Celebrating 80 years of Talking Books

Post date: 
Thursday, 29 October 2015

80 years ago, our Talking Book service revolutionised reading for people with sight loss. Since its humble beginnings in 1935, eight decades of innovation have made it the biggest and best service of its kind for blind and partially sighted people, bringing choice and independence to thousands.

80 years of innovation

Over the years, we’ve had to be resourceful. The Talking Book service pioneered the use of the long playing vinyl record, before record labels used it for recording music.  Although records proved popular, they were bulky and fragile and these were replaced by tape players after the Second World War.

Technology doesn’t stop moving, and neither do we.  We were investigating the possibility of downloadable digital Talking Books as early as 1982 – nearly two decades before digitalisation of the service became possible. Today’s Talking Book readers can choose from a wider range of listening formats than ever before, ensuring our books remain accessible for people who are blind and partially sighted.

80 years of independence

Reading isn’t just a fun pastime. It can be a lifeline to the outside world or a source of knowledge and learning. Talking Books have given generations of people independence and access to a world that might otherwise be closed to them.

Today our Talking Books can be downloaded to a smartphone or tablet, without the need for specialist equipment, or can be borrowed on USB stick and then played on a wide variety of devices.

80 years of choice

Today, thanks to the support of donors, publishers and the hundreds of staff and volunteers who work hard behind the scenes, our collection of more than 23,000 unabridged books – which is growing every day - is listened to by nearly 30,000 people, in a wider range of formats than ever before.

We’re working more closely than ever before with publishers, not only to bring their books to our library but also to make sure all books are published in accessible formats so they can be enjoyed at the same time by anyone, regardless of their reading requirements or preferences.

Tuesday, one of our Talking Book members, says:

“Having the Harry Potter audio books come out at the same time as standard print meant I was able to discuss the books with my sighted peers. It’s very important when you’re young not to feel excluded from the things your friends are talking about.

Heather from Northern Ireland, who joined the service as a young girl when books were still issued on cassette, says:

“Talking Books have been an integral part of my life. I would be lost without my books. Reading takes you into a world of imagination. You can get lost in a book, with the characters – you get caught up in their lives.  If it’s a really good book and a really good reader, it means so much to you – it gives you hours and hours of entertainment.”

Anniversary event

To mark the 80th anniversary of RNIB Talking Books, a star-studded cast will be gathering in London this November for a live recording of one of the first books we sent out to our members in 1935, Agatha Christie’s “The murder of Roger Ackroyd”. The recording will be performed live at The British Library by some very special guests who’ve supported us over the years, to an audience of some of our key Talking Book users, volunteers, partners and supporters.

Listen out for coverage of this and our other anniversary celebrations on RNIB’s Insight Radio – listen across the UK on Freeview channel 730 or online at insightradio.co.uk. If you would like any further information on our Talking Books service, please call RNIB’s helpline on 0303 123 9999.