Podcasts are an accessible and creative format but they do require dedicated tools and a bit of quiet to produce, which isn't always easy to attain.
Libraries have always been a place of access, and this includes access to software and tools that aren't easily available to people elsewhere.The digital media labs that have started appearing in libraries feel like a natural progression from microfiche readers, photocopiers and digitisation tools. Media production skills are increasingly important but the software and equipment can be prohibitively expensive and so access for everyone can make a huge difference in whose stories get told and how.
So what do we mean when we talk about podcasts? Podcasts can be loosely described as an episodic audio format. Like radio except.. without the radio. Or, as they succinctly put it in the 'HotPod' newsletter, podcasts are "time-shifted on-demand audio content".
Some libraries are already supporting podcasting - Ireland recently announced plans for podcast studios in libraries as part of new funding and modernisation plans and you often find audio recording equipment in digital makerspaces in libraries.
There are a lot of different levels and types of approaches you can take, but by supporting podcasts you can provide ways for your community to share stories and learn important new skills. Here are some reasons your library should consider supporting podcasting. And some of the ways you can go about it.
Podcasts are huge right now and this doesn't show any signs of abating (despite what you may have heard about bursting bubbles). Though they've been around since 2004 (and arguably episodic online radio existed well before that), we are undoubtedly in the midst of a podcast boom.
Season 3 of the influential podcast, Serial, saw the first two episodes of downloaded more than 1.4 million times. That's unique downloads too.
There’s also podcast support on smart speakers (like Amazon Echo devices and Google Home) and a growing number of places you can distribute your podcast including Spotify, Apple Podcasts (formerly iTunes), Overcast, Google Podcasts and plenty more. All the big publishers are making moves into podcast production and Google have announced a new podcast strategy that they hope will "double the amount of podcast listening in the world over the next couple of years.
People are also just generally getting more used to on-demand media. And there are lots of reasons that this is a great format for telling unique and underrepresented stories.
Due to the low costs of production (particularly when compared to other types of media) podcasts can be a great way to hear from lesser-known voices and to share lesser-known stories. It's not just for loud, mainstream storytelling.
All you really need to get started with podcasting is an audio recorder and a bit of quiet. And libraries are particularly adept at that second one. As well as less licensing and technical baggage, podcasts have a lot less baggage when it comes to the format itself. So there’s a lot of flexibility to produce different kinds of stories and try different types of approaches.
True crime and interview podcasts are popular, but according to a recent report, there are also 525,000 active fiction podcast shows.
You can use podcasts for improvised theatre/role-playing games ala Friends at the Table.
The Kitchen Sisters use found sounds and archival audio to produce their popular history podcast and they’re now producing a series called "The Keepers," that profiles the stories of archivists, librarians, and curators.
There are also plenty of family history and personal archive podcasts out there, including ones by the National Archives and the BBC’s Tracing Your Roots. Gimlet Media’s Twice Removed has been described as "Finding Your Roots with a mystery twist".
There’s Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response (ASMR) podcasts, meditation podcasts and even a podcast episode that consists of 30 minutes of silence.
Basically, the podcast format allows for all kinds of stories to be told, remixed, reimagined and shared.
Podcasts involve a myriad of overlapping roles, including writing, editing, producing, interviewing and presenting. And because the format is cheap to produce and distribute, they can be a great way to learn new skills and work on your own or with others to develop audio or video content.
Some podcasts are produced by a single person who manages everything from the writing to the production and publication of each episode. Others are more of a team effort.
Roman Mars used to produce 99% Invisible in his bedroom, before going on to found the massive Radiotopia network. And as he put it " You don’t need nice stuff or a studio. You just need to work. If you are picturing me as Rocky Balboa in Rocky IV, working out in a Siberian cabin by chopping wood, while the evil Ivan Drago uses the state of the art facility and gets pumped full of steroids, that’s exactly how it is".
Which leads us to..
While we may have just said that all you need is an audio recorder and a quiet place, some other tools and equipment can certainly help make your podcast production run a bit more smoothly.
It's easy to distribute a podcast - the podcast format is free and open (thanks in part to the efforts of the EFF). Podcasts are distributed using RSS (yes, that ol' chestnut) in an audio format like MP3 or WAV. So, once you've got your podcast hosted somewhere, you can then submit it for distribution on larger platforms like Apple Podcasts or Spotify. Or both.
You also need a place to host your podcast. This is where you store the actual audio files. It needs to be somewhere that can handle audio streaming - you don't want any streaming issues when people are trying to listen to your podcast. Soundcloud is a hosting option that's been around for a while but there are newer, specialist hosts now too like Libsyn and Audioboom.
There are apps that make it super easy to create, record and distribute a podcast - the latest version of Anchor is really great for creating, editing and distributing a podcast all from your phone.
Audacity has long been a strong and stable, open source audio editing suite. It's cross-platform too.
We've also worked with podcast studio kits (and provide these in Makercarts). These come with everything you need to get started - a microphone, mixer, headphones and software - a great way to take your first steps into podcasting and great for podcasting workshops.
Your podcasting space doesn't have to be soundproof, but it can help to have foam panels to absorb sounds - portable panels are an easy solution. If you don't have a small, underused space that you can repurpose for a podcast studio, consider loaning out audio recording equipment for your members to start podcasting from home.
As well as podcast production tools, there's plenty of great resources to help you write and produce a podcast.
There are templates available for creating your Podcast Show Description, how to set up a guest interview for your podcast and a blueprint for planning storytelling projects and guides to help you avoid 'radiosplaining' when reporting on communities that aren't your own. These last 2 resources are both from NPR who have a whole training suite that’s worth checking out at https://training.npr.org/topics/.
Although the podcast scene is rapidly changing and big players are moving in, there a significant amount of community, collaboration and knowledge sharing out there to help you get started.
Podcasts are also a great way to share and remix library stories and collections. Readers Advisory services, for example, can work well in podcast form. The Librarian Is In is the New York Public Libraries podcast about "books, culture, and what to read next" hosted by library staff members Gwen Glazer and Frank Collerius.
The Reykjavik City Library also has a staff-run podcast recorded in their bookable podcast studio, Kompan.
We already distribute audiobooks in libraries (with varying degrees of success) and there are a lot of similarities between audiobooks and podcasts. But podcasts come with a whole lot less technical and licensing restrictions. You can download them and listen to them whenever and however you like. Something that you certainly can't say about audiobooks.
The Librarians with Lives podcast talks to library folk about their jobs and their achievements (and they're currently do a special series on the #ILI2018 conference).
There's also Turbitt & Duck: The Library Podcast, hosted by Sally Turbitt and Amy Walduck and sharing stories about libraries in Australia and beyond.
As well as promoting the library and its many services, podcasts can be a great way of remixing or exploring collections and communities that make our libraries what they are.
Some libraries have run introductory podcast events (such as those at the Toronto public library and the Edge at the State Library of Queensland) which can be a great way to connect with interested people and form partnerships with podcasters.
We hope this gives you a lot of good resources to start exploring podcasting for your library. If you’ve got questions about audio studio equipment or support, we’re always happy to share ideas and talk about creating new things in libraries so feel free to get in touch.