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Magazine Feature

Engaging Patrons with Library Podcasts

by on October 6, 2017

As podcasts have further embedded themselves into popular culture, public libraries have become active producers of podcast content, through both workshops for patrons and library-hosted programs. At their base level, podcasts are an effective way of archiving library programs and making them accessible to patrons who are unable to attend. Yet many public libraries are pushing beyond merely recording author talks by producing shows that supplement existing programs, reflect the communities they serve, and engage patrons in a unique way. The following is just a sample of the many innovative ways public libraries employ podcasts.

The Librarian Is In

In The Librarian Is In, a podcast from the New York Public Library (NYPL), hosts Gwen Glazer (recommendation librarian at NYPL) and Frank Collerius (manager of Jefferson Market Library) oversee a free-ranging and passionate discussion about what they’re reading, current events, the library world, and pop culture. Parts of the podcast are dedicated to interviews with other librarians and figures in the literary world, allowing them to highlight services provided by NYPL as well as exchange ideas about best practices. Recent guests include the chief librarian at the Andrew Heiskell Braille and Talking Book Library, the leader of the LGBTQ Sci-Fi Book Crew group on Meetup.com, and one of the joint chiefs of the literacy advocacy group Storytime Underground. Glazer and Collerius’s camaraderie and warmth give you the sense that you’re eavesdropping on a terriffic conversation between two close friends, and you’ll be sure to hunt for a scrap of paper to write down their widespread reading, listening, and viewing recommendations. The Librarian Is In has broadcast over fifty episodes since December 22, 2015, so listeners will have a lot to peruse.

NYPL also offers another podcast, The NYPL Podcast. This production uses the podcast format to broadcast recordings of library events and conversations with authors, artists, and thinkers.

Pint and Click

Broadcast since February 15, 2016, and with thirty episodes at publication time, Des Plaines (IL) Public Library’s Pint and Click podcast examines off-the-beaten-path recommendations of books, movies, television shows, apps, and music. Each week, hosts Dave Steinke, Tony Hahn, and Joel Sawyer bring in a piece of pop culture to share, and then the gang goes into a deep-dive discussion about it. The hosts are frequently joined by guests, usually fellow librarians or librarian assistants, and all bring a perceptive insight to the different topics at hand. Briskly paced and full of thoughtful observations, Pint and Click provides a comprehensive survey of what’s happening in pop culture while also shining a light on what you might have missed.

Knox County Public Library

Knox County (TN) Public Library offers three podcasts, each an edited version of library events, allowing patrons to participate virtually in programs if they aren’t able to physically attend. Books Sandwiched In features the library’s monthly book discussion of nonfiction books, led by local community figures ranging from local university professors to Knoxville’s mayor. Each book selection reflects the host’s professional or personal expertise, and while the host changes every month, each host provides a passionate examination of the text in question. Recent books include The Past and Future City, Bad Feminist, and Hillbilly Elegy. The episodes go back to February 2013, giving listeners a wealth of book selections.

The Brown Bag, Green Book podcast was a similarly structured podcast that ran periodically from February 2012 to April 2015, although here the book selections centered on environmental sustainability. Like on Books Sandwiched In, the guests were local Knox County residents, including the superintendent of Knox County Schools and the senior pastor of the First Baptist Church, who were each able to provide an illuminating perspective on the book at hand based on their background. Although this lunchtime program has been discontinued, archived recordings are still available on the library’s website.

Finally, the Historic Knoxville News podcast is a sharply produced podcast that ran periodically from January 2008 to April 2016, and focused on the more colorful events of Knoxville’s recent past. Based on readings of old Knoxville newspapers and other documents, each episode began with a reading of an edited version of the documents. Host Melissa Brenneman, reference technology librarian at Knox County Library, then led a spirited discussion with Knox County Historian Steve Cotham on the readings. Not only a fascinating glimpse into Knoxville’s history, it also shines a light onto the relevant historical resources—always linked on the podcast’s website—found in the library’s catalog.

