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Readers' Advisory

Listeners’ advisory: When audiobook title recommendations are not enough

Imagine this . . . you’re getting ready for a long road trip, you have just downloaded an audiobook from the library and are looking forward to listening to it en route. You turn on the story and realize it’s putting you to sleep. You had such high expectations—it was your favourite author and her newest book! But the narrator is just not working for you, and so you turn off the story and turn on the static-filled radio.

Most of us have probably had an experience like this, where an audiobook we listened to was just not engaging due to the narrator’s style, accent, tone, or speed. Being aware of these differences in how a story is narrated can help us, not only as listeners ourselves, but in our attempts at listeners’ advisory. Read on for some tips in this area.

Know your formats

A good starting point in providing listeners’ advisory is getting to know your customer so you can suggest an appropriate audiobook format. Various types of formats are available including:

  • Books on CD
  • Mp3
  • Downloadable formats

If your customer has a print disability (including perceptual, physical and learning disabilities), they can register for talking book services within the library and/or CELA (Centre for Equitable Library Access) Services. Talking book collections are specialized library collections geared toward customers with print disabilities and include formats such as Books on CD, Mp3, and DAISY format items.

DAISY items can be preferable for some customers as they are usually a single disc, and when used in conjunction with a DAISY player, have increased functionality, such as bookmarking and changing the speed and tone of the narrator.

Downloadable media is also available through libraries via Overdrive. Titles can be downloaded directly into the Overdrive app. Bonus: when downloading to a phone/tablet, a listener can play their audiobook via Bluetooth and Sync system in their vehicle (if applicable).


Narrators of Books on CD, Mp3 and downloadable audio from Overdrive are mainly professional readers, which generally includes theatre or film actors and actresses. As such, many have clear voices, excellent intonation skills and emotive voices which results in engaging storytelling. Some audiobooks also use multiple readers to depict different character’s voices. That being said, there may be times that you, or one of your customers, just don’t like a particular narrator’s voice, and that’s okay.

For award-winning narrators, who are usually a safe bet for a new listener, check out:

DAISY narrators range from volunteer narrators, to professional readers, to synthetic voice, so be aware of customer preferences when assisting in choosing titles.

Woman listening to something on her mobile deviceSampling

Try before you borrow/buy! Audible, and Overdrive offer previews of audiobooks—this can be a great way to decide whether a particular narrator will appeal to you, as well as help to alleviate the dreaded audiobook fatigue.


If a customer finds a narrator they really like, don’t forget to search your library catalogue by narrator name. You might be surprised by what your search uncovers. You can also search CELA via narrator to uncover more titles narrated by a preferred reader.

Recommended readers (and books)

Jen Lancaster narrates several of her own non-fiction titles. Listening to her biographies (such as I Regret Nothing: A Memoir, and The Tao of Martha: My Year of LIVING; or, Why I’m Never Getting All That Glitter Off of the Dog) had me laughing out loud—her voice is confident, engaging, and feels like I am listening to a friend chat at me about her day’s experiences. Perfect road trip audio!

Sunil Malhotra narrates Paul Kalanithi’s bestseller When Breath Becomes Air. This narrator has an incredible gift—his voice is filled with emotion, compassion, and intelligence as he shares Kalanithi’s experience as a neurosurgeon dying of lung cancer. Kalanithi explores what it means to live a “meaningful life” and his message and empathy for his patients was evident through the powerful narration.

Readers’ advisory conversations and collaborations

Considering some of these elements in your readers’/listeners’ advisory conversation will help you to get to know your customer better and will allow you to assist with selections that are geared towards your listener! In the case of audiobooks, the storyline may just not be enough to keep your reader engaged!


Charmaine Atrooshi (MA) has been working in the Homebound Services department of the Ottawa Public Library for five years. Along with her colleagues, she selects books, audiobooks and DVDs for more than 500 customers a month, and provides readers’ advisory services in person, by phone, and via email. She can be reached at Charmaine.Atrooshi [at]

Photo credit:  Siddharth Bhogra on Unsplash

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