April 27, 2011

Listening to Stories

Borrowing Audiobooks and Music from Libraries

Note: Please check Karen's recent Scripps Howard column. (Karen MacPherson is not only a regular Scripps Howard columnist, she is also our coordinator of children's and youth services.)

Audiobooks are good for children. They are also a great delight to many adults. Now - how do you get them?

You can buy audiobooks and music online, either streaming or via CDs. If you instead want to borrow audio files from a library, you have a couple of choices.

  1. You can check out CDs (or use them in-house). If you normally listen to books or music using an mp3 player instead of a CD player, you can transfer the CD audio tracks to your computer and then move the files over to your audio player. We have a great CD collection, both for books and music. But it is finite, so please return discs as soon as you have finished listening. You don’t need to wait for the full three weeks.
  2. and/or You can check out audiobooks online from larger libraries, listen on your computer or transfer them to your audio player.
More detail below …

First, some basic information about files and audio players.

Audio File Types

mp3 - ubiquitous, and will play on most little audio players. That is why they are generically called “mp3 players” This is the industry standard audio file. What is the formal name? ISO/MPEG Layer-III Audio
wma - microsoft audio files. Will play on some, but not all, audio players. There are all sorts of versions, some with DRM, some without. The DRM schemes themselves differ.
aac - good compression scheme but initially limited to Apple products and software
mb4 - another Apple file type, but specifically for books, not music. Audiobooks purchased from iTunes will be in mb4 format.
cd audio - the tracks on your disc.
note: ogg vorbis, not proprietary, open source, is a media container - too complicated to explain. Nooks and some other players understand ogg vorbis files.

mp3 Players

  • Some such as the iPods require their own proprietary cables, chargers, and so on. Others use standard A/miniA USB cables for charging and transferring files.
  • Some use internal storage. Others store your files on either mini or regular sized transferable SD cards.
So you have 4 possibilities:

Proprietary cabling, internal storage [examples: iPod, RCA Opal]
Proprietary cabling, external storage [examples: some radio/mp3 combos]
Generic cabling, internal storage example: [Nextar Ribbit]
Generic cabling, external storage examples: [Kube, various inexpensive players]

You need to pay attention to what file types a given player understands.




iPod shuffle gen 2



RCA Opal



Nextar Ribbit


some  (without DRM)



some  (without DRM)

mini sd / generic connection






ereaders: Nook; Sony; Aluratek



To get wma files onto an iPod, your mothership has to be Windows, not Mac.


  • If you are using a Windows computer, and you plan to use Windows Media Player, be sure it is up to date. WMP will take CD Audio files and turn them into wma files (with/without DRM depending on your version and options selected).
    1. Stick in a CD and choose “rip”.
    2. Sync your player with drag and drop. Or just copy the files onto the player.
  • If you are using a Mac, you can do your ripping, in this case called “importing”, with iTunes. If you want to put the files on a non-Apple player, be sure you configure the settings to mp3 for outgoing files, not aac. Do you see two buttons at the lower right? One, “import settings” is for tweaking the compression and file type, the other, “import CD” to start the rip. If you want to do this for a series of CDs, it becomes automatic after the first.
  • If you are using a Linux computer you can use the Rhythmbox, which is the default Ubuntu music program and works more or less like iTunes, but be sure to set the preferences so it will rip to mp3 files. Otherwise this program will assume you use an iPod and will rip to aac. VLR should also work.
What do you do if you are using a windows computer your player wants mp3 files? You may already have some software that will do it (iTunes, an old version of Yahoo Jukebox, look around through your forgotten programs.).

Nothing? Install some free software. If you don’t already have iTunes, it costs nothing, you never have to buy anything, and “import using itunes” will show up in your list of options when you insert the disk into your computer. There are other software options if you don’t want to deal with Apple, or the frequent, quicktime-like update demands.

Or find a file conversion utility i.e., use Windows Media Player to rip into wmp and then convert the files to mp3.

