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CNIB/Beyond Print Audiobooks

CNIB logo on a yellow background.
Image source: CNIB Beyond Print

Canadian National Institute for the Blind (CNIB) Library was originally involved in the creation and circulation of braille materials and began circulating "talking books" on 33 1/3 rpm records in the 1930s. By the 1950s, the CNIB was creating its own talking books and in the 1960s, CNIB Library transitioned from vinyl talking books to cassette tape audiobooks. In 2002, CNIB Library converted the cassette tape audiobook collection to Digital Accessible Information System (DAISY) CD books.

The Audio Publishing Department

The audio publishing department of the CNIB operates within Beyond Print, a social enterprise that provides accessible-format materials to the Centre for Equitable Library Access (CELA) and to Canadian publishers who are interested in having commercial audiobooks created on their behalf.

The CNIB audio publishing department produces accessible digital audiobooks to the DAISY audio 2.02 standard. The DAISY format is designed to be a complete audio substitute for print material, designed with enhanced navigation properties for use by people with print disabilities. The DAISY format allows users to search, place bookmarks, precisely navigate line by line, and regulate the speaking speed without any distortion. DAISY also allows for multilevel structuring, which enables producers to deliver multiple books or magazines together and convert complex print materials into accessible audio formats. DAISY audio projects can contain all elements present in print originals and are structured into distinct sections, enabling the reader to easily navigate back and forth- from a footnote back to the main body of the text- in ways that are impossible using conventional audio recordings (CNIB/Beyond Print, 2020).

In February 2021, CNIB/Beyond Print and eBOUND Canada published Experimentation Project for Accessible Audiobook Production: Best Practices in Publisher Workflow. The project connected CNIB/Beyond Print with five independent Canadian publishers interested in producing an audiobook for the first time. In collaboration, participants engaged in all stages of audiobook creation, from pre-production, production, and postproduction to delivery. Along the way, feedback was collected and used to create the best practices guide for publishers interested in creating 'born accessible' audiobooks.

Recommendations from the guide include:

  • Incorporation of basic features of accessible production into audiobook workflows. Adding accessibility features to commercial audiobooks enriches the experience for print-disabled readers as well as and those who chose the format for other reasons including convenience or aesthetic preference.
  • Encouraging publishers to include as much supplementary material from the print original in their audiobooks. Backmatter is as valuable to audiobook readers as it is to print readers including bibliographies and foot or endnotes.
  • Employing image descriptions in audiobook editions of all print books that include content that is purely visual to convey this information to the listening reader. One key recommendation suggests that if authors learn image description techniques, descriptions can be written in the author's voice, allowing for a richer and more complete experience that is closer to the experience of print-edition readers.

Pre and Post Audiobook Recording

Centered around the idea of 'born accessible' books, the guide also recommends the following practices for pre and post audiobook recording.

A closeup of a hand holding a printed script
Image source: Pexels/Ron Lach

Introduction and Closing Recording Script

A specially scripted introduction and closing for the finished audiobook are the audio equivalent of a book cover. The audio introduction should communicate basic identifying information found on the printed book cover and may include a land acknowledgement, thank those who assisted in the audiobook production, serve as a marketing or branding opportunity about the publishing house, and raise awareness of other books. The introduction script should be short and convey straightforward information including the name of the publisher, the book title, author name, and the narrator's name. The closing script should repeat the same information and include acknowledgements to agencies and funders that provided grants or support, copyright information, and the location and date of the recording. Closing scripts may also include recommendations about other books by the author or books in the same series, contact information, and a thank you message to the reader for listening to the audiobook.

Pronunciation, Lexicon, and Language Requirements

Publishers should consider narrator casting requirements when a book includes many other-language words, names, and passages. It can be easier for a narrator already familiar with the other language(s) to pronounce other-language words correctly than it is for narrators to research pronunciations word-by-word, trying to imitate the delivery of a native speaker. For books that have names and/or languages that have been created by the author, it is important to note that pronunciation consistency is essential. With a language or words created by the author, it is very helpful to work with the author to establish the pronunciation in preproduction. If the publisher can provide a pronunciation guide in advance of the recording, the cost of recording session production is reduced. and it saves time and the cost of production.

A person holding a script in front of a person wearing headphones.
Image source: Pexels/Ron Lach

Documenting Special Image Description Requirements

Image descriptions are a key element of accessibility. If the audio version of a printed work does not also include verbal representation of the visual elements present in the original, the audiobook reader is experiencing an incomplete version of the book. Creating accessible audiobooks means that visual content in a printed or digital work is effectively described in the audio version. The following considerations should be kept in mind when writing image descriptions for any book:

  1. In what context does the image appear in the text? Context can influence what details you focus on in the description.
  2. How can the image be objectively described? Try to describe images as they appear, and not as you personally interpret them.
  3. Is the description concise? Try not to include information that will be superfluous to the reader, given the context of the image.
  4. Who is the audience? Thinking about the intended audience can help in selecting wording and tone.
A black line drawing of the profile of a horse's head
Imaae source: Care Marino/Unsplash

Image description should be crafted to meet the needs of the users from children's book illustrations to detailed, specialist information including complex maps, graphs, charts, or mathematical equations. Prior to recording, decisions must be made about where the image descriptions appear in relation to the body text. At CNIB, the technique that is most often used is to introduce images where they appear in the print edition. CNIB uses a 'producer's note' technique to make it clear where the printed text ends and the image description begins. This technique uses verbal cues on either side of the image description which tell the user that the narrator is departing from the principal text. Just before reading the image description script, the narrator says, "producer's note." After reading the image description, the narrator says, "end of producer's note" to signal a return to the text.

- Adapted from CNIB/Beyond Print Best Practices in Publisher Workflow guide

A circular arrangment of books

The CNIB/Beyond Print Best Practices in Publisher Workflow guide is meant for independent Canadian publishers who do not have previous experience in commissioning audiobook production interested in introducing an accessible audio workflow into their publishing cycle.

CNIB/Beyond Print Best Practices