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Guest Blog: Audiobooks and School Libraries


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We are excited to share this guest blog written by Anne Weaver, Head of Library and Information Services at All Hallows' School.

Audiobooks are a great way to experience reading, both for recreational and also curriculum purposes. Here are some ideas about using audiobooks for Curriculum purposes. Some students or staff find it preferable to hear a book read aloud, as they can listen while doing other activities, such as when they travel or exercise. Audiobooks can be essential for students with learning disabilities, such as sight impairment or dyslexia. Some audiobooks are narrated so well, they create a different and very pleasurable experience.

Set Novels

Audiobooks for Set Novels can be used in several ways with further implications:

  • Requested by teachers to play to a whole class.
  • Students who experience audiobooks in conjunction with their Set Novels, may then choose to borrow audiobooks for recreational reading.
  • Some reluctant readers may respond more to audiobooks than to print formats.
  • An option to experience the text for all or some students. Some audiobooks have amazing narrators who really bring a book to life and are a treasure in their own right. For example, listening to The Lord of the Rings read by Rob Inglis while on a road trip around the South Island of New Zealand was an amazing experience and enjoyed by our whole family.

At school, there are 2 categories of students to consider in relation to audiobooks: those with disability and those without which will be explored further. If needing to check copyright, such as how copyright defines disability, see Smartcopying Homepage - Smartcopying and search for “disability,” “audiobook,” etc to see latest relevant legislation.

If the audiobook is wanted for a teacher to play to a full class or for individual use by students; Smartcopying confirmed that teachers can play audiobooks to a full class and only need one copy of the audiobook; teachers can even use a Council Library or other copy – the school does not have to own the audiobook; it just needs to be a legal copy. 

It is worth considering video as an option. Some novels or plays may have the full text of a print item in video format when they are acted out or filmed and may also come with subtitles.

At our school, we have audiobooks for all our set novels for students with disabilities, but this has involved a large array of sources to achieve this. It is easier to provide audiobooks for Set Novels for teachers to play to a whole class use and also for students with disability, than it is to provide audiobooks for Set Novels for all students for individual personal use, due to cost and availability, but it is very important to be able to offer audio format for students with disability. Demand for audiobook options is increasing from students, so hopefully more access options will become available.

Audiobooks for set novels for students with disability

 For students with a disability, we have a library procedure for confirming if students are identified as having a disability, in conjunction with our Learning Support Department. Where students are pre-identified, a private note is placed on the library catalogue to advise Library Assistants. Teachers advise these students know they can come to the library and obtain audiobooks, and this enables Library staff to explain copyright requirements, especially that they should not share the file. Since Covid, if there is a reason the student cannot come to the Library, we send them a link to the file from a secure school Sharepoint site and email the guidelines to the student.

If a teacher, parent or student expresses that a student has a reason for needing audiobooks, then we follow this up with Learning Support staff to check the student qualifies as having a disability, as per copyright laws, to use format shifted audiobooks; otherwise the guidelines below for “general” students apply.

There are a range of options to consider when trying to source audiobooks for students with disability.  As we are a library, we prefer to buy an audiobook in a format we can lend to more than one student. If this is not a concern, then there are many options such as audible, itunes or google play, that provide audiobooks. Kindle has a version that can be played on a PC and supplies audiobooks. Our school does not allow students to use their phone during the school day which rules out some options. Also, it is more efficient to have a copy ready for students with a disability, rather than having to buy a copy individually for each student.

Sources of Audiobooks for students with a disability

It is often necessary to source audiobooks from students with disability from a range of sources, due to problems with availability.

  • We have audiobooks on CDs bought a long time ago. As permitted under Disability Copyright for Schools, we have format shifted titles required for use with students with disability to MP3, as student devices do not have a CD or DVD drives. We check commercial sites to see if they sell an MP3 version of the audiobook. We check if the audiobooks are available from Wheelers or Overdrive as we have these platforms. Bolinda is another audiobook platform.
  • We check if the audiobook is available from Vision Australia; they have a library: parents have to sign up students. Library | Vision Australia. Blindness and low vision services.
  • If we cannot source the audiobook elsewhere, we used to pay for audiobooks to be made by QLD Narrating Service. These are read by volunteers. This is no longer available.
  • In Queensland, if the student has a disability, the Alternative Format Library can be contacted. This service provides high resolution versions of textbooks that can be used with read aloud applications; they source PDFs from publishers. Most browsers and document software now have Read Aloud functions, such as Microsoft Edge Read Aloud and Windows 10 Immersive Reader. Requests for alternative format texts can be made via a media request form and emailed to: 3140_AFL@eq.edu.au
  • Contacting publishers directly for the PDF might be possible, but in the past we found that we did not always receive the PDF in a timely manner, if at all.
  • I am aware of other schools who have staff who have recorded audiobooks for students. It would be advisable to check copyright to see if this is still acceptable. We tried this once, but it was very hard to organise, but it might work if you can find a talented and willing volunteer.
  • Some people now provide audiobooks for free online such as on youtube. This is an example for the Outsiders Outsiders Chapter 1 - YouTube It is worth doing a google search as there may be audiobooks at other sites, but care should be taken to ensure these are legal.

Please see below picture of our collection of audiobooks for set novels for students with disability. These DVD cases contain a USB with the audiobook - the DVD case is simply a storage means . We now use a USB C adapter to download the audiobook to the student device.  We have more audiobooks than these for students with disability, but these may be available via our Overdrive or Wheelers subscriptions. Since Covid, if there is a reason the student cannot come to the Library, we send them a link to the file from a secure school Sharepoint site and email the guidelines to the student.

