At the UK charity Listening Books, we provide a postal and audiobook lending service to anyone whose reading is affected by physical or mental illness, disability or learning difficulty. We are always delighted to hear from our members about how they benefit from our audiobooks. Sometimes it’s because listening to a book has helped a younger member catch up with schoolwork, or some members tell us that they rely on our books to distract from illness, pain or loneliness. Often, we hear from people who just appreciate being able to listen to their favourite authors again, after reading or holding a book has become less accessible.
During the various lockdowns over 2020 and 2021, we knew our members would rely on our service more than ever, as many people would be isolating and unable to see friends and relatives. We were also affected by the lockdown and closed our offices in March 2020. This meant that we were not able to operate our CD service which is relied upon, particularly by our older members, who were more likely to be isolating. We knew we had to ensure our service was still reaching those who needed it and offered everyone on our CD subscription access to our download catalogue for free. Those without internet access were offered a temporary free tablet with a selection of up to 50 pre-loaded audiobooks to keep until our service is fully up and running again.
The last 18 months has been challenging for everyone, particularly those who needed to isolate away from others. We know that books can’t stop this from being a difficult time, but we hope they can provide some enjoyment and solace. We love hearing from our members who found that audiobooks made their time throughout the pandemic a little easier.
‘I am so grateful for this site. I have listened to 4-5 books in the past couple of months of being a member which is more books than I have read in the past couple of years…It has been a Godsend in the lockdown. Thank you.’Nicky Richards, Member
‘I have MS and often find reading for any length of time challenging. I was delighted to learn that I could enjoy Listening Books as a gift. I couldn’t be more grateful. With the lockdown, it has been a lifesaver- connecting me to the wider world.’Vie, Member
‘You have been seriously impressive in making sure every member has been able to access audiobooks in some way: giving all members access to the ‘Downloadable’ service and even providing tablets preloaded with audiobooks for members with no internet access is amazing! It has been and continues to be a scary time but still being able to access books has, for me at least, given me both a sense of normality and an escape.’Amy, Member
Some of you might be thinking, ‘sure, audiobooks can be comforting and entertaining – but surely they can’t count as reading, right?’
Listening to an audiobook certainly counts as reading and is certainly not ‘cheating.’ Firstly, reading isn’t a competition! Using the word cheating implies that there is an end goal to reading, that we’re going to get tested in some way for our efforts – when reality, you’re very unlikely to get tested on your reading unless you are in school. Listening instead of reading isn’t cheating because there’s nothing to cheat at!
Also, it’s been scientifically proven! In a 2016 blog, University of Virginia psychologist Daniel Willingham investigates the idea that your mind does the same thing whether you’re listening to an audiobook or reading a print book and concludes that in most cases it’s the same. There are two processes going on in our brains when we read – decoding and language processing. Decoding is knowing what the words are on the page, language processing is understanding those words. Audiobooks remove the decoding element, but for many adults that doesn’t make the process of understanding the story any easier necessarily, as decoding is almost an automatic process that requires very little effort. But for someone with dyslexia for example, any trouble decoding the words on the page also seriously affects language comprehension, meaning that reading can become far less enjoyable!
Which brings us to the next reason why audiobooks shouldn’t be considered cheating. Calling audiobooks ‘cheating’ may discourage people with print disabilities from listening to audiobooks. If reading books has become too difficult, then this means they’ll miss out on reading altogether. And no one wants that to happen!
Perhaps we should think of reading or listening more broadly as ‘experiencing a story’, so the different ways of experiencing a book are thought of as more or less the same. If you’re enjoying the book, finding it comforting, or learning something new one way or another, that’s all that matters!
If you enjoyed this blog, make sure you read Amy’s previous blog about how audiobooks can help pupils realise their full potential.