By Rachelle K. Gould, (University of Vermont), Associate Editor for People and Nature.
In the past few years, a brilliant friend of mine has been struck by a mysterious, seemingly chronic illness. It has left her dizzy and weak at sporadic intervals, unable to keep food down for more than a few hours, and unable to read – on a screen or on paper – for more than a few minutes at a time without pain or nausea. She is in the midst of a hugely important scholarly project that needs to get out into the world … but how can that happen when she has such strong limitations on reading?
One of the things she said would be helpful was to have academic work she needed to understand read aloud to her – so that she could learn the content without having the strain of reading. As I gladly offered to read to her, I thought: what a wonderful idea, in general. Journals should just provide that service. I imagine there are others in similar positions – with physical limitations on reading. There may be others who might not really want to read an article, but might listen to it if given the option. And then I imagine there are others who would simply rather listen to an article than read it, for many reasons.
In sum, I wondered: could providing audio versions of journal articles help and benefit many people? Might it make academic work more accessible? Information sources of many types are offering audio versions of printed material (and vice versa, for even longer); should academia join the multiple-options bandwagon? If so, should we at People and Nature try it? Just record an article or two, offer the recordings with the text article, and see what happens?
A common suggestion for increasing creativity (as I discuss in this article) is to try out ideas in “prototype” form – just to see how they work. In that spirit, I floated this idea by the People and Nature editorial team, and they agreed it was worth a shot. So, we offer you two articles that you can listen to, as well as read. I always love when authors read their own work, so I’ve read one of them myself, and a co-author has read the other (with a few exciting additions).
And please feel free to reach out with feedback! We are trying this as a sort of “trial run” with two articles in People and Nature – so we’d love to hear any thoughts you have on how it works, how it does not work, etc. (You can send emails here).