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Thursday, September 17, 2009

ARRT Program: All About Audiobooks

Today I attended an ARRT program entitled, "All About Audiobooks: Readers' Advisory Principles with Audiobook Collections," presented by Amy Peterson, a Popular Services Librarian and Susan Gibberman, the Head of Reader Services, both at the Shaumburg Township District Library.

I want to share some of the highlights of their presentation here.

Peterson is a member of Audio Publishers Association and she shared some of the results of their 2008 Audiobook Market study with us. They were quite enlightening; however, it was her analysis that I most appreciated. For example, when we looked at the slide listing the results for "Who are our audiobook listeners (by age)? We saw, as most librarians would expect that the largest group of audiobook users are between 25 and 54, prime commuter age. However, Peterson pointed us to look at the 65-74 age range and talked about how this age group's less frequent usage presents a big opportunity for growth.

Another slide commented on the most popular audiobook formats, comparing 2007 to 2008. Again, the experienced librarians in the audience were not surprised to see that CDs were the most popular format, but Peterson pointed out that digital downloads, although small now, actually have the largest percentage growth.

We were also all happy to see that when people were asked where they turn to first to borrow or purchase an audiobook the library was 20 percentage points above the next most popular answer, retail bookstores. People come to the library for their audiobooks.

Peterson and Gibberman also talked about doing outreach and counteracting patron misconceptions about audiobooks. Peterson has gone to the train station, the senior center, and has even sat at the Farmer's Market once a month, all to demonstrate how to download audiobooks or just to talk them up.

In terms of outreach, getting the word out about your audiobook offerings, Gibberman gave what I thought was the best advice of the program: "Simply listing a downloadable training program in your program guide lets people known have you have the service." Whether they come or not, you have told them you have audio books and that they can download them from from home.

The second half of the program focused on audio RA. I was familiar with quite a bit of the basics, but their audiobook expertise gave me a few new ideas and tips.

Audio book listeners (myself included) have favorite narrators. In fact, Gibberman and Peterson asked each of us to fill out a form in which we listed the our 3 favorite narrators. I listed John Lee, Simon Vance, and David Sedaris. I also listed Sedaris as the one narrator I would even listen to reading the phonebook. Seriously though, here's a Sedaris excerpt.

Back to the narrators, Peterson and Gibberman suggested making bookmarks or lists of all the books you have with certain popular narrators. Also, they suggested that you play patrons a snippet of a narrator's work before they commit to an entire audiobook. The patron's feeling about a narrator can make a good book great, but also, if the narrator is irritating to that patron, make a great book terrible. Using the Golden Voices section of Audiofile Magazine Online, you can find audio files. I have used these for myself, but I honestly never thought of playing these for the patron. What great and helpful advice!

Gibberman and Peterson also reminded us to make sure our patrons can use the catalog to search for audiobooks by their preferences. For example, can you search by narrator, by type (audio), format (CD, MP3, download, etc..) and genre? Can you combine these searches? Are they standardized across the entire holdings? For example, do all of your records for compacct discs say CD, or do some say C.D.? It could make a huge difference when searching.

Finally, programming was touched on. The Schaumburg Township Distrcit Library has been successful hosting audiobook narrators at their library. The audio publishers will send them out to build their customer base. But its not just having audio specific programming that they wanted to stress. We should be including audio options and components as part of all of our reading programs and displays.

ARRT plans to post the results of Gibberman and Peterson's informal poll of the 50 or so participants' favorite narrators, so look for that shortly. Also, click here for my other posts on audiobooks. Thanks again to Peterson and Gibberman for an informative program.

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