September 19, 2017

The Chatty Librarians: Podcasting | Field Reports

The Library Pros podcast logoLibrary staff are the folks who love to talk about books. The more people we reach and can inspire, the happier we are. We also love to talk about libraries and their place in our society and share ideas about how to make libraries a better place for our users.

The podcasts highlighted here target two different audiences. Sachem Public Library’s (SPL) Chris DeCristofaro’s “The Library Pros” features talks with librarians, for librarians. And Ellen Druda’s “In the Stacks,” produced with Half Hollow Hills Community Library’s (HHHCL) assistant director Charlene Muhr, features book talks for patrons. In this column, they explain how and why they podcast. Also, check out a special edition of The Library Pros podcast in which DeCristofaro, Druda, Chris Kretz of The Long Island History Project podcast, and LJ‘s Matt Enis discuss the ideas in this column, and more.

THE LIBRARY PROS

Whether it’s a seminar, webinar, email, message board, social media, or now podcasting, librarians relish sharing their victories and losses. A library podcast is an extension of that concept. With The Library Pros, we tell stories and offer information about libraries and technology. If our podcast can relay information for those willing to listen, and maybe add some humor into the mix, then we all win.

How do you start with an idea and turn it into reality? There are many moving parts to this “podcast” machine, but the four main components are digital platform, hardware, branding, and content.

DIGITAL PLATFORM This is the infrastructure of the project. Even if you have the hardware, branding, and content, without a digital platform, you are a tree falling in the forest without a soul to hear it. First, you need a file hoster for audio. There are many out there: SoundCloud, Libsyn, Podbean, and Blubrry, to name a few. You also must have the capability to link those files to iTunes, Google Play, and other “podcatchers” so your podcast has a place to be found.

We chose Blubrry.com. Rather than charge for storage, Blubrry offers rates determined by how much data is uploaded monthly and is extremely affordable. Additionally, the firm has a wonderful WordPress plugin that allows us to upload audio files to its servers and our WordPress site together. Starting was easy, and when we created our account with the service, it handled the placing of the podcast on iTunes and Google Play and launched the episodes on those platforms. Blubrry also embeds a player on the page for the episode and provides listeners with the ability to subscribe via email for alerts about new episodes.

HARDWARE: I didn’t have a large budget for hardware, but I didn’t want the podcast to sound like it was recorded in a tin can. The one constant in podcasting is that no one uses the same equipment. The best resource for audio equipment on a budget is Amazon.com. We were able to purchase a set of three Samson R21 XLR microphones for $50, stands for $8 per unit, XLR cables for $8 per, and Sennheiser HD202 headphones for $25 a pair. The most daunting task was paying for the means to record. I had an iPad 4 and wanted to explore how to use it for that purpose. I bought an Alesis I/O mix four-channel board designed for the iPad and the associated app BossJock Pro. The board was $199 on eBay; BossJock was $9.99.

BRANDING: I wanted to keep our logo simple yet universal and not infringe on any trademarks. A graphic artist I knew donated his time for the concept and design (the ubiquitous library road sign) and altered the color. It gets the point across and informs potential listeners that this podcast is about libraries.

CONTENT: Once all the heavy lifting is done, you still need content. I noticed that radio programs, going back as far as World War II, and current podcasts alike usually have specific segments. The Library Pros includes an introduction of the guest, a discussion of the topics the guest is versed in, and a third part similar to Inside the Actor’s Studio in which we ask guests the same list of library-related questions. In preparation, we ask guests what they would like to discuss and have a predesigned format that helps us keep the guest—but mostly the hosts—on track and away from too much tangential discussion. Adhering to an outline of the material keeps the podcast sounding as professional as we can and allays any anxieties the guests may have that we are going to sneak in questions not to their liking.

Don’t forget editing! If you need to clean up the coughs and verbal crutches we are all guilty of, you need a good editor. We rarely edit, but when we do, we rely on Audacity because it is a robust, easy-to-use piece of software, and it’s free.

If you can dream it, you can do it. Libraries and librarians should be podcasting more. It helps with distance learning, collaboration, and creation and with the education and expansion of our profession. So join the discussion.

IN THE STACKS

At HHHCL, our director wanted us to get in the podcast game, so she asked two friendly librarians (Druda and Muhr) to work some book talks into a format that would fit the concept. We concentrated on the titles without long waiting lists. (No need to promote James Patterson’s latest—he doesn’t need our help!)

We began with some criteria:

  • Podcast should be under ten minutes (five is better)
  • Don’t feature current best sellers
  • No spoilers
  • Conversational format

We found local librarian Chris Kretz, an experienced podcaster from the Long Island History Project (longislandhistoryproject.org), who helped us figure out the hard stuff such as selecting equipment and editing in Audacity. We needed to find out where to host the audio files themselves. We also chose Blubrry.com because of the low monthly fee, great statistics, simple dashboard, and ease of syndication. Then we decided to create our website using WordPress, because blogs naturally lend themselves to episodic content. Our graphic artist Daniel Epstein made a cool logo. We bought microphones (Marantz Condenser MPM-1000) and an inexpensive recorder (TASCAM DR-05 Portable Digital Recorder) from Amazon. Our technique is pretty simple: we sit across from one another at a table and talk into the mikes, while using the portable digital recorder.

Our library podcast series, In The Stacks, began in August 2016 with a conversational review of Laura Hillenbrand’s Unbroken. At the time of this writing, we’ve completed 26 episodes.

Not too surprising, there’s been a lot of trial and error (and lots of laughs!) on the technical side and as we figure out the best way to make the format smooth and enjoyable. We’ve discovered the importance of being prepared and succinct (the ummms and uh-huhs will kill you), finding a quiet room (after-school Brownie meetings can get loud across the hall), and keeping the door locked with a “Recording in Progress” sign posted (custodians like to come in and grab chairs at critical moments).

If you are thinking about dipping into the podcast world, imagine who will be in your audience. Will it be library professionals or your patrons? Everyone is busy these days—will listeners binge-listen several episodes at once or dip in once a week? Will they stick around for a long conversation or just want enough to cover a short commute? Will it be just one familiar voice or a conversation (chemistry is important between hosts) that might also feature invited guests?

Podcasting is fun and portable. There are so many possibilities and opportunities—explore your best ideas and connect with your own podcast.

Chris DeCristofaro is Adult Services and Technology Librarian for Sachem Public Library, NY, and Ellen Druda is Digital Services Supervisor for Half Hollow Hills Community Library, Dix Hills, NY

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