Do you remember "books on tape"? In the last century, before mp3 players, iPods, and audio-enabled e-readers, "books on tape" were the alternative to sitting down with a bound collection of printed paper known as a book. (Fans of Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451 will forgive my little nostalgia trip, I am sure.) A "book on tape" presented the text of a book, read aloud (often by a well-known actor). You inserted your cassette tape into your tape player, pressed the appropriate button (?), and the read-aloud was delivered through the player’s speakers or through a set of headphones. Because few cassette tapes could hold more than 120 minutes of content, listening to a complete book involved carrying multiple cassette tapes.
Since then, audio books have made rapid advances, both in format and in content. In the past, audio book content tended to be one of two types: blockbusters such as War and Peace (audio book being the only way that many might be able to finish that particular "bucket list" read), or thriller/mystery/suspense fiction, a popular vacation reading choice (good for listening to while travelling to a destination). However, a quick perusal of the current catalogues of e-book providers indicates that the audio books available to both adults and children now offer a diverse collection of both nonfiction and fiction.
Public library users and individual consumers can now download audio-book content in a variety of formats; eLibrariesManitoba (the digital library service which I use) offers audio content in both static and portable formats: book content can be downloaded to a PC (or sometimes, a Mac) and listened to at a work station; burned to a CD and listened through a CD player; or downloaded to an iPod (Apple™ device), an mp3 player, some smart phones, or those e-readers which allow audio playback. However, whether one borrows or purchases most digital content, before downloading an audio book, one must first install some type of software which will allow the book to play on your device. Not a big deal for a digital native, I suppose, but still a bit of an inconvenience for some older users.
Orca Publishers is aware that most of their readers are, in fact, digital natives, and so they provide most of their titles in e-book format, either as pdf or Adobe epub format (www.orcabook.com). Now, they also provide the Orca GoReader, an mp3 device pre-loaded with two books from both Orca’s "Currents" or "Soundings" series. Although I still enjoy a book printed on paper, I’m equally avid about e-books and audiobooks, so I was pleased when offered the chance to review Orca Soundings Vol.1, containing two novels, Eric Walters’ Stuffed and Nora McClintock’s Back.
An egg-shaped device (approximately the same size as an 8gB Apple™ iPod Nano3) GoReader fits comfortably in the palm of your hand, or the pocket of a shirt or not-too-tight pair of jeans. It’s simple to operate: there are three control buttons (Play/Stop, Fast Forward, and Reverse), two volume control buttons (+ and -), and a power on/off switch. Put on the earbuds, power it on, and after a brief musical introduction and an announcement of the title, and the current chapter, the story is read aloud. Unlike some audiobooks, there is only a single voice reading the content, but whoever the narrator is, the reader did a good job of animating the story and evoking the different characters in both Back and Stuffed. And, as the content is played, a screen provides a digital readout, indicating the book and the current chapter being read. Each book takes about 1 hour and 30 minutes to complete, but the listener can pause or stop at any point in the narration.
I think that GoReader has real potential for supporting certain groups of high school students who are struggling to read: EAL students who can hear the unaccented narrative voice of the story they are reading and reluctant readers who might be more willing to persevere with a book if they have audio assistance (not to mention the "cool" factor of listening on a digital device.) I think that the GoReader might work better in a classroom situation, simply because it is a bit easier to keep track of than might be the case in a busy school library. The GoReader is powered by two AAA batteries, and because those batteries can be used in all sorts of other digital devices, the desk staff in a library has to remember, always, to check for the batteries, on return of the device If the GoReader is going to be a loanable device, school libraries should consider investing in a charger and re-chargeable AAA batteries – it will cost, but so will constant replacement of those little batteries. And, how does one manage the cleanliness of the earbuds? A school library or a classroom teacher cannot assume that every student has earbuds (although most students do own some sort of device which uses them), and how does one clean/sanitize those earbuds after every use? It’s a health issue, albeit a small one, but an issue, nonetheless.
However, despite the battery and earbud problem, I highly recommend the GoReader for use by reading clinicians, resource teachers, and teachers of EAL students. Good for Orca for going digital!
Joanne Peters, a retired high school teacher-librarian, lives in Winnipeg, MB.
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