Everett Public Library

Everett (WA) Public Library has cornered the market on bite-sized readers advisory podcasts that give listeners qualified recommendations in music, books, and movies in the bare minimum of time.

In The Lone Reader, librarian Cameron Johnson gives a concise appraisal of the book he’s currently reading. Each review clocks in under three minutes, and Johnson’s bare-bones style pinpoints why patrons will (or will not) flock to each selected book. Posting several times a month since September 2009, Johnson’s reviews cover everything from classics to the latest fiction and nonfiction must-reads.

“Prepare to enter the dark corners of Mr. Neutron’s Record Closet,” a sonorous voice intones at the beginning of each episode of Mr. Neutron’s Record Closet, giving this podcast the heady feel of a late-night cult show about which only a lucky few are aware. With spiky reviews and plenty of music clips, host Ron Averill gives a succinct overview of
a record in each episode, often putting it into historical context and where it falls in the Pacific Northwest’s music scene. The records span an array of genres and are all available in the library’s music collection.

In The Treatment, host Alan Jacobson, manager of the Evergreen Branch Library, provides sly film commentary that is equal parts cinema history and movie review. Not only does each episode point patrons to a movie in the library’s expansive collection, it also cannily promotes the film screening and discussion Jacobson hosts at his library branch on the last Wednesday of every month.

Westport Public Library

Westport (CT) Public Library’s podcast is an elegant recording of their speaker series. The library hosts around three speakers a month and their archive goes back to April 2010. Speakers range from bestselling authors like Mark Kurlansky and Elizabeth Kostova to a recent panel discussion on the current state of immigration law and its impact on both a local and national level.

Lexington Public Library

In 2016, Lexington (KY) Public Library hosted One Book One Podcast to supplement their One Book One Lexington community reading program. Hosts Alexa Adams Robertson and Jenny Lewis delve into the selection, Kekla Magoon’s How It Went Down, over four episodes, exploring the novel’s themes and characters. Robertson and Lewis build out their discussion in the third episode, interviewing Lexington resident Jim Sleet about community organization, civic engagement, and his experience in the civil rights movement in the sixties and seventies. Each episode is a manageable twenty-five minutes, and the podcast deftly supplements the programming surrounding the book selection.

Cook Memorial Public Library

Since February 2016, the Cook Memorial Public Library (with branches in Libertyville and Vernon Hills, IL) has produced the aptly named Cook Memorial Public Library Podcast. Now forty-three episodes in, the staff has their format down to a science, where each episode lasts about twenty minutes and savvily introduces listeners to the staff and services of the library. The podcast is divided into several different episode types, some of which include:

 The Past is Present, where a staff member talks with a local history librarian about Libertyville’s history. Recent topics include how the library got its name and Libertyville’s nineteenth-century claim to be the source of the nation’s best water;
  • Authors Out Loud, where staff members interview authors, most recently Lori Rader-Day;
  • Locally Sourced, where local business owners are interviewed about a significant book in their lives;
  • New at the Library, which highlights the latest services offered by the library; and
  • Interviews with Bookies, where the host talks to one of the library’s “Bookies,” the librarians who provide the library’s book, movie, and music recommendation resource. These discussions are a great way for patrons to get to know these librarians and see how their tastes align.

DeKalb County Public Library

DeKalb County (GA) Public Library has produced three podcasts, all of which are still available on its website. They’ve even posted a YouTube video on the home page for their podcasts, which breaks down for new users what podcasts are and how best to listen to them. Their most prodigious podcast is the Georgia Center for the Book’s Festival of Writers Author Talks, which ran from 2009 to 2013. With fifty-eight episodes, the podcast showcased the library’s superior author series, with guests including such big names as Robert Olen Butler, Tayari Jones, and Hoda Kotb.

Similarly, DCPL Musical Bookings @ Decatur Library highlights the musical programming supplied by the library. With only nine episodes recorded from 2009 to 2013, the podcast’s library is not as extensive as that of its literary counterpart, but it has a rich and eclectic lineup of guests, including Band of Gold, ConunDrums, and Yale Slavic Chorus and Children’s Russian Folk Ensemble Kalinka.

