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Behind the Scenes at the Audio Book Studio

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Have you ever wondered why it takes so long for new books to be added to our Talking Book collection? A lot of steps make up the process. Here at the Andrew Heiskell Library, we are able to supplement the audio collection we get from the National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped (NLS) with books we record in our own Audio Book Studio (ABS), with the assistance of volunteer narrators, monitors, and audio proofreaders.

Recently, The New York Times ran a wonderful peek inside the studio in their City Room article "Audio Books with a New York Accent." So the time seemed right for us to offer our own behind the scenes look at our recording operation.

The studio produces an average of forty titles a year. Most of what we record are books of local interest, focusing on New York City, its politics, history, and culture. Other titles fill gaps in the NLS collection, covering classic works of fiction, poetry, and popular titles that have not been recorded by NLS. We also record children's and young adult titles.

ABS Director Susan Mosakowski is able to draw on New York City’s deep pool of vocal talent. Readers of our locally produced Talking Books have included Broadway actors and a host of voiceover artists who provide the voices for AT&T, Verizon, Mercedes Benz, and countless other commercials. Pete Larkin, a radio DJ and voiceover artist who was once the announcer for the NY Mets, recorded Song of Brooklyn by Marc Eliot, RC 5496 (NYPL Catalog); and Kathleen Frazier, an actress who appeared in the TV soap "As the World Turns," recorded Channeling Mark Twain by Carol Muske-Dukes, RC 5468 (NYPL Catalog).

The first step in producing an audio book, once a title is chosen, is to cast the narrator (or reader), by finding the right voice for that recording. Sex, age, vocal quality, and the background of the narrator all come into play. Once the narrator is selected, he or she is teamed up with a director/engineer who will capture the recording. Both the director and narrator discuss interpretation and stylistic issues. If needed, they will research the text, looking up proper names, locations, foreign phrases, and character analysis to assist them in producing a proper recording of the written work. While the narrator reads the book into a microphone in a soundproof booth, the director monitors the recording, working the equipment and following along in the text to make sure nothing is inadvertently skipped. 

Once the digital recording is captured, an audio proofreader will listen to the book in its entirety. The proofreader checks for any errors in the recording, such as misreads, mispronunciations, inconsistency of accents (if used), diction, and enunciation, to name a few. The proofreader also checks for technical errors in the editing and recording levels and ensures that the recording is free of any extraneous noises. Inside a Recording Studio BoothInside a Recording Studio Booth

After the producer notes the errors in the recording, the narrator returns to make the necessary corrections. An editor will work with the narrator to re-record and insert the corrected material into the audio file. At that point, the studio director does a thirty percent proofread of the recording to spot check it for further quality assurance. Once the recording passes this final test, it is properly formatted and a master is made. The master is then converted to cassette or flash drive format and the bibliographic information about the audio book is entered into the library's database and catalog.

The information is also forwarded to the National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped to be entered into the national catalog. Copies of the book are made, currently in cassette format, and inventoried and shelved, ready for distribution to our patrons.

Depending on the length and difficulty of the book, the amount of time each week the recording team of volunteers is available, and how many edits are needed, recording time from start to getting the book on the shelf can be from a few weeks (typical for simple children's books) to nearly a year.

An amendment to the Copyright Law, enacted in 1996 (PL 104-197) allows libraries to braille or record audio versions of non-dramatic works without having to secure publishing or reproduction rights, provided the recordings are in a format accessible only to patrons meeting eligibility requirements.

ABS books, like the ones from NLS, are available for borrowing by eligible patrons who register with the library and provide appropriate certification of their disability. Qualifying disabilities include blindness, visual difficulty, inability to hold a book or turn pages, and learning disabilities that are organic in nature. For more information, see our Eligibility and Applications page. Books recorded in our studio are also available to registered library users across the United States through the network of local NLS Regional and Subregional Libraries via interlibrary loan.

(Co-authored by Susan Mosakowski, Manager of the Audio Book Studio)

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