Free, user-generated audio books

Last year I took a cross-country road trip with my 10-year-old daughter, and we were greatly entertained by the free public domain audio books available from LibriVox, an online forum which connects readers (as in those who voice the text) to books, then makes the resulting audio files freely available to all. The library is strictly public domain material, but is very extensive. Most of the books we listened to were read by just one person (“going solo”), but readers can volunteer for individual chapters of books in progress. We listened to The Prince and the Pauper, The Mysterious Island, The Wind in the Willows, Five Children and It, and several selected poems and short stories. (Kudos to Timothy Smith for The Mysterious Island — a tour de force!). Online coordinators organize the readings, which are generally excellent. Some readers provide wonderful voices for each character; some simply read the text. The books are available for download from the website, or can be downloaded via iTunes, which we did and then listened to from the iPod in the car (note: using iTunes, the files are stored as separate podcasts with a separate podcast per chapter; when you download the .mp3 file from the LibriVox website, it is listed not in audiobooks nor podcasts, but as a LibriVox ‘song’). This really is a wonderful public service. It’s not as easy to be a good reader as you may think! If you want to contribute, the website includes a FAQ on how to record and prepare the audio file for submission, including links to free recording software and instructions on adding ID3 tags for the iPod. My daughter is enchanted with the concept, and has since volunteered to read chapters of Raggedy Ann Stories.

-- Paul Goessling 06/4/08

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