How much space does an audiobook need? It depends on compression and file type, but published estimates suggest about 25 mb per CD, so about 80 CD audiobook discs for a 2 gb card. Our own experiments indicate you need to consider your source.




average MB per disk or part




78; 89; 71; 69




15; 13


mp3 OverDrive


34; 30; 28; 33


mp3 NetLibrary




mp3 picture books


3; 6

Free Audiobooks

LibreVox is the audio equivalent of Project Gutenberg. Volunteers record their readings of books in the public domain. Some are very good, some are very bad. Look for rare gems such as Twain’s A Dog's Life.

Here is a partial list of children’s books. If you want to download the files, rather than listen through your browser, either download the zip files, choose the “subscribe in iTunes” option, or use the Firefox down-them-all extension which works very well. Just select the link to a file you want, right-click, and choose downthemall.

How to download LibreVox files: simple explanation ; more detail

Note: the files can be downloaded in either mp3 or ogg vorbis format.

Other sites include audio books for free, but it hasn’t been updated in some time.

Purchasing Audiobooks

A number of online stores sell downloadable audiobooks. Be certain that the file type you are buying will run on your player(s).

You can also buy books on CD and rip them. Used books on CD can be great bargains as some people buy them to play only once.

Downloading Audiobooks from Libraries

Here you may find a variety of options. The two most common are OverDrive and NetLibrary (now owned by Ebsco). OverDrive requires the installation of some custom software on your mothership computer, and NetLibrary expects you to install a client (but you can circumvent it). As with ebooks, there are two steps: checkout and download.

Neither OverDrive nor NetLibrary is supposed to work on a standard Linux computer to the extent that you can checkout your library book, download it, and transfer it to your mp3 . Nevertheless we actually got The OverDrive Media Console to work on an Ubuntu machine using WINE (Plenty of others have tried and failed.) The trick we discovered was to make WINE emulate a Vista, not an XP, machine. Overdrive does have clients for various Android machines which are Linux under the hood, so this whole lack of Linux support makes no sense to us.

OverDrive: Read this cartoon before you start. And avoid wma files if at all possible. At least test your portable audio player to see if it will play OverDrive style wma audiobooks. Download this test file and try it out on your player.

After checking out a book, you need to download it. There are usually multiple files for a single book. Choose open in OverDrive Media Console. (You need to have installed the program first.)

You can then play the book on your computer, sync it onto your portable player (though possible problems may arise if the book is in wma format). If the book consists of mp3 files, you can sometimes directly drag and drop them onto your player using the same techniques you use with documents.

OverDrive clients are also available for various mobile devices including android tablets.

As with ebooks, these audiobooks will expire at the end of the loan period, so pay attention to your due date. Unlike ebooks, you can’t return them early. So always choose the shortest check-out period you can manage, so that you aren’t preventing someone else from listening to the book.

NetLibrary: Same problem. Avoid WMA whenever possible. It doesn’t even seem to use the same DRM scheme as OverDrive.

The main advantages of NetLibrary are that

  • You don’t have to wait for an audiobook, this is a currently subscription arrangement which allows for multiple simultaneous downloads.
  • Installation of special software, although encouraged, is not necessary. The “public computer” option does not work on our public computers, but it may be the simplest way to get files down on to your private computer.

The main disadvantages
  • We can rarely get it to work, and have never been able to make a successful transfer, or been able to play, a book in wma format (using their client software).
  • You have to get a special NetLibrary account, and that account is tied to a specific library. Unlike OverDrive, you can’t use collections from more than one library, at least with a single account. In fact the client software opens directly to a specific library.
  • The collection may be very limited. Each library chooses what components of NetLibrary it wants. For example, PG Library seems to have only one of the fiction audiobook collections. But you can’t even see what collections a library has until you have 1. a library card there AND 2. a NetLibrary account tied to that library. No browsing without membership. So if you particularly want a library that has the Blackstone collection, you will have to collect not only many different library cards, but many different NetLibrary accounts, and thus probably many email addresses. And keep it all straight.
  • Online navigation can be very difficult.
  • All of this is going to change in July when the current software and procedures will be replaced. Perhaps that is an advantage, not a disadvantage.
If you wish, you can install NetLibrary Media Center or Download Manager. Media Center is also supposed to play the books, whereas with Download Manager you need to use other player software (WMP, iTunes, etc.) if you want to listen to the book on your computer. Or you can simply claim that you are on a public computer and do a straight download. That is simpler.