Audiobooks and School Libraries 1

We list the format options on our Oliver Library catalogue. We have Reading Lists on Oliver to assist staff and students access information about available format options. Please see the images for how the audiobooks appear on the catalogue.

Library catalogues can assist when school libraries have multiple sources of audiobooks by providing a “one stop shop” to find these. Above is a screenshot from our Oliver Catalogue. Patrons can narrow the selection to e-Audiobooks only by choosing this from the “Type” menu on the left. I am not sure why we named these e-Audiobooks instead of audiobooks; the term is used here for all audio recordings.

Other options to consider for audiobooks

  • Search the local council library for audiobooks. We have found that some audiobooks we want may be available via the Council Library, but they may no longer be available for new purchases, even on the same platforms.
  • Spotify and other music apps now offer audiobooks. We do not currently use this yet via the Library, as we do not have a school Spotify account, but this may be an option for individuals with such music accounts. More at Download Audiobooks On Spotify for Free (2022 Update) (tunesfun.com)
  • There are also free sources of audiobooks on the internet. Check these are legal.
  • Video sites are an option, with or without video, and with or without subtitles. Some repeat the text word for word.
  • ClickView and other TV recording software programs or video databases can be considered. These repositories may have full plays e.g. Shakespeare - and may have subtitles.
  • Netflix was looking at audiobooks.
  • Youtube has a large collection of books being read aloud and these may be free. Below is one of our set texts which is a play.

Assistive Technologies

As touched on previously in the discussion about resources to support disability, other options to consider in addition to audiobooks are technologies that read aloud print or online text. These assistive and immersive options are increasingly available. If the text is digital, then software can read aloud information on a digital screen : Microsoft, Android, and Apple. This was once very robotic, but the quality of  automated audio has greatly improved.

  • Read-aloud software is not always as easy to use as expected. For example, such software can be used with Overdrive and Wheelers items, but in 2020, reading aloud software for ebooks on these platforms would only work from the start of a book, so students would need to read from the beginning of the book every time. This meant that read-aloud for epub format may not be a suitable option where there are no audiobook versions.
  • Most paid subscription research databases e.g., EBSCO and Proquest have very good inbuilt audio that will read aloud from any point, and in most languages.
  • Assistive glasses can have attachments that allow reading aloud. Find out more at eyeson and TechGuide.
  • Another option is pens or scanners that read aloud. Prices for such technologies are falling, making them more accessible.
  • Our library lends Roger Pens. Our role is mainly lending and charging. These devices are used now as back-ups, if there are problems with the more modern technologies used by students with hearing impairment Phonak Roger Pen - HEARING SAVERS
  • A new option is phone apps like Speechify. This works by holding a phone over the text and the app reads the text aloud. More at Turn any book into an audiobook: Easiest Way! - Speechify

Text to speech software

Use Text To Speech software (TTS) to convert ebooks from subscriptions sites like SORA into audiobooks. There may be other methods that work, but we have not worked these out. However, success was achieved opening an ebook from SORA using the Google Chrome browser and enabling an Ebook to be read aloud by installing the free Read Aloud Extension from the Chrome web store. However, this may start from the beginning of the ebook each time. Read more here. 

Miscellaneous

The issuing of Set Novels was once always in print, but this is changing.

  • We now have 3 Set Novels that we lend as ebooks: The Happiest Refugee, The Poisonwood Bible, and The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time. The last 2 we offer as ebooks only. These ebook apps used to have a maximum loan period of 90 days, so students needed to reborrow online when the loan period expired, but changes are occurring.
  • There are also selected audiobooks available via the ABC Listen app. The Happiest Refuge and My Place are two of the titles available with more to come ‘very soon’.
  • The problem with Apple Books, Google Play or Amazon, is these are not designed for library lending – really for individual lending.
  • It is very easy to purchase ebooks or audiobooks from Wheelers and Overdrive, just login, order and pay online, and they appear in anything from about 4 to 24 hours, on your catalogue, available for borrowing.
  • The library supports Set Novels via Research Guides on Libguides, as is done for many study topics Home - Research-Guides - LibGuides at All Hallows' School
  • There are free and legal versions of some set novels available as ebooks and audiobooks. For example, Project Gutenberg can be used by schools and catalogued. Overdrive provides free ebooks called Duke Classics; some of which may be Set Novels. Shakespeare plays and poems are available in versions that are “out of copyright.”
  • and gifted them to students for whom teachers requested an audiobook.
  • Some schools pay for audible accounts or individual copies of audio books for identified students e.g. copies of Nanberry from audiobooks now.

Conclusion

Options for accessing audiobooks and ebooks for learning purposes are constantly changing. With increasing demand for audiobooks for studying set novels and for recreational reading, school libraries will need to regularly revisit supply opportunities, to meet client demand. 

This blog was originally published by Anne Weaver on her blog, Reading Power

Further Reading

  • In this guest blog, discover how the Glenallen School, used audiobooks to overcome barriers and boost engagement.
  • Find out more about how OverDrive works and how it could benefit your library.
  • This 2-part guest blog sees Trisha Templeton, Teacher Librarian at Daramalan College, discuss the impacts of poor digital literacy and explore the role of the teacher librarian in developing digital literacy.

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