Off the Shelf: June is National Audiobook Month

I still tell the story of a summer many years ago when I was taking a summer road trip to vacation in northwest Iowa, just me and my two elementary school aged kids facing over six hours in the car each way. That was the summer that audiobooks saved me. For the twelve hour round trip, we listened to Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets. There were only a couple “Are we there yet?” questions and no bickering. For most of the trip, we were quietly engrossed in listening to the story, which made the hours fly by.


June is National Audiobook Month and a great time to remind us of the value of listening to books. Taking a long trip or even a short one, going for a walk, working out, mowing the lawn, or cleaning house are just a few times when an audiobook is a great choice.


Some people like to use audiobooks as a way to unwind before they go to sleep at night. You can use any audio version of a book or you can find specially written and recorded stories designed for bedtime. Googling “sleep stories” will bring you some examples.


Audiobooks also can be a great choice for kids who do not yet read or who are learning how to read. Hearing stories helps to expand vocabulary, learn sentence structure, and develop a love of stories that extends to reading printed books. At our library, some audiobooks are packaged with the print book for children that want to listen and follow along in the book.


In the book “Raising Kids Who Read,” author Daniel Willingham explores the science of reading. He found that the brain’s experience is not so different when reading print or listening to audio. The brain comprehends the audio and the print at similar rates. He argues that we need to let go of the idea that listening to audiobook version is “cheating.” In fact, some audiobook listeners report getting more out of the story because they are less likely to skim and because a good narrator can use their voice to enhance the story.


A great infographic called “How Audio Promotes Literacy” pulls together quotes and research on the benefits of audiobooks. Just as when we read aloud to a child, when a child listens to the audiobook read the story aloud to them, they build necessary early literacy skills, grow vocabulary, develop listening skills, expand knowledge and comprehension, and more. When it comes to different learning styles, 27% of the K-12 population are auditory learners who learn better through audio than print. In general, combining print and audio increases recall by 40% over print alone.


Another audio benefit is pronunciation. You may have seen the meme that credits an anonymous quote as “Never make fun of someone if they mispronounce a word. It means they learned it by reading.” As a print reader, I have been in that position. With audiobooks, you get to hear names, places, and other less used words pronounced correctly.


If we look at the benefits of reading, such as learning new vocabulary, reducing stress, improving memory, and fostering empathy, to name a few, listening to the book doesn’t cheat you out of those benefits. You might find that you read more because you can do it while driving or doing dishes, making it easier to fit reading into your lifestyle. Especially after we’ve become proficient readers, it is important to access information and stories in a way that fits our needs in the moment. That is why libraries offer a variety of formats and love to help you find just what works best for you.


At the time I took that road trip, I used audiobooks on CD. Back then our collection even still included books on cassette tapes. Audiobooks go back even further to the era of LPs. I’m just now donating some record albums from my childhood to the Friends of the Library. I have fond memories of listening to Disney stories on LP with the print book included as part of the album cover to look at and read while you listened.


While cassettes and LPs aren’t part of the library collection anymore, books on CD still checkout regularly. Even so, CD players in cars and in homes are becoming less and less common. We’ll continue to offer books on CD as long as community members continue to value this format.


About 15 years ago, libraries started offering downloadable audiobooks. This digital format grows in popularity each year. At our library, cardholders can listen to a book through two online sources.


We, like most southeast Iowa libraries, offer the statewide consortium on the Overdrive platform called Bridges. This consortium started out offering only downloadable audiobooks, but today Bridges also has ebooks, emagazines, and streaming video. You can use this service through your choice of the Overdrive or Libby app. It is also possible to use through the website. We recommend Libby because of its ease of use. Download the app and it will ask you a few questions about your library and your card and pin number and, in minutes, you’ll be ready to start listening to books on your phone, tablet, or other device.


Last year, we added Hoopla. This service also has more than just audiobooks, but audiobooks are the most popular format among our users. Cardholders can download the Hoopla app and, like the consortium option, quickly get signed up with an account tied to their library card.


Both services are available only to our Burlington cardholders and those from contracting entities, which include West Burlington, Middletown, and rural Des Moines County residents. Others may be able to access these services through their home libraries. In both cases, there is no cost to the cardholder to use these services through the library subscription. If you’d like more information, stop by the customer service desk. Our staff team is happy to help and has a step-by-step brochure for each service to give you.


Finally, thank you to all the parents, grandparents, and day care providers who have been bringing children to the library this month to register them for library summer reading programs. There are programs for all ages: babies, children, tweens, teens, and adults. We have been enjoying signing people up for new library accounts, checking out stacks of books, offering fun learning activities, and giving out weekly prize incentives for making reading a habit. The official summer reading programs continue through August 2. Stop in or call us for more information.


See you at the library!