  • You can rip music from CDs using the same techniques you use for audiobooks. Use Windows Media Player to listen to wma files; iTunes, VLR, or something similar if you use an mp3 player.
  • A few libraries, mostly large systems, offer freegal, where the library pays directly every time you download a specific song or part of a work. This is controversial for public libraries because the library is not investing in shared resources, but instead paying, and paying dearly, for each individual download (example: PG)
  • Or download albums through OverDrive (example: DC) The process is the same as with audiobooks, but the checkout period may be much shorter and the files are going to be wma with DRM. Some of the collections are rather limited, for example there seems to be little jazz, and “opera” consists mostly of collections of isolated arias, few actual operas. Unlike audiobooks, in most cases you are not permitted to burn the files to CD or run them on Apple devices. Though the whole process is much more restrictive than with audiobooks, you will find most albums in the collection are actually available for checkout as demand is not high. Look at “newest musical additions” to get an idea of the scope of the collection and of the the various restrictions.
  • You can listen to streaming music from any library that subscribes to Naxos, Alexander Street Press, or similar services. (example: Montgomery County) Of course you can also listen directly to Pandora if you like streaming music.
Especially with music, different libraries offer different options. Another reason to collect lots of library cards.

Posted by library at 04:33 PM

April 12, 2011

Seafaring Stories

If you want to listen to some mood music while scanning this, try The Library of Congress American Memory Collection: Sailor's Alphabet (though these particular sailors don't sound at all merry, just ancient) .

OK. We have found that timid lubbers, people who have never encountered anything more sophisticated than a canoe or row-boat, occasionally trip over a sea story and fall in love. Passionately. Completely by accident. Curiously, the gender of the reader doesn't seem to matter.

Here is an annotated list of some of the great stories: 101 Crackerjack Sea Books.

It goes on through many pages but, as summary, the authors' top dozen are:

  1. The Odyssey
  2. Moby-Dick
  3. Conrad's short sea fiction
  4. Patrick O'Brian's Aubrey-Maturin series
  5. Kon-Tiki
  6. Two Years Before the Mast
  7. Das Boot
  8. The Journals of Captain Cook
  9. Hornblower series, C. S. Forester
  10. South: The Last Antarctic Expedition of Shackleton and the Endurance
  11. The Mutiny on the Bounty Trilogy by Charles Nordhoff and James Norman Hall
  12. The Old Man and the Sea
The other 89? Great reads beginning with The Voyage of the Beagle, Robinson Crusoe, Lord Jim and on and on.

On through the list. Have you read The Story of a Shipwrecked Sailor by Gabriel García Márquez? The Toilers of the Sea, Victor Hugo?

Note: for those who were captivated by the book or movie, The Perfect Storm comes in near the top, at number 23.

On matters nautical, here is a bit of the Seafarer

Forþon nu min hyge hweorfeð And now my spirit twists
ofer hreþerlocan, out of my breast,
min modsefa my spirit
mid mereflode, out in the waterways,
ofer hwæles eþel over the whale's path
hweorfeð wide, it soars widely
eorþan sceatas through all the corners of the world
cymeð eft to me it comes back to me
gifre ond grædig; eager and unsated;
gielleð anfloga, the lone-flier screams,
hweteð on hwælweg urges onto the whale-road
hreþer unwearnum the unresisting heart
ofer holma gelagu. across the waves of the sea.
(from anglo-saxons.net)

Ezra Pound's partial translation of this same 8th Century poem:

Posted by library at 04:39 PM
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