In 1974, three North London women had an idea; to create an audiobook library so that James, the sight impaired son of one of the friends, could enjoy books more easily.
At that time, the RNIB’s Talking Book Service and the Listening Library recorded books in formats that required special playback machines and as such restricted those who could benefit from them.
Susan Beazley, Monica McMullan and Ros Thornton start recording books on ordinary audio cassettes and Calibre (made from the words ‘cassette library’) was born. The cassettes offered a cheap and practical way of providing audiobooks to those who needed them. The founding principles of Calibre were to provide a free service, using standard equipment and be available for anyone who could not read ordinary books due to sight problems or other disabilities. These principles still underpin the service today.
Word spread and before long they started getting requests. Soon they had 12 books for 10 members – prompting concern about what would happen when the members had read them all! In 1976 Monica moved from North London to Wendover in Buckinghamshire and Calibre came with her; first to her kitchen table, then to Portacabins in her garden. By the end of the 1970s, Calibre had 600 titles and was sending out 30 books a day.
Outgrowing the Portacabins, the charity moved to a wing of the old Tindal Hospital in Aylesbury and in 1987 Calibre, now with 7,000 members, moved to its present-day purpose-built office on the edge of Aylesbury.
Now, more than 45 years on from that first audiobook, Calibre serves around 14,000 people all over the world, delivering more than 1,700 books per day across the different listening formats. Our name changed to Calibre Audio Library in 2006 when we ushered in the introduction of our digital service and in 2020 became just Calibre Audio to reflect that we are more than just a library.
Monica McMullan, who had been Calibre’s organising secretary from the start, was awarded the MBE in 1986. She retired in 1989 and died in April 2006. Without Monica’s tireless energy and persistence, Calibre could not have become the successful service it is today.