Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Badgers Heart Playaways: Making the Case for Playaways in School Libraries

WHAT IS A PLAYAWAY? Playaways are pre-loaded digital audiobook players. My students love them! Here's why I love them, too:

EASY TO USE: Playaway use is pretty self-explanatory. Push ON to turn it on/off. Press PLAY to play. Push FF to skip chapters or REWIND to back up a chapter. If you can use a cassette player, you can use a playaway.

BATTERY LIFE: A playaway takes one AAA battery. The battery will actually last a pretty good while, IF the user remembers to turn off the playaway when not in use. When we check playaways out to students in our school library, we take a few minutes to show them how to power them off. It can be tricky because the playaway counts down 3...2...1...OFF. If the user does not wait for the OFF, the playaway stays on. We also check the battery level in the window whenever a student checks out a playaway and give the student a replacement battery if the battery is low (one bar out of three bars).

EXCELLENT SELECTION OF YA/MG BOOKS: I purchase my playaways from Follett's Titlewave. While not every book is available in playaway format, Follett does have a huge selection. Many of the popular books I am looking for are available in playaway.

VALUE AND DURABILITY: Playaways are not cheap, but they are pretty comparable to other audiobook formats. Playaways average anywhere from $40-80. I have 92 playaways in my library (built that collection over time), and I have had only one that was broken when I received it (which Follett replaced right away). I have never had a playaway with an issue I could not fix, and I have only had one playaway lost in the four years I've circulated them to students. The student who lost that one paid for it, then found it a week later and received a refund. I love happy endings!

NO CDS OR CASSETTE TAPES TO KEEP TRACK OF: CDs and cassette tapes can get lost. Once one CD in a set gets lost, the whole set of CDs is pretty much useless. You really wouldn't want to check out a set of 12 CDs if CD #6 is missing or scratched. The playaway is only one piece, which contains the entire audiobook.

NO SPECIAL EQUIPMENT NEEDED: Unlike downloadable files and CDs, students do not need any special electronics to use a playaway. The student only checks out the playaway and the storage case. Most of our students have their own headphones or earbuds, but if they do not, I have earbuds they can check out as well. Instead of sanitizing earbuds all day, I store a student's earbuds in a Ziploc bag with the student's name on it. That student only gets one pair of free earbuds from me (and only if they checked out a playaway), which I note in our Destiny system. We store the earbuds in a plastic container alphabetically by student's last name. Follett sells earbuds in packs of 100 for $100/pack.

GREAT FOR ESL, RELUCTANT READERS: Our students love the playaways! They are gimmicky and portable. Most of our teachers allow students to listen to them during silent reading time or when they finish their work early. Struggling readers can check them out to help with book reports and assigned reading. I am not going to go into all the benefits of audiobooks in this forum, but I have linked some of the research supporting the use of audiobooks with teen readers.

Baskin, Barbara H. and Karen Harris. (2010). "Heard Any Good Books Lately? The Case for Audiobooks in the Secondary Classroom."

Wolfson, Gene. (2008). "Using Audiobooks to Meet the Needs of Adolescent Readers."


  1. I am impressed with your students' ability to not lose things! I've thought about these, but they are cost prohibitive right now. The good news is that our public library has a good selection, and t hey deliver right to our school.

  2. Tomorrow evening, I am going to post on how I manage student checkout of playaways. It's not that my kids are perfect--they do lose things more often than I want to think about. I have some tips and tricks though that really help, so stay tuned!

  3. Thank you for posting this information. I am a new librarian and my school has no playaways. I have been going back and forth about ordering them. I can't wait to read the rest of your post on this topic!

  4. Glad to be helpful! I am going to be working on the second part today.


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