Finally, DeKalb County partnered with StoryCorps to record the experiences of its residents during various programs and special events, such as their Building Common Ground: Discussions of Community, Civility and Compassion program, Hispanic Heritage Month, Asian American–Pacific Islander Month, and Older Americans Month. Users will quickly consume the StoryCorps Community Archive’s eight episodes, each of which centers on a notable community figure and lasts no more than ten minutes. Like the best StoryCorps episodes, the interviews are poignant and evocative, leaving the listener with a sense of the subject’s life and their place in the community’s history.

Shelf Understanding

Bloomington (IL) Public Library’s Shelf Understanding podcast has only been broadcast since September 2016, but this monthly podcast has already distinguished itself as one of the best of its genre. The podcast is designed to function as a virtual library program, and host Danny Rice explores a spectrum of topics that highlight community events, local organizations, and author visits. Each episode lasts about thirty minutes, and past episodes include interviews with the producers of the Evergreen Cemetery Walk; a conversation with a representative from the Wildlife Prairie Park about local conservation efforts; and an interview with Devil in the White City author Erik Larsen.

ALOUD Podcast

The Los Angeles (CA) Public Library’s exemplary speaker series, ALOUD at the Central Library, is recorded as a podcast under the same name. The podcast’s website has recordings dating back to 1997, and each episode is tagged with helpful categories (e.g., Poetry, Fiction, Current Events), making the archive incredibly easy to navigate. The library’s size allows it to host a seemingly never-ending parade of notable authors, averaging several lecturers a month, all spanning a multitude of specialties. Recent authors include Alan Alda, Maile Meloy, and Arundhati Roy.

Free Library Podcast

The Free Library of Philadelphia (PA) has a similarly structured podcast, the Free Library Podcast, that preserves their fantastic speaker series. Listeners can comb through over 1,500 episodes, which date back to 1997 and are easily searchable by date and category tags. Enjoying a lineup as formidable as that of the Los Angeles Public Library, recent guests include Yaa Gyasi, Richard Russo, and Paula Poundstone. The podcast is supplemented by a YouTube series, 20th and Vine, which provides viewers with a brief backstage chat with the author recorded shortly before they take the stage.

San Francisco Public Library

The San Francisco (CA) Public Library has a concise collection of past speaker appearances. Authors include E. Lynn Harris, Sandra Tsing Loh, and US Poet Laureate Kay Ryan. Also on the website are archives of programs they’ve produced in the past, including speakers from their author event LitQuake ’07 and the 2008 Irish-American Festival.

Multnomah County Public Library

The Multnomah County (OR) Public Library hosts a wealth of podcasts on their website, with episodes going back to 2008. The episodes range from recordings of library events to one-off episodes that highlight library resources. A dedicated help page breaks down what a podcast is for new users, as well as how best to listen to individual episodes and subscribe to different series. The Brown Bag Lunch and Learn is a series co-produced with Portland Community College, designed to help people refine professional skills over their lunch break. Recent topics include how to use storytelling methods to amp up your communication skills, how diet and nutrition impact your neurological health, and creative problem solving. Zinesters Talking takes advantage of Portland’s thriving self-publishing scene, with interviews with authors, artists, and publishers who have a background in zines. Booktalk provides succinct book reviews given by librarians, and is divided into two categories, “Teens” and “Kids and Teens.” Interviews has a broad array of interview subjects, from library staff members sharing their insight about their specialty to local authors promoting their latest book. Some of the interviews fall under the library’s moving “Mile in My Shoes: The Human Library” project, where listeners get the chance to gain a fresh perspective on a topic based on the subject’s life experience. The two episodes available online focus on homelessness and sex trafficking. Oregon Stories all center around life in Oregon, whether it’s a history lesson or curated stories from longtime residents. The rest of the episodes, which include a backstage look at a recent Portland Opera production and a celebration of Oregon Poet William Stafford, are all housed in the General and Other categories.

