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Accessibility guidelines for audiobook narrators

Table of Contents

  1. Audio
  2. Formatting and labeling
  3. Content
  4. Narration
  5. Metadata


Volume/level consistency is integral to guarding the safety of readers' ears as well as avoiding level fluctuations that interrupt the reading process. The volume should remain consistent from chapter to chapter as well as from audiobook to audiobook. 

Hums, hissing, buzzing etc. are straining to the ears and nervous system, especially over long periods of time (i.e. the length of a book). Use optimum recording techniques and equipment to avoid hissing and distortion.

Aim for a vocal tone that is warm and crisp. Warm tones are easier on the ears long-term and crispness brings clarity. Room tone and vocal tone should remain consistent throughout the recording.

Noises outside of the text can be very distracting for a reader and should be avoided, or if necessary edited out. Narrators should work in a place that is isolated from outside noises such as children playing, air conditioners running, etc. Narrators should also consider their own production of noise; physical adjustments in chair, touching the microphone or stand, a lot of mouth noise from being dehydrated or having a cold, etc.

Specific audio requirements

  • Include 1 second of room-tone at the beginning of every section and 3 seconds of room-tone at the end.
  • Room-tone: Noise floor is at -60db maximum, i.e. close to silence.
  • Level: Your recording should measure between -23db and -18db RMS (average) with peak values no higher than -3db.
  • File type: If the audiobook is using stereo effects it should be exported as balanced stereo MP3s at 128-192 kbps. If the audiobook is only voice with no effects it should be exported as mono MP3s at 64-96 kbps.

Formatting and labeling

Chapter books, books of short stories and poetry

  • Each chapter, short story, poem or section of the book should be one audio file each, i.e. copyright, epigraph, dedication, title pages, chapters. Do not create a file per page or only one file.
  • When exporting a finished section each filename should begin with a chronological number, followed by the title of the section, i.e. "03 Dedication" then "04 Chapter One".

Children's non-chapter books

  • Each section should be its own audio file with the main story in its own audio file, i.e. dedication, title page, story. Do not create a file per page or only one file.
  • When exporting a finished section each filename should begin with a chronological number, followed by the title of the section, i.e. "03 Dedication" then "04 Chapter One". 

Please note: NNELS guidelines on other texts, such as academic and educational texts and comic books, are currently in development.


  • The narrator should begin each section by speaking the title of the section i.e. “copyright”, “chapter one”, “title page”.
  • All sections of the book should be included, i.e. front cover, copyright, dedication, appendix etc.
  • Image descriptions should be informative yet allow the reader to create their own experience of the image - not be a personal interpretation of the image.
  • When narrating an image prepare your descriptions ahead of time and follow these guidelines:
    • Include: Placement of objects in image, image style (painting, graph), colours, names of people, clothes, animals, placement of text, emotions such as smiling and surroundings.
    • Avoid: Descriptions of colors such as red looks “vibrant and powerful”, obvious details such as someone having two eyes, a nose, and a mouth, and overly poetic or detailed descriptions.
  • Footnotes should be collected from each file then narrated as their own file and placed directly after each related section.  For example, '01 Chapter one' followed by '02 Chapter one footnotes' 03 Chapter Two' '04 Chapter two footnotes'.


The narrator should be a vessel to the all of the print book's information into audio form. With that in mind, take in the following considerations:

  1. It is very difficult for a narrator to successfully translate a book into audio that they do not comprehend. Narrators should work with content that is comprehensible to them.
  2. Pacing and tone should be consistent. Reading loudly exhausts the voice and will result in a changing in tone as the voice gets more and more strained and tired. Reading very quietly can be inflexible to the text and more challenging for a quality recording. Narrators should find a medium, conversational volume and tone that is comfortable for them to maintain throughout the length of each recording.
  3. Personal views should not impose on the tone of the text.
  4. Pronounciation: All text should be pronounced correctly (this is not inclusive of accents that narrators may have). Unfamiliar words and names should be researched by the narrator to support that pronunciation.
  5. Pace: Comprehension is the priority. Narrators should speak at a speed that is both natural to the narrator and considerate of the complexity of the text, i.e. if the text is a dense academic text it should be read at a slower pace.


Embedding information right into your audiobook files allows for more playlist compatibility across devices and information access to readers outside of the playlist navigation. The standard embedding of data for MP3s are ID3 tags. Because MP3s are primarily focused on tagging music, follow these guidelines below when entering your tags.

The following tags are based on the Metadata in Audacity:

  • Artist = Author's name (First Name Last Name)
  • Track = Name of section, i.e. Dedication
  • Album Title = Title of book
  • Track Number = The track number that matches the file name, for example "06"' if the file name is "06 chapter two.mp3"
  • Year = Year of production
  • Genre = Audiobook
  • Comments = Name of Narrator (First Name Last Name) and Publisher (BC Libraries Cooperative)

If you are adding metadata in Adobe Audition, enter the information under the ID3 tab. Your additional options will include "composer" where you can put the narrator and "copyright" where you can put the copyright date. Publisher information can remain in the comments.