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Behind the Scenes: An Interview with NLS Narrator Laura Giannarelli (part I)

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By now I’m sure most of the readers of this blog have become familiar with the types of materials the music section offers: large print, braille, and audio. And although we have gone into detail about how we acquire and preserve braille and large print, we have yet to talk about what actually goes into making our digital books.

One of our most recent acquisitions has been the Smithsonian Folkways Collection, discussed in more detail in our post from September 2014. Along with making the recordings accessible to our patrons (some of the most important folk music ever recorded), we are also making the liner notes accessible in audio and braille, as detailed in this previous post.

Part of making these liner notes accessible is the narration done by our in-house studio at NLS. The narrators that work in this studio dedicate most of their time to recording the fiction and non-fiction titles in the main collection. However, they have also started to narrate the liner notes for the Smithsonian Folkways books.

One of those narrators is Laura Giannarelli, who narrated the liner notes for our book To You With Love: American Folk Songs for Women, found in our collection at DBM 03654. I sat down with Laura to discuss her work with NLS and her work for the music section.

Katie Rodda: Let’s start off with some background information. What do you do at the Library, and what materials do you work with?

Laura Giannarelli: I am a narrator-monitor-reviewer in the recording studio, which is a job I’ve had for 35 years–I started right out of college. I narrate audio books for the Library’s Talking Books program, and I narrate pretty much all kinds of material. I probably do more novels than anything else, mainly because I have a personal affinity for fiction, and also because I think I do it rather well. So I do a lot of fiction, but I also do non-fiction, children’s books–I do pretty much anything as assigned, and always have.

All of us in the recording studio, we’re in service to the program, so we record the books that get handed to us. Sometimes I do books I love. Sometimes I do books and I’m like “Who’s gonna want to read this?!” But my job is to read it as if I loved it. So I do all kinds of things.

Photo of Laura Giannarelli.
Photo of Laura Giannarelli. Used with permission. Taken from

Katie: You said you became a narrator right out of college. What was your background before coming to NLS?

Laura: I was a theater and French major, and I sort of fell into the job [here at NLS]. Following my senior year at Catholic University, I worked in the box office at the Olney Theater in Maryland, which at the time had a very strong affiliation with Catholic University’s drama department. One of the guys who had been a graduate student when I was an undergrad at Catholic University was in a show out in Olney. He came to the box office to arrange tickets for his mother, and he said “you should audition to work where I’ve been working.” While he’d been a grad student at Catholic, he worked here at NLS.

So I eventually got an audition, and after that I was hired in July 1979. For the first six or eight months, I was just a monitor-reviewer, so I would engineer to the recording, or listen to the complete recordings, and listen and learn how it’s done. But almost a year after I started I got my first book as a narrator, and I’ve been here ever since!

Katie: What’s your favorite aspect of the Talking Book Program?

Laura: Well, I love the storytelling part of it–I love being able to play all of the parts. As an actress, which is what I do in the other part of my life, I’m limited by the fact that I’m 5’2″, that I have dark hair, that I look ethnic, etc. That limits the parts that I can play on stage. I’ll never be a tall blonde in a play. And now that I’m getting a little older, I’ll never play the ingénue again. But, in a Talking Book, I’m everybody: I’m the little girl, I’m the old man, I’m the villain, I’m the hero. I get to play all the parts and play the whole story, and I just love that.

The other thing that I love as much as storytelling is the interaction with patrons. Because I have worked here a long time, some of the patrons recognize my name, and I get letters and emails. Patrons come through and go “Oh, you’re Laura Giannarelli!” and I can talk to them about books that they’ve listened to or I can recommend a book that they might like. Because I love to read, and the NLS patrons love to read, we have that in common and it’s kind of lovely.

In the summer of 2013, I went to Ohio to speak at patron events in Columbus and Cleveland. When I was in Columbus, I met a young woman who was born without eyes, and when she was a little girl she had many many surgeries. And she and her mother came to the patron event. They came up to meet me and they took a picture with me. Her mother told me that she was so excited to meet me because when she was little she listened to all the Little House on the Prairie books that I narrated, and they had helped her get through the painful post-op periods. She said that when she was in the hospital, the nurses would come in and asked if she wanted more pain medicine. And she said “I was reading The Long Winter and I just looked at them and I said ‘let the hurricane roar!'” Then she got this big smile on her face and she said “I’m not sure they knew what I was talking about.” But of course, she and I did because we shared a love of that book and that sense of enduring, and fighting through and getting to the goal. And I love that. It was a very moving experience.


Part 2 of my interview with Laura Giannarelli will be posted in the near future! In the second part of the interview, we discuss Laura’s musical interests and her work with music materials. Stay tuned!

Comments (2)

  1. Bravo

  2. I’ve been looking for more biographical information on the various NLS narrators and I think I’ve finally found something. This was a great interview.

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