the librarians who work with them
  • The Odyssey Award for Excellence in Audiobooks Production is jointly given by the Association for Library Service to Children (ALSC) and the Young Adult Library Services Association (YALSA), to the best audiobook produced for children or young adults, available in England and the United States.
  • ALSC and YALSA also produce annual audio recording lists.

As with books, no one has time to listen to every audio title. Staff can quickly learn about an audiobook by following the guidelines provided in Chapter 3 of The Readers’ Advisory Handbook (ALA Editions, 2010). Kaite Mediatore Stover explains “How to Listen to a Book in Thirty Minutes” which is an expansion on Chapter 1 which details “How to Read a Book in Ten Minutes” by Jessica E. Moyer.  If practiced regularly staff can take audio titles right off the shelves and evaluate them on the spot. Using this technique should also help staff learn more about their audiobook collection in a very short time.

Other ways to develop skills with audiobooks is to make use of print resources or by taking advantage of any learning opportunities. Joyce Saricks’ Read On…Audiobooks: Reading Lists for Every Taste (Libraries Unlimited, 2011) provides annotations for more than 300 titles which could be useful in creating audio ‘reading’ lists, shelf talkers, or displays. Audiobooks for Youth: a Practical Guide to Sound Literature (ALA Editions, 2013) by Mary Burkey includes chapters on how to develop and maintain an audiobook collection, learning to listen with a critical ear as well as a history of children’s audiobooks.

Attending workshops or conference programs dealing with audio readers’ advisory can provide wonderful learning opportunities. For example, in October 2013 the Mid-America Library Alliance (MALA) sponsored a workshop titled: Listen Up!: What Are Your Ears Reading Next? Audiobook Readers Advisory. Kelly Fann, Director of Tanagnoxie Public Library (Kansas), delivered a great program and generously posted her presentation handout online. National library conferences offer programs on a variety of topics and the 2014 Public Library Association (PLA) conference  is hosting a session aimed specifically at listening advisory. The forthcoming program is titled All About Audiobooks: Improving Readers’ Advisory for Listeners to be presented by Renee Young, Robin Whitten, Michele Cobb, and Kaite Stover.

To wrap this up I will refer to a February 2013 post from fellow Public Libraries Online blogger, Tanya Davidson. She mentioned in In the World of Audiobooks, the Narrator Rules Supreme that she wished there was a better way to find audiobooks. She suggested fellow listeners should band together to create a tool which allows users to search for audiobooks by appeal.

Well, I think found an answer to her wish! At ALA Annual 2013 in Chicago, I learned that NoveList is loading audiobook titles into the database to be searchable with appeal factors. In early November 2013, I emailed Duncan Smith, co-creator and Vice President of Novelist, to get an update on this project. He put me in contact with Renee Young, who with Della Coulter, is heading up NoveList’s audio-book efforts. In an email Renee explained their progress so far.

We will be adding approximately 30,000 audiobook titles to NoveList Plus in the Spring of 2014 and are planning to debut the product update at PLA in March.  We will feature Audiofile text and sound reviews as well as reviews from LJ, SLJ, and Publishers Weekly. The records will be searchable by the usual access points of title and author and also by narrator, abridgement, format, and appeal factors. You are probably familiarwith our NoveList appeal vocabulary that covers Storyline, Pace, Tone, Writing style, and Illustration. In addition to these terms, we created a new appeal vocabulary to describe qualities of audiobook narration and production. Some of our terms include: Distinctly voiced, Comedic, Deadpan, Detached, Folksy. Each audiobook title in NoveList will have audiobook recommendations based on appeal factors and other title metadata. We will not be doing a Beta testing. Instead we will be conducting an intensive in-house QA process prior to the launch.”

Library staff have a number of tools, techniques, and learning opportunities to use in developing their listening advisory skills and plenty to look forward to at the 2014 Public Library Association conference! Look for me at the EBSCO booth for the debut of NoveList’s exciting, new audiobook feature or at the All About Audiobooks program scheduled for Thursday afternoon, March 13, 2014!

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