Reposted with permission from LexisNexis’ 2011 Best Practices for Government Libraries http://www.lexisnexis.com/tsg/gov/Best_Practices/Best_Practices_2011.pdf
by Chris Vestal, Washington, DC Chapter, Government Information, Leadership & Management Divisions
My iPhone’s turning me into a digital media junkie. Not because of the cutting edge apps, music, or media-but because it’s made me a podcast addict. I listen to podcasts everywhere (the gym, during lunch breaks, on the metro to drown out noisy passengers, driving, at the grocery store…you get the idea).
The best way to explain podcasts is that they’re like radio programs on demand that can be streamed or downloaded on computers or mobile devices. There are video podcasts but the majority take the form of a simple audio recording. If the thought of listening to people talk seems boring with innovations like streaming media and ebooks duking it out for our attention, think again. By devouring podcasts I’ve learned to watch out for exploding lakes (Stuff You Should Know), been moved to tears by everyday people giving their oral histories (NPR StoryCorps), literally lol-ed at the outlandish advice doled out on a comical advice show (My Brother, My Brother, and Me), gotten guaranteed strategies at being the life of any dinner party (APM: Dinner Party Download), heard Nora Ephron talk about her career and forgetting (The Free Library Podcast), and of course been captivated by the king of podcasts (This American Life).
It’s so easy to learn from or just enjoy podcasts. Since most of them don’t require you to actively look at your device you can go through them virtually anywhere while you’re multitasking (confession: I’m chuckling to a Superman parody on Superego while I write this). I was actually listening to a podcast at the grocery store when I first realized that if I was podcast addict then maybe other librarians would like them too.
I met with some DC/SLA members to try to work out just how we could develop a podcast series for the chapter. The consensus was to establish a series that provided audio coverage from our professional development events so all our members could benefit from the event even if they couldn’t attend it live.
The chapter had launched a DC/SLA YouTube channel last year that did just that, but with video content. We ran into a few of problems right away though. The biggest problem was recruiting a volunteer with a digital video recorder to attend events. Then given the average size of video files we had to figure out how to send the video to our YouTube volunteer without relying on email. Another annoying quirk was that YouTube limits clips to 10 minutes or less. Since most of our events are over an hour our YouTube volunteer had to watch the entire video and try to find appropriate stopping points to break the video into shorter clips.
Watching our videos on YouTube wasn’t very convenient for our members either. Trying to watch our segments was confusing since YouTube didn’t reliably display them in chronological order. Also at the time YouTube was only allowing users to stream video and that required an active high speed internet connection to watch. That really limited how many people could view the videos on the go with their mobile devices.
We were hopeful that a podcast series would overcome our YouTube channel’s shortcomings. The barrier to entry was surprisingly low. We purchased a digital audio recorder and a noise canceling microphone for less than $100. The audio recorder and microphone are small enough to fit in someone’s pocket so transporting them to events has been easy. DC/SLA President-Elect, Lois Ireland, has done a fantastic job of getting them to our events and setting them up to get the best sound quality possible.
One small snag we encountered was how to send the audio file to each other for editing after recording. The file size is way too large (although much smaller than a video file) for emailing and it wouldn’t be convenient for Lois and me to frequently hand off the audio recorder to each other. Fortunately Lois had the great idea of uploading the file to the chapter wiki so I could just download it from online.
Another minor problem was that recorder’s default output file is a WMA file type that’s incompatible with GarageBand on my Mac at home. This was a pretty easy fix too though; I spent $10 and downloaded EasyWMA from the Mac App Store. This app quickly converts the WMA file into an MP3 file that I can edit with GarageBand.
Once I have the file in a MP3 format I open up GarageBand and get to work. Since for branding purposes we decided to call the series DC/SLA Radio and one of the goals of the podcast is to drive people to our website, I add a brief intro that mentions the series’ name and our website URL. I also add a closing statement at the end of the podcast directing people to our website for more information about the DC/SLA and our events. Finally I bookend the opening and closing statement with a short jazz jingle just to give the podcast a theme.
After I think everything sounds good I upload the episode to the chapter wiki and tell our technology guru DC/SLA’s Past-President, James King, that it’s ready to go live. James designed a webpage from scratch to host DC/SLA Radio and adds each new episode to it.
We thought loading the series into software like the iTunes Store or the Zune Marketplace would be an extra convenience for the our listeners; they could subscribe to our podcast series once and then each new episode would automatically be pushed to them each time they opened the software. Then they could listen to it from their computer or even synch it automatically with some mobile device to listen to on the go. Unfortunately both platforms require the files be hosted on an XML feed and won’t let us upload each file or submit each file’s URL to them. Our current website doesn’t have the XML feed capability so we haven’t been able to load the series into either platform yet-but James and I are already working on a way to get this loaded into them in the near future. In the meantime after James uploads the episode to our webpage I send an email announcement to DC/SLA list serve as well as to several other library lists so that people know it’s there and ready for listening. Our audience can then go the page and stream the episode online or download it to their computer or mobile device.
We announced DC/SLA Radio at the end of March and in three days had almost 300 hits. In one month DC/SLA Radio had over twice as many hits as our YouTube channel did in over a year! We had librarians in other countries congratulating us on its launch. I have to admit I was pretty surprised with the enthusiastic response. But then again perhaps it’s not really that surprising, librarians tend to be information junkies and podcasts are a great way to get your fix.
Chris Vestal is a Supervisory Patent Researcher with ASRC Management Services on its contract at the US Patent and Trademark Office. Chris is also DC/SLA’s 2011 Communication Secretary.