Jason Anderson is in his car — a lot. An hour-and-a-half a day, five days a week, back and forth to Kansas City, where he works as an engineer.
His latest cure for making the time go by: mp3 audiobooks downloaded for free from Lawrence Public Library.
Audiobooks are hours longer than podcasts, they’re also free, and, best of all, he can choose the topic.
“My tastes are admittedly peculiar (but) the library usually has something interesting for me,” Anderson says. “I mostly listen to books about economics, philosophy, business, political science, history, science and classical fiction.”
He’s recently downloaded classics such as “The Wealth of Nations” (Adam Smith) and “The Fountainhead” (Ayn Rand) as well as more esoteric listening like “A Critical Analysis of Capitalist Production” (Karl Marx).
Of course the library has more widely sought after titles, too, such as:
• “The Help,” by Kathryn Stockett — the New York Times’ current No. 1 best-seller.
• “The Rest of Her Life” by Lawrence author Laura Moriarty.
• “The Lost Symbol,” by Dan Brown.
• “The First Rule” by Robert Crais.
• “The Audacity of Hope” by Barack Obama.
• “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” by Stieg Larsson.
• “A Confederacy of Dunces” by John Kennedy Toole.
• “Animal, Vegetable, Miracle” by Barbara Kingsolver
• The New Testament of The Bible, to name a few.
The library’s Audio Books, Music and More system has been around for a couple of years but is becoming a more practical alternative to CD-based audiobooks.
That’s in part because the downloadable audiobooks collection has grown to more than 5,000 titles, spanning a range of interests. It’s also because many more of those titles are now versatile mp3s, instead of a proprietary format playable only via certain software on your computer.
Once library patrons are set up with an online PIN number, they can browse the downloadable books catalog just like they would the selection of physical books, says Lynn Koenig, the library’s adult services coordinator.
“Patrons check them out on their library card, just as they would a regular book. At that point they decide whether they’d like to download it to their computer or to an mp3 player,” Koenig says.
Once patrons “check out” a downloadable book, what they can do with it depends on restrictions set by the publisher. Some audiobook files, particularly newer ones, are restricted to use with the free OverDrive software. But most are versatile mp3 files that can be burned to a CD or played with an mp3 player.
Once an audiobook is on a CD, it’s listenable indefinitely. If it’s moved to an mp3 player, it can also be listenable past the due date. But if patrons connect their iPod or other device to the system in order to download another audiobook, old audiobooks can be subject to removal if the “checkout” period has expired.
Anderson has found this to be a bit of a hassle in practice.
“Once checked out, it seems like any book will stay on your device hard drive past the checkout period until you use the download software again, which erases the ‘overdue’ copies. So there is some degree of inconvenience, but it is manageable in light of the price,” he says.
Overall, Anderson says the Audio Books, Music and More system is intuitive.
“I did have to expend a bit of time learning to use their client software and getting it to talk nicely with iTunes. I imagine this could be perceived as complex by those not regularly involved with resolving software headaches,” he says.
For those who could use some guidance getting started with downloadable audiobooks, there’s a step-by-step tutorial on the library’s Web site. Koenig also organizes introductory classes at the library. The next one is Feb. 25, but it’s filling up fast. Koenig also welcomes individual appointments by calling 843-3833, ext. 113.
“People are welcome to bring in their laptops any time,” she says. “I’m happy to sit down with people and get them set up and show them how to use it.”
Once you’re set up, the downloadable audiobooks catalog can become a rabbit hole.
Autry Williams has listened to a hundred or more audiobooks since getting hooked a couple years ago.
“It was hearing ‘This American Life’ that started me listening to a narrative format as opposed to music,” he says of the weekly NPR show. “I just feel more engaged in the subject. I think it’s akin to listening to music or having the Discovery Channel on in the background.”
He says he’s listening to something almost all the time — while walking, biking, exercising, road trips, even while playing video games. The last audiobook he downloaded was “1434: The Year a Magnificent Chinese Fleet Sailed to Italy and Ignited the Renaissance” by Gavin Menzies.
“I don’t really have a plan while looking for books to listen to. The Lawrence Public Library has a pretty great selection,” he says. “I never walk away empty-handed.”