What are Talking Books?

Talking books (also known as audio books) are books that have been saved into an audio format. These may be on cassette tape, CD or in a digital format such as mp3 or Daisy etc. Years ago, the early versions were even on records (also known as vinyl LP's). Regardless of the format that the talking book comes in, it allows a blind or visually impaired person to listen to a story.

In the past, people used to pick up paperback books. Some people still prefer this. However, for those who cannot read, having access to a talking book means that they can insert a tape in their car's tape deck (or talking book machine); place a CD in their stereo's CD player (or computer), and have the story read aloud to them.  More recently, talking books have become available via a data file which is downloaded from the internet, and played on their ebook reader, mp3 player or mobile phone. Talking books usually have a narrated voice (eg. CD or cassette), but may also use a synthetic voice (eg. using a text to speech programme such as Balabolka). They may not be word for word from the original story - this may depend on the publisher (ie. bridged and unabridged versions).

Although designed to assist the blind and visually impaired, talking books may be listened to by a variety of people (eg. dyslexic learners, travellers, print disabled people, and people who just prefer to listen to a story while preparing dinner for example).

What will I need to play them?

It depends on which format you get your talking book in!

Cassette tape:
If you get it on a regular tape, which usually only has 2 sides (side A and side B), you will need a regular cassette tape player.

If you get it on a 4 track tape, you will need a 4 track player (such as a talking book machine).
For the visually impaired, the producers of the talking books on cassette used a 4 track system for a while, (which meant they could get 4 times the information onto a tape). They had a special tape player with tactile keys, that could play these tapes to them in a narrated voice.  They could get a 17 hour story onto about 5 or 6 cassette tapes.  After they had listened to side A and side B, they could flick a switch so they could listen to the other 2 tracks as well, by changing it over to the other side (IE. side C and side D).
Please note: In New Zealand the talking book machines (which play the cassette tapes) are slowly being replaced by digital talking book machines. These 4 sided tapes are no longer (as of December 2011) issued through the RNZFB, however 2 sided audio cassette tapes are still available through some libraries. The new talking books that are issued through the RNZFB are in a Daisy format!

CD (Compact Disc):
If you get it on CD you will need a CD player. These usually come with stereo systems, or as a combined unit such as a portable boom box. DVD players can also play CD audio books as well.

Daisy Player:
To play talking books in the Daisy format, you will need either a Daisy Player (eg. the Plextor), or a software version for your computer (eg. Amis).

Digital formats:
Depending on the downloaded material, this may vary slightly. You may get an mp3, a wav, or a daisy file etc. Take note of the file type when you download it, and make sure you have a player on your computer that will play that particular file type/format. (Eg. If you have an mp3 file, then you will need an mp3 player such as Winamp or Media Player).

Sources for talking books

In summary, talking books allow blind and vision impaired people to listen to a wide variety of information.