Shelf Life

Denver (CO) Public Library’s Rodolfo “Corky” Gonzales Branch library has recently launched a podcast called Shelf Life. Twenty-two episodes in, the podcast is a vivacious discussion on a variety of topics—from role-playing games to unconventional love stories— hosted by various library staff members. Tightly produced and edited, the podcast showcases the staff members’ far-ranging tastes and affable natures. Of particular note is that two of the episodes are entirely in Spanish, reflecting the population the library serves.

Fairfield Public Library

The Fair eld (CT) Public Library conducted a comprehensive Job Series program from 2009 to 2012, all of which is archived on its website. Although the program is several years old, its content is evergreen, with over a hundred episodes divided into categories like career coaching/motivation, job searching, interviewing, resumes, legal/financial, networking, social networking, company research, personal/social services, and self-employment. Handouts and PowerPoint presentations from the talks are also available on the website. The library also offered a Small Business Series from 2010 to 2011, and has over fifteen episodes available, with topics ranging from DIY Tech Tips to Creating a Business Plan.

The Queens Library Teen Radio Podcast

Queens (NY) Library holds podcasting workshops for teens who are considering careers in broadcast journalism, audio engineering, news reporting, and radio. They have begun posting the resultant podcasts, the Queens Library Teen Radio podcast. Acceptance into the workshop is based on an application process, and participants learn presentation skills, as well as how to produce and edit their own podcast. With fifteen episodes produced, the episodes represent the participants’ deeply felt interests in everything from music production to astrology, as well as the skills they’ve learned in the workshops.

LibraryYOU Podcast

The Escondido (CA) Public Library’s LibraryYOU podcast serves as a compendium of local knowledge curated through videos and podcasts. Podcast interviews of area residents feature moving stories about living through D-Day and the Holocaust, and talks with representatives from the library’s foundation educate the listener about the library’s upcoming expansion project. It is also fun to look through the extensive video collection, where viewers can learn everything from quilting basics to constructing Optimus Prime out of balloons.

Cleveland Public Library

The Cleveland (OH) Public Library’s Music at Main program features world class musicians, and their podcast of the same name features archived performances from 2008 to 2012. Captured with superior recording quality, each episode allows listeners to feel like they are in the concert hall with the musicians. The website contains over twenty-five performances, with artists ranging from jazz vocalist Nancy Redd to the Cleveland Chinese Music Ensemble.

Readings for Users with Print Challenges

The Allen County (IN) Public Library’s (ACPL) Audio Reading Service Podcast houses an extraordinary selection of readings designed for users who have challenges with normal print materials. Selected readings of two local newspapers are posted daily, with segments broken down into columns, area news, and obituaries. Readings of over fifteen magazines, including The New Yorker and Time, are posted every issue. Other programs include:

  • Armchair Reader, a one-hour weekly show, featuring readings of short stories, mysteries, biographies, and humor;
  • Book Review, a weekly roundup of reviews of the latest books;
  • Radio Playhouse, recorded performances of radio plays by The Audio Reading Service Playhouse;
  • Story Circle, readings from children’s literature; and
  • The Weekend, a weekly overview of local concerts, happenings, and events.

ACPL has recently partnered with a Burmese liaison at the local elementary school to offer recordings of children’s books in English and Burmese, to assist local Burmese students who are learning English. So far, three books have been recorded with more planned on the way.

This is not a complete list, but from it you can see that podcasts offer practically limitless opportunities for libraries. Whether it is providing educational content or offering instruction or entertainment, many libraries are skillfully implementing podcasts into the fabric of their services. By focusing on their community’s needs, libraries can employ podcasts to reach patrons who might not be able to physically enter the library, but can still enjoy its services.

We hope these examples have inspired you to put your own spin on podcasts, and create programming tailored to your patrons’ needs. With just a microphone and a laptop, you can be on your way to entering the ever-expanding world of podcasts.


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