Courtesy National Library Service, Library of Congress
A National Library Service patron uses a machine to listen to reading material in the 1970s.
For the most part, the audio books resemble the ones sold in bookstores for parents facing long road trips or professionals with lengthy commutes. Professional actors record the talking books and the same best-sellers are available through the program. The biggest difference is the player that the NLS ships along with the books — it has larger, easy-to-use buttons and Braille to help those unfamiliar with such devices. Unlike other audio book producers, the NLS is also largely exempt from copyright law in its productions.
The conversion to digital media has taken several years, since only about 2,500 titles can be converted each year. All new titles are digitized, and most of the collection has now been converted, but cassettes are still available by request.
Although it has just completed the switch, the NLS is already anticipating the next technological shift. It recently began offering patrons the ability to download talking books directly from the NLS website.
“All the baby boomers are now turning 65, and they’re more accustomed to having iPods and MP3 players,” Marcum said. “They may want more content they can control themselves, even when they’re having visual problems.”
Galante, who uses the new digital service, appreciates the ability to download books immediately. “It’s just like if you had a Kindle or wanted a book from Amazon,” he said. “You can get it within a couple of minutes.”
Talking books have also helped Galante grow closer to his friends and family. He remembers listening to a recording of “The Godfather” in college, alone in his dorm room. Before long, the recording’s talented actors and exciting plot had drawn in 10 of his friends, who all sat down to finish the book together. “Everyone was so interested in it,” he said. “Just listening to it gave people such a different perspective.”
Later in his life, the program also allowed Galante to read children’s books with his two young children, who are now in high school and college. “They really enjoyed sitting with me, reading books together,” he said. “It was neat to be able to do that with your kids.”
Last year, talking books also helped bring Galante closer to his ailing father, a veteran of World War II who had fought in the Battle of the Bulge. Galante checked out WWII books to read with his father, who then opened up to his son about his war experiences.
“It was stuff I had never known before,” he said. “The technology is interesting, sure. But the really interesting thing from my perspective is how the program itself has allowed me to establish and build on my relationships with people.”