There is really no need to recite numerous reports that have come out recently correlating audiobooks with reading success of children and young adults. There is also no need to convince librarians and publishers that listening is learning and that listening is synonymous with literacy. Those who have been on the frontlines know the benefits of audiobooks and listening to the spoken word.
However, many people outside the library and publishing industry still believe that listening to audiobooks is a form of cheating and not really the same thing as reading. This is puzzling. All one needs to do to dispel this belief is think back in time and consider how people passed on knowledge to each other for generations. Did they all have the privilege to access urban libraries for books? Or money to buy books on their own? Did they even have a bookstore or library anywhere in the vicinity of where the lived? How did they learn exactly?
Next, all one needs to do to is reconsider the notion that listening is not ‘really reading’ is to listen to an audiobook and observe oneself while doing it. Are you conjuring up images of that which you hear? Are you using your imagination to process the story? Are you moved by what you are listening to? Are you able to internalize parts that inspire you the most? Can you feel with the character or the narrator?
And please think back to when you read the book The Reader (or watched the movie with Kate Winslet). Did you consider that perhaps it’s not only about the Holocaust and coming to terms with the past? Wasn’t it also about a woman who couldn’t read but insisted that the man she was having an affair with read to her out loud? Wasn’t she THE READER even though she wasn’t the one reading?
But there is more to this that’s relevant for our time than the mere idea that we learn while we listen just as much as when we read. Audiobooks need to be recognized for what they have become the past two decades: ebooks. What a lot of people are still failing to see (or have no interest in seeing) is that digital books (ebooks) more and more come with audio components built in. And this trend is likely to continue. Think, for example, about Oxford University Press’ series of books for ESL readers. Whatever the book’s text is about (a classic novel like Wuthering Heights; a book about the history of chocolate; or a biography of Gandhi), it is accompanied by an audio component, so the person reading can also simultaneously listen.
It is only logical to predict that in the not-so-distant future users will download books that will include both text and audio. And probably videos as well. And, as I’ve written in other posts, what is our daily Facebook check-in if not a highly interactive learning/reading experience? Aren’t we absorbing information while on Facebook (assuming we use it for things other than to just check in with our friends)? Aren’t we learning when listening to TEDTalks on Youtube? I think so. Yet, when ebook reports come out telling us that ebook sales are ‘down,’ they usually do not consider audiobook sales as part of the same group of ‘sales.’ It is important that those of us on a mission to promote ebooks and digital literacy remain aware of that.
In short, audiobooks are ebooks, containers are disappearing, and those who listen to them are learners in every sense of the word.
In an ongoing effort to support the role audiobooks play in the development of ebooks and promotion of digital literacy, NSR is proud to announce that, starting this week, the portal will feature reviews of audiobooks from an array of publishers and producers. These are original reviews contributed to No Shelf Required by Michael Rogers (former Media Editor and audiobook reviewer for Library Journal, who has a long history in book news and library reporting). We have also recruited Francisca Goldsmith, an authority on all things audiobooks and literacy, to shed light on listening skills in her Reading by Ear column. We thank both Michael and Francisca for joining the NSR team.