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LibriVox: What volunteers can accomplish

19.07.2010

In August 2005, Hugh McGuire set up a blog, and posed this question: “Can the net harness a bunch of volunteers to help bring books in the public domain to life through podcasting?” The response to this was sufficiently positive that the first LibriVox recording was made available within the month.

LibriVox is an online digital library of free public domain audiobooks. As of May 2010, the catalogue boasted almost 3 500 audiobooks that are available for free download. LibriVox is volunteer-run; audiobooks are recorded by any one who so desires (and also has a computer and recording software).  Only books that have been released to the Public Domain are recorded, which is how the project manages to make these books available free of charge. The LibriVox catalogue contains many different genres of recordings, ranging from popular classic fiction to documents as serious as the 9/11 Commission report, to the even less expected voice recording of the first 500 digits of pi.  Most of the books are recorded in English, but recordings exist in 31 other languages, including Chinese, Latvian, and even Esperanto. Since recordings are made on a purely voluntary basis, there have been complaints about the quality of some recordings. Depending on the popularity of the books, multiple recordings of the same work can be found.

There are two main ways in which the audio files can be listened to. There is a thrice-weekly podcast, which can be subscribed to at librivox.org/podcast.xml. Alternatively, visiting the main website gives you access to the catalogue, where you can browse and download the books that you are interested in listening to. The book will either start playing in your browser, or you can save the file to your computer and use it with your media player of choice.

There are numerous ways to take advantage of this brilliant project. Since all the audio files are available for download, it is possible to compile a collection of similarly themed books (for example, fairytales), burn them on to a CD, and distribute them. This would be helpful for areas that have insufficient funding to buy books for children to read; rather than needing to constantly purchase books, teachers can just use LibriVox as a library to find teaching material. Furthermore, it could also be useful in providing good literature for the illiterate, and even in helping them learn to read by associating text to sound. With the help of volunteers worldwide, LibriVox is a project that can help bring us one step closer to Education for All.