Librarians love to talk books and bibliophiles love to hear about books, so it’s no surprise that library podcasts have been popular for years. Some focus on reading choices and author interviews, others serve as professional development tools, explore local history, or riff off pop culture. Among the most famous are those of The New York Public Library and American Library Association (ALA). PLA’s FYI Podcast has also been listed among the best in articles such as Book Riot’s 13 Must-Hear Librarian Podcasts.
During the pandemic, new library podcasts emerged as means of reaching out to communities from afar, while long-running podcasts and new ones alike were challenged by producing under constrained conditions. This article explores those issues as well as unique podcast episodes addressing pandemic concerns, and tips for launching a podcast.
Emerging Technology Librarian Nate Gass has co-hosted the Cook Memorial Public Library Podcast since 2016. Asked how the pandemic has impacted his podcast of book finds, author interviews, and local history stories, he noted that it was thrown into disarray at first. “We had to decide if we were even going to continue doing it as other stressors of adapting to virtual library services took higher priority. But as we settled into the virtual groove it was actually pretty easy to continue doing the podcast. We did lower expectations of frequency a bit and now just shoot for one episode a month.” Listenership has increased slightly.
New podcasts also faced production challenges. Josie Brockmann, Adult Services Librarian coordinating Book Chatter for Longmont Public Library in Colorado, agrees that social distancing made recording and editing more arduous. To produce, several librarians see one another via conferencing platform while recording themselves using USB microphones. “The various recordings are sent to me and I synchronize and cleanup using Audacity.” Brockmann and colleagues look forward to a time they can have discussions in the same room: “It will require a lot less editing on my part!”
For those starting a new podcast, Brockmann advises patience: “It does take time for patrons to learn about a podcast and start to listen.” Book Chatter was designed with the idea that readers would send in questions and comments to be included in book discussions lead by librarians. Public participation got off to a slow start, but Brockmann reports downloads are steadily increasing with each episode.
The pandemic has spawned some unique podcast themes. Early on, Gass interviewed Skip Dye from Penguin Random House about how book publishing was adapting for the episode Publishing During a Pandemic. Library Land Loves offered episodes such as How to Get Sh*t Done when the Kids are at Home and Creating Engaging Virtual Presentations. ALA’s Call Number recently released Supporting Seniors During the Pandemic.
What advice do veteran podcasters have for those starting out? Editing is important, as is crafting the interview, Gass explains: “I can say in my experience practically anything can be made interesting if the host prepares beforehand and knows the right questions to ask… the other thing that keeps a podcast interesting isn’t so much the topic or even the guest, but how everything is presented to the listener. This is where editing is so crucial. If you are ruthless in your editing but also pay attention to the natural flow of the conversation, you can really craft something that is hard to stop listening to.”
As a listener, those comments resonate. My preference is for tightly-edited podcasts that get to the point and stay on-topic. However, some that record free-wheeling conversations are also popular. The choices are varied and abundant, as apparent from the list below.
New Since the Pandemic
Book Stabber by the creators of the library comic strip Unshelved promises some fun arguing over loving or hating certain books.
Book Chatter Podcast This “book club for busy people” is modeled after traditional book groups.
Scranton Talks Youth librarians from E.C. Scranton Memorial Library, Connecticut talk with community members about passions such as gaming, genealogy, Harry Potter, and raising backyard chickens.
Saskatoon Public Library Podcast of Stories from Saskatchewan, has featured episodes on pandemic-related themes: ennui, comfort, remedies, and awakenings.
Two Librarians Walk into a Shelf Rumor has it this eclectic podcast from Huntsville-Madison County Public Library, Alabama has developed something of a cult following.
Book Club for Masochists Brave librarians volunteer to read niche genre and difficult tomes so you don’t have to. If you hate the horror genre or know nothing about physics, but still want to dazzle your public with quality RA, they’ve got you covered.
Drunk Librarians Podcast Librarians A and B maintain anonymity while getting trashed and talking books. Some profanity may occur.
The Librarian is In and Library Talks The New York Public Library crafts two clever and humorous podcasts about books and culture.
Overdue Finds from Edmonton Public Library in Canada dishes on books, movies, music, pop culture.
Call Number ALA’s podcast features librarians, authors, and scholars discussing important issues- from library COVID-19 protocols to talking about race.
FYI Podcast Interviews illuminate topics significant to public libraries, such as career-related imposter syndrome and the problem of e-book embargos.
Cyberpunk Librarian features ideas and trends for librarians interested in high tech for the low budget.
Library Land Loves covers career-related topics from managing virtual teams to negotiating job offers, along with some pop culture fun.
The Library Pros Technology librarians discuss new and developing technology applicable to the library world- with refreshingly international scope.
Cook Memorial Public Library Podcast covers a range of topics; however, some of the most popular explore the history of Libertyville, Illinois, resulting in a podcast that doubles as an audio archive of local history.
The samples above, selected for relevance to public libraries, are part of an even wider spectrum of library podcasts, offering something for every interest. Charge earbuds!