Any school librarian knows that audiobooks of curricular reading will, at some point, be required to help support students with learning differences. But those might not always require a line item in your budget. LibriVox, an app offering “acoustical liberation of books in the public domain,” offers an easy way for students to stream or download high-quality audiofiles to their own devices, so they can follow along with the print or to suit their own learning modalities.
For an open, volunteer-driven project, the selection of available titles in LibriVox is impressive. Jane Austen fanatics can find juvenilia, letters, and the memoir written by Austen’s nephew, in addition to multiple recordings, most available either voiced by solo readers or dramatized by a full cast, for each of Austen’s novels. And teen listeners have preferences in reader gender and accent, so the availability of a choice of narrators can’t be underestimated.
The same files accessed via the app are available via the LibriVox website. Some of these books are also being fed, selectively, into the Project Gutenberg audiobook collection (which does have the advantage of conversion of each book into a multiplicity of audio file formats). A small ad at the bottom of app display seems a small concession for access.
Browsing the collection, I’m sure you’ll see terrific potential for using the available audiobooks in many learning contexts. I passed some of Hans Christian Anderson on to a teacher working on fairy tale interpretations. Also, the variability of the same text as voiced by different readers offer some examples for rhetoric and drama classes. (Versions are rated using a star system for quick selection, and you can read reviews and access related titles through the app interface, and there is a “sleep” setting.) The many foreign language editions support language students as well as English language learners. For advanced students, think of the prospect of hearing the perennial teen favorites Rimbaud and Baudelaire read by native speakers. I plan to stream Dickens’ A Christmas Carol as well as the many other holiday selections in our library.
Perhaps the most exciting part of the LibriVox project is the opportunity for readers to contribute audio files. Some teens might want to become a part of the project.
While the goal of digitizing all books in the public domain is lofty, the entire LibriVox repository reveals the inherent limitations of text-to-speech technologies.