Fuse #8

Friday, January 26, 2007

The Future of Recorded Books?

One of my co-workers came back from the ALA Mid-Winter Conference with a small object in a VHS case. It appeared to be a copy of Jeanne Birdsall's The Penderwicks but... different somehow. Inside the box was a portable light-weight object with room for a single battery, headphones, and a string from which to hang the aforementioned object around one's neck.

At first we couldn't wrap our heads around what we were seeing. It's called a PlayAway and it's basically a self-sustaining audio book that plays entirely on its own. You plug in, turn on, and go. I kept assuming that it plugged into the Flash drive of one's computer, but this is not the case. It's an audio book you play in the palm of your hand.

Now it seems to me that aside from the question of who's going to be stuck with the job of replacing the batteries, this is a magnificently good idea. Think about it. Current audio books require special hardware at home. Either a tape player, a CD player, or a computer with a disc drive. The PlayAway needs none of these things. You check it out of your library and off you go.

Have any of you seen these in your own local branches? I wonder what problems might attach themselves to such a critter. Is this the future? If so I would like to suggest some method of recharging the PlayAways that doesn't involve batteries. That can lead to no good in the end, I suspect.

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At 7:12 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Our school librarian has started purchasing these for our school. The kids are crazy about them. I know that the batteries need recharged and the headphones need cleaned. The only big problem is that there aren't enough of them out yet. And, the kids have told me that if they forget the headphones to their ipods, they can take these off and plug them in there. So, there may be risk of headphone loss. But, I think they are the best! I saw something similar in the airport a year or so ago and it made so much sense. Lots of our kids who are checking them out at our library are able to take them on trips, etc. without lugging a CD player, ipod, etc. Very convenient. Let me know if there are problems I don't know about. We are thinking of writing a grant to get lots for classrooms too. We can't keep enough of them in our library.

At 7:36 AM , Blogger Unknown said...

I have seen these in Borders since last summer. They're great.

At 9:38 AM , Blogger Anne said...

We've got PlayAways in our library (adult and children's areas--teen coming soon) and they are a huge hit. We can hardly keep them on the shelf (out of 100+ titles so far, 10-20 might be on the shelf at any given time).

We don't supply the earbuds with the PlayAway (we actually sell earbuds for $1 a pair), but we do include the batteries. We replace the batteries after each circulation and it hasn't seemed to create a big imposition on the check-out desk staff, at least not yet. We place a sticker on the cover of each unit that states that earphones are required and batteries are included and that has seemed to work pretty well for us so far.

As far as the children's titles go, we bought all the titles that are available so far. The classic titles haven't been as popular as the more current titles, but that's no huge surprise (we also haven't yet hit the fifth grade classic book report assignment yet). The Kidz Bops may be the most popular of all.

From what we've heard, the appeal lies in the fact that they're portable, cute/sexy, and require no additional hardware (aside from headphones, which seem to be so ubiquitous that people here don't think of them as hardware). So for us they're a big hit and we plan to continue purchasing them for the foreseeable future.

At 11:35 AM , Blogger fusenumber8 said...

Perfect! This is precisely what I wanted to know. Nitty gritty practical details like whether or not you'd circulate the headphones. I guess that headphones are considered kind of gross if you let them go from patron to patron. Ick. Glad to hear that they're popular. How are they presented in the library? My biggest concern would be that people wouldn't know what to make of them. A co-worker of mine pointed out, though, that kids would be far faster at picking up a PlayAway than an adult. In your experience, Franki and Anne, has this been the case?

At 3:06 PM , Blogger Kairi said...

We use them at our library too. They are very cool. There is a space for an extra battery in the case. We also sell our headphones for $1. The other thing we check is the bookmarks, they need to be reset so the book will play at the beginning for the next person. As for displaying we keep them with the audio books but tell the kids what they are. I think BWI also sells a display you can use to display them.

At 5:27 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

I've never seen anything like that. But of course I live in Finland and here we are a little slow :)

Well I've downloaded audiobooks directly to my iPod and that works good too.

But I would like to try that gizmo out anyway. Sound cool.

At 6:46 PM , Blogger Anne said...

We put out our adult collection with our other new materials (on shelves just to the left of those in the first photo here: http://www.cantonpl.org/aboutus/pgallery/photoint.html ). As I posted earlier, there are hardly ever any actually on the shelf. Our children's titles are on regular plain-jane shelving (the shelves seen at the far wall in this photo: http://tinyurl.com/yo6ew3 --though we replaced the flat shelves with tilted shelves that hold these items better). We have so few on the shelf at any given time that we're able to front-face them right now. We can also display a few on the top of the shelf if we wish, though it is a bit high.

Like Kari's library, our battery-replacers also reset the bookmarks while they're at it.

We put our adult collection out several weeks before our children's collection (quirk of the processing & cataloging dept), but both of the collections have been massively popular since their first days out.

My community is, admittedly, pretty affluent and fairly tech-savvy overall, so that may give this type of item a bit of an edge for us.

At 7:57 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Ours are in a big basket with a big sign that says PlayAways. The basket highlights new ones that come in. Kids know exactly what they are. Actually, when I saw something similar at the airport, I figured it out and was anxious to give it a shot. But, I think kids are more willing to give things a shot. We don't have any adult PlayAways since I am at an elementary school library. And, the librarian introduced them to the kids so they knew what they were. Keep us posted on how they work out!

PS--to me, used headphones seem icky even if they get cleaned. I love the $1 idea:-)


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