When LibriVox was just a wee project, with a couple of books going, I did most of the management myself. When things got more complicated, a number of people came to the rescue: Kristen helped with the website design and Kara took the reigns on the cataloging, and several others helped in the early days as well. Things got much bigger over time, and now there is a busy team of people (some have come and gone, others have just stayed) who do all that back end work to keep things going. I don’t have much talent in all those areas, and so my role in the project has become more rallying of the troops, and articulating project philosophy and objectives once in a while. Usually this happens on the Forum, generally when a controversial debates come up. These long-winded posts usually get read just by those interested in a particular thread (often many admin types).

One of the big controversial issues that comes up again and again is reading standards, and criticism of recordings: the short answer, is we don’t have any standards, and criticism is not wanted unless requested. This came up again recently on the forum, and here is part of my response which describes why:

Now it so happens that my preference (this is personal) is for readings that are not theatrical. For my ears, more theatrical readings do something interesting: they are performance, and so the reader is taking a text, interpreting it, and infusing it with a particular emphasis and meaning. (True of course for every recordings). But to me, the performance can often overtake the text.

In more subtle, perhaps “flatter,” “duller” readings, two very curious things happen.

Firstly, the text itself becomes more important than the reader. You don’t so much hear the reader’s performance battling for predominance over the words themselves. The text, if it is good, wins. And with great texts, they transcend the voice reading them in some ways, especially if the voice gives the words the space to transcend. To my ears there is less space in more theatrical readings.

Secondly, the reader’s personal relationship with the text somehow adds another layer of humanity to the sounds of the literature itself. With less-theatrical readings, the honest connection between reader-text-listener seems very pure to me, again precisely because the reading is not a performance, but a human somewhere, reading a text they love for me. That is, to me, a beautiful thing, and one of the most wonderful and unique things about LibriVox.

But one is not really better than another; they are just different approaches. Some may wish to change the way they read … they might, for instance ask for advice on how to achieve a certain voice, a sound, how to inffuse more passion or oomph into their recordings. That’s fine, and if someone asks for advice, by all means give it. We have a big wiki filled with information and suggestions, and people often ask and give advice in our forum thread: “Need Help? Got Advice?”

But we do not insist on a certain style, a way to read, a way to interact with the text. We do not promote certain voices, professional diction, BBC accents, or Hollywood voice-over techniques. We are happy when we get them, of course, they add to the diversity of voices. But they are not better, or worse than any other voice. What we insist on is that people read texts the way they would like to read them, without fears of criticism that they are not good enough, talented enough, BBC enough, or anything enough…if you have a voice, and you wish to record a text, you are welcome here, and you will be thanked for adding yet another bit of literature to the audio universe. That is enough. It is not just enough, it is something much more than enough, with all sorts of wonder and beauty attached to it.

Listeners will like some readers better than others. Of course. And they are free to seek out the readers they prefer (soon a brilliant searchable catalog will be released where you can search by reader).

But that one person perfers reader X, and another prefers reader Y is irrelevant to what we are doing here, which, again, is getting volunteers to record the public domain literature which they love. That is what we do, and that is what we encourage… and even if no one finds reader Z as their favourite, it matters not one whit, because reader Z has still gone to the great, and sacred trouble to offer his or her voice to bring a piece of literature to the ears of anyone in the universe who cares to listen. and that is enough.

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