My younger brother is dyslexic, and an avid consumer of audiobooks on tape and CD. (He’s been unable to get too comfortable with digital downloads and streaming yet, but he’s getting there.)

He’s probably digested more books than any other member of my family besides me. (Thrillers and detective fiction mostly.) And naturally, he borrows a lot from the library.

Hampshire local libraries, as it happens, have an appropriately substantial legacy in their audio collections of tapes and CDs. Cases are often worn and tattered, and in any case are bulky, awkward and hugely inconvenient to put away or to travel with. Not to mention the growing difficulty in finding devices to play the tapes. The photo at right, for instance, is a good example of a  typical Hampshire County Libraries story tape.


That got me thinking: How are libraries everywhere dealing with their legacy audio collections in older media? What kind of investments, if any, are they making in digitization or replacement programs? What are they doing to assist and educate readers who might need help in making the transition to new habits and new resources? I’d welcome feedback from those who know.

One thing I’m very much afraid won’t be happening, in the UK at least, is well-financed digital modernization programs. With cuts in even basic library services in full swing, that would be a lot to hope for. And I have a nasty suspicion that it’ll turn into a self-fulfilling prophecy, especially for audio materials, with patrons being driven away by outdated collections, and politicians and local authorities then using the low usage levels as a pretext to cut support still further.

With corporate social responsibility a mantra in practically every boardroom worldwide, and the Big Five’s reputation close to rock bottom post the Apple anti-trust case, as well as Amazon’s off the back of bookshop closures and disclosures around its tax practices, wouldn’t it be a service to the community if digital rights holders were to give away free soft copies of story tapes to any library that held them? Under whatever DRM or limited lending scheme those libraries currently have to operate, of course. Just so long as no publisher tries to apply the same equivalent duration approach it came up with for library copies of e-books to cassette tapes…


  1. My city’s library has slowly phased out their cassette tapes as they have failed through age, wear, and abuse. The CD collection remains, and the most popular of the cassette tape books have CD versions.

    They have online audiobooks now, as well, with a growing collection of newer books.

    I live in an area which has been devastated by job loss, but, surprisingly and luckily, everyone supports the local library systems and their budgets haven’t been brutalized as even those in better economic areas have.

  2. A few years ago I was at the Friends of Seattle Public Library Book Sale. It’s a huge event with tables and rooms stacked with used books for sale dirt cheap. There was a room full of books on cassette type; I wanted to listen to a few but the cassette format was more trouble than its worth. I was using digital downloads by then and I would rather pay $9.99 for that than $1.00 for the cassettes. I guess some people still bought them. Or maybe the room will still be here next year and the next.

    I used to buy a few books on cassette many many years ago. I bought Lolita for $49.99 in 1997. When I wanted to hear it again in 2007, I got a new digital edition from my Audible subscription rather than monkey with cassettes. I eventually sold the cassettes to a used book store. I think I got maybe $0.25 back.

  3. We have gotten rid of all the analog tapes (audio and video) at my library, although some in the system still have the occasional item. Those items went to the Friends of the Library book sales over the years.

    We do have a large collection of audio books on CD at all of our locations as well as downloading through Overdrive.

    That is the sticking point with DRM, etc. The audio files are treated the same as books so yes to limited checkouts by publisher (if they chose) etc. With Overdrive being the primary way libraries access digital material right now the problem is we have handed over our collections to a third party.

    For music it is better as we offer Freegal but for books that is not an option.

The TeleRead community values your civil and thoughtful comments. We use a cache, so expect a delay. Problems? E-mail