Magic of digital audiobooks

I have been an audiobook reader for as long as I can remember. As a child, I would spend hours perusing the literal “books on tape” at my local library, that were, at the time, only available on cassette. I would listen while creating art, cleaning, or lying in bed; being awoken from early slumber by the loud click of the cassette ending was a ritual that punctuated my bedtime.

After books on tape, I then moved to listening to audiobooks on CD for many years. Today’s kids will never know the hardship of trying to listen to a portable CD player only to have it skip continually if you moved too quickly. I read and love print books as well, but I have always found such comfort in having a skilled narrator read aloud to me. And what’s more, I experience books in a unique way that often causes me to tie the plot of a book to a particular activity. I will forever remember painting my little sister’s closet deep green as a teen when I reread certain scenes of Jane Austen’s “Sense and Sensibility.” Of course, back then, these activities were all tied to access to a boombox, car CD player or Walkman.

When I downloaded the OverDrive app about five years ago, and gained access to my local library’s digital audiobook collection, it was life-changing. Suddenly, I had access to thousands of free-to-me audiobooks at my fingertips. I could place holds and check out titles without ever leaving my house. I was no longer tied to a cumbersome device. I could listen to audiobooks directly from my phone, and my reading increased greatly as I began listening to audiobooks on walks, hikes, camping trips, while brushing my teeth or doing any variety of mundane activity.

Now, I use the refined Libby app from OverDrive, and I am also the collection librarian in charge of purchasing all adult titles, including digital audiobooks and ebooks for my library. To be honest, it feels like I possess very powerful magic. Having been in this role for a little over a year now, I have learned a lot from having behind-the-scenes access. I have learned tips and tricks for using Libby to the user’s advantage, and I gladly share my wisdom with all who will listen.

If you use Libby to listen to audiobooks or read ebooks, or you are interested in gaining access to thousands of books for free with the click of a few buttons, here are some of the things I have learned over the years to make borrowing digital materials easy and enjoyable.

First, many people are unaware that Libby is owned by OverDrive, and both applications access the same collection. Not every device is compatible with the newer Libby app, so your device will dictate which app to use. I primarily listen using my phone, so most of my tips will apply to the Libby app.

I prefer to always have one audiobook available to me at all times. I do that by always having audiobooks on my holds queue. I am strategic and try to place holds on items that are likely to become available at varied times. If a title becomes available before I am ready for it, I use Libby’s “deliver later” feature to allow the next person in line to go ahead of me. I also use the “tags” feature, so that as I come across a title I want to read, I add it to my list. When I’m looking for my next read, I will often head to my tags and either add titles to my holds list or filter to view which titles are currently available to download.

I love to customize the titles I have checked out. Ebooks have many options to personalize my experience, from the color of the page to the size of the text. As for audiobooks, I will frequently change the playback speed to suit my taste, and I often prefer to listen at 1.15x or 1.25x speed, especially if my due date is nearing.

I also love looking back on my list of recent returns to keep up with what I have read and when.

However you read and whatever you read, all that matters is that you gain enjoyment and empathy. I hope if you currently take advantage of Valnet’s OverDrive collection, I have shared something useful. If you have not yet given Libby or OverDrive a try, I hope I have inspired you to unlock that door. Access to thousands of magical books awaits you.

Bailey Gillreath-Brown is the adult services manager for the Latah County Library District.

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