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Downloadable Audio Books

County residents now have free access to more than 900 audio books, without going to the library.

The Loudoun County Public Libraries combined the announcement Friday night with readings from Barbara Rosenblat, a narrator who has won 17 "Golden Earphone" awards. A master of inflection and accents, she changed her voice from male to female with the ease that a concert pianist's fingers flows across ivory keys.

She has narrated 400 books, including Elizabeth Peters' Amelia Peabody and Vicky Bliss books, Dorothy Gilman's Mrs. Pollifax series and Diane Mott Davidson's culinary mysteries featuring Goldy Bear.

Matt Walker, national sales manager for Recorded Books Inc., explained how to use the library system's latest technology, e-books. Residents need only log onto the libraries' Web site, www.lcpl.lib.va.us, click on e-books or e-audiobooks to download a book.

THE PROCEDURE requires a computer. With DSL or any high-speed connection, downloading takes about 10 minutes. The drawback, however, is the lengthy amount of time required Ñ about eight hours Ñ to do it using a dial-up connection.

Once the book is downloaded, a person can listen to it on the computer, or burn a compact disc (CD) and listen to it via a CD player. Another option is to download it from the computer to a MP3 player, using a USB port connection. The MP3 also can be plugged into speakers or headphones, which act as speakers, for listening purposes.

In addition, a $20 RF Transmitter can be connected to the MP3 so the sound comes out of the car radio. The MP3 and transmitter are placed on the car seat and the radio is set on a station that comes in fuzzy. The narration then comes clearly from the radio.

An MP3 is needed rather than an iPod, because an iPod cannot recognize the Windows media encryption used in the process.

Walker said his MP3, which is small enough to fit in a man's dress shirt pocket, cost $120, but the price can be as low as $60. Walker's MP3 had a 1.5 gigabyte capacity, enabling him to download up to 10 books. People can listen to the books for 21 days before renewal is required. That process takes one minute.

Scanning the audience at the Ashburn Library, which included senior citizens, he said, "My only message to you is, 'Don't be afraid of it.'"

Margaret Kositch, the Ashburn Library adult reference librarian, said people cannot use the library computers to access e-books, because public libraries policy forbids any downloading.

E-books are just an option, Walker said. "Believe me, the library will continue to buy books and CDs."

NetLibrary is adding 30 audio books a month to the 900-book inventory. Loudoun County Public Libraries have 1,025 audio books on CDs and cassette tapes at its seven libraries.

ROSENBLAT HAS read 400 books during her career. "I love this business," she said. "It's more fun than a bucket full of bunnies."

She discussed the art of narration. She talked about how challenging it is to learn the different pronunciations of a word that might be spoken one way in one region of the country and an entirely different way somewhere else.

Rosenblat said she has the ability to quickly pick up new accents just by talking to a person for a few minutes. She also spends time listening to the eclectic voices on the New York City subway. "I sit, I watch and I absorb," she said.

To narrate books for hours at a time, a person has to be fit, healthy and well rested, she said. Before she does her professional narration, she reads the book once. In mysteries, she uses the inflection in her voice to steer listeners away from the actual character "who done it."

"I make someone obvious a little less obvious," she said.

While she is reading aloud, someone else will listen for mistakes, such as mispronounced, missing or incorrect words. After the book is finished, copies are sent to two other listeners. Then she re-reads sections that need clarification.

Using her boisterous, public-speaking voice Friday, she picked up a microphone and in a quiet, soothing audio voice, read excerpts from a variety of books. "In the studio, I use a different set of pipes. That's what they call it, 'pipes,'" she said. "It's a very subtle craft."

The actress has also had roles on Broadway, television shows, movies and commercials.

Rosenblat won the Audie Award for Best Female Solo Narration for "Bridget Jones' Diary," produced by Recorded Books Inc. On Broadway, she created the role of Mrs. Medlock in the Tony Award-winning production of "The Secret Garden."