This weeks post was written by Samantha Mills, a newly minted librarian from the SLAIS program who currently works for the Vancouver Public Library and the AskAway virtual reference service. She also trained as a teacher, and has a strong interest in library instruction and digital literacies. Her current favourite podcast is Roderick on the Line. Sam also co-hosts the weekly podcast S.S. Librarianship with fellow librarian Allison Sullivan. You can email them or reach them on Twitter to learn more about podcasting, or to be a guest on the show!
As entertainment mediums, genres, and technologies have expanded and changed in recent years, library staff have expanded our Reader’s Advisory skills – into music, audio books, movies, board and video games, and more. Another growing medium, thanks in large part to the growth of easy-to-use home recording and internet sharing technologies, is the podcast. At its core, a podcast is a regular, ongoing or serialized audio program available on the internet, via websites or subscription services. While the term “podcast” is tied to the iPod, it is (despite recent efforts to the contrary) a non-proprietary format, used by individuals, corporations, and everyone in between. There are also a growing number of video podcasts, and some podcasts offer companion material in the form of videos or written articles, but for our purposes, I am focusing here on audio podcasts.
The genres available in podcast form vary just as widely as any other medium. Some of the major podcast access platforms, particularly Stitcher and iTunes, divide podcasts into categories and genres, and also offer their own advisory suggestions based on listener behaviour. There are many sources for podcasts, depending on how the patron wants to listen: for listening through an app and managing subscriptions, there are services like iTunes, Stitcher, or Podkicker, among others – but almost all podcasts also broadcast from their own websites, which generally contain archives.
Production also varies, from the rebroadcast of professional radio programs (NPR and CBC both make most of their programs available in podcast form each week), to recordings of lectures and interviews from institutions like Harvard and the New York Public Library, to programs recorded by amateurs with a computer, a microphone, and something to say. The podcast is also often used as an extension of more traditional media – Entertainment Geekly is one example, hosted by two writers from the Entertainment Weekly magazine.
Whole networks have sprung up around comedy, education, and social & cultural commentary – these are just a few of the most prominent ones:
- Maximum Fun hosts such diverse programs as bizarre advice show My Brother, My Brother and Me, music dissection program Song Exploder, and medical history romp Sawbones, among others.
- The Nerdist network has grown from the original Chris Hardwick-hosted Nerdist podcast to include many other programs. Breakout hit The Thrilling Adventure Hour features fully realized drama; more low-key fare includes Mike and Tom Eat Snacks, wherein actors Michael Ian Black and Tom Cavanagh do pretty much what the title indicates.
- BookRiot is another example of a growing network; the podcast, hosted by the editors of BookRiot.com, is part of a larger books-and-reading community, and has recently been joined by a second show, Dear Book Nerd.
- How Stuff Works is an online science, technology and education network featuring podcasts like Stuff You Should Know, Stuff of Genius, and Stuff You Missed in History Class.
The interview is a staple format of the podcast – comedian Marc Maron’s WTF was one of the earliest successful programs to take full advantage of the uncensored nature of the medium, engaging in meandering, thoughtful (and often NSFW) conversations with comedians, actors, writers, and musicians.
Many shows also use the podcast format for fiction, providing audio versions of short stories and even performing dramatic pieces with actors, music and sound effects (Welcome to Night Vale, The Thrilling Adventure Hour, Podcastle, Machine of Death, and many others).
When providing podcast advisory to patrons, many of the traditional questions about genre apply – are they looking for fiction? Nonfiction? Science? Entertainment/cultural commentary? But there are some other questions more unique to this medium to keep in mind – are they after something that the whole family can listen to together? Many podcasts are uncensored, but most will be marked “explicit” if they deal in mature themes or language. Do they want something with polished, radio-level production values, or are they content with something a little more homegrown?
Additionally, like social media, podcasting can be just as much, if not more, about the personalities and spheres of interest of the hosts as anything else. Content can vary quite a bit, particularly in the more conversational programs. Roderick on the Line is one example, beloved by listeners not for its content as much as for the articulate, thoughtful, and humourous ways that the hosts discuss the wide range of topics their casual conversations touch upon. This is also where the growing number of podcast networks can come into the advisory process – if a patron enjoys one Maximum Fun show, they might like others.
Another aspect of podcast listening to keep in mind is the sometimes fleeting nature of the content – some shows, WTF among them, only provide a certain number of recent episodes for free, and earn money to maintain production by charging a subscription fee for the back catalogue. Many podcasts also contain advertisements, and some raise money through annual pledge drives (Maxiumum Fun, This American Life). It’s a new medium, and its business model is still evolving; this is worth pointing out to patrons as they become invested in this new way of accessing stories and commentary.
Finally, even librarians themselves are getting in on the podcast game: library staff and library patrons alike who want to know more about the worlds of books, technology, and librarianship would do well to check out shows like Circulating Ideas, T is for Training, and, of course, S.S. Librarianship (which is co-hosted by your humble author, and includes the weekly Readers Advisory segment “Mind Grapes”).
NOTE: Because of the homegrown nature of the medium, podcasts are growing and changing all the time; this article is far from a complete list. Additionally, the relatively low bar for production and distribution of podcasts means there’s potential here for new programming ideas – if you’re looking for new learning opportunities for your library, consider teaching your patrons how to podcast!
Throughout the month of May students from UBC’s School of Library, Archival and Information Studies will be posting their best Readers’ Advisory tips to the RAIG blog!