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Libraries: Frontiers in podcast awareness

It started with a post in the New York Times Podcast Club Facebook group from a librarian looking for podcast recommendations to share with her students.

As the suggestions from other group members started rolling in, I began thinking about the relationship between libraries and podcasts more generally. Public libraries are these amazing social resources, providing everything from internet access, to books, movies, music, and community programming — all for free. Were they doing anything to formally incorporate podcasts into this media lineup? You can’t stock podcasts on shelves, but were there example of libraries that made podcast recommendations through newsletters, did shared listening events, or otherwise actively embraced this form of storytelling?

In order to find out more, I took my question to Reddit, started a new thread (separate from the original poster’s) within the Facebook group, and asked our Twitter followers for their input. Here are some of the responses I got about ways — actual and proposed — that librarians and regular citizens are thinking about the role libraries can play in podcast awareness, discovery, and education.


Share podcast recommendations on social media. The original poster, whose name is transliterated as Sagit, works at the Tel Aviv University library and wanted to include podcasts in their offerings. She explained that she planned to start by sharing recommendations on the library’s Facebook page, and then gauging the reactions from students to get a sense of whether the approach worked. She continued, “The next stage we’re going to put a directory of social sciences podcasts in the library’s web page. That’s the plan so far.”

Create a “Podcast 101” class. Cathy Buehner, also a librarian, is working on community programming. She told me, “I’m planning a ‘podcasts 101’ at my library this fall with a basic explanation, how to find and listen to podcasts, and some podcast recs from various genres. But I’m hoping some fellow fans might show up as well so we can share and chat. For the first time this summer, we had patrons ask about including podcasts as summer reading.” Her inspiration, in her words, “is simply a combination of my own love for podcasts and seeing their general growth in popularity. I love the idea of introducing more people to podcasts.” She mentioned that another library near her is planning an introduction to podcast discussion series.

Kitchener Public Library hosts a podcast club (check out their calendar here) that is open to everyone, regardless of their previous experience with podcasts. They also offer educational programming about creating podcasts

Incorporate podcasts into reader’s advisories. On Reddit, a user who goes by DanielsMuse527 explained that a reader’s advisory is “essentially helping people find the books (materials) they want. It’s like a reference interview specifically for reading. At my library we sit with a patron and talk about what they like to read, the last book that had a big impact on them, what they don’t like etc and it’s usually pretty easy to set them up with a bunch of things to choose from by the end. My favorite part of the job to be honest.”) Another user, yeyestoserve, who is a librarian, already does this but noted that they’re “pretty limited to either popular ones or ones I listen to… I really love this idea, though! You’ve given me an awesome idea for my goals this next year.”

Do a livecast or listening event. Reddit user BrieDotDotDot said “This [incorporating podcasts into library programming] is a brilliant idea. If I ever did a live cast, I wanted to do it in a library… It’s a single-person narrative based on literature, so the library is the perfect place to speak to a niche group and, instead of giveaways, I could suggest books that match my topic.” When asked why they’d pick a library for a livecast, BrieDotDot added “It’s a single-person narrative based on literature, so the library is the perfect place to speak to a niche group and, instead of giveaways, I could suggest books that match my topic.”

Reach more age-diverse listeners. In the New York Times Podcast Club Facebook group, Lynn Rozental wrote: “I think a lot of us have taught our parents and older friends how to access podcasts–and libraries could do that on a much larger scale for their patrons so easily–I interviewed a reference librarian recently and she mentioned that a huge part of her job is helping people with computers. Plus, I bet a lot of libraries could find a small room in the basement people could use as a studio–with signups, etc.”

Share access to archives of broadcast shows. Donna Lowe, a music librarian in Canada, wrote, “[w]hile my library is not actively involved in collecting podcasts (not yet, at least), I was recently happy to learn that, as part of NPR’s archiving efforts, they have indexed episodes of Fresh Air dating back to the 1970s on WorldCat, the aggregate network database that many libraries use… So check your local library–you may be able to access them, too!” (Special thanks for this to Melody Joy Kramer, who worked on and wrote about the project to digitize the Fresh Air archives).

Enable free listening for paywall content. Perhaps the the traditional library model (buying books from publishers for public use) may also have an application for podcasts. As publishers create exclusive and subscription only content, libraries could make it part of their purchasing plans in order to offer it to their patrons.

Ma’ayan Plaut, the podcast librarian for the curation app RadioPublic, has thought a lot about the relationship between podcasts and libraries, and chimed in with a ton of ideas for ways that libraries could incorporate podcasts into their programming:

Enable users check out a podcast listening device in a library.

Book/podcast partnership displays (for example, “You read this book, now try this podcast. Or, when a book from a display has been checked out, there is a podcast to listen to while you wait for its return!”)

Podcast training/recording space.

“How I made this” discussions with local podcast makers.

Something like Podcast Brunch Club but in a library.

Podcast listening sessions with/for the under-18 crowd.

Training the ear listening sessions in academic library settings – how to listen to, cite, check sources, etc. in podcasts


Public libraries can serve a significant role in everything from general education, like how to listen and subscribe, to access, to discovery of podcasts — and much more. The enthusiasm and speed of the responses to my outreach alone suggest that there is an energy behind this that is already in motion (after my initial research for this post, I learned from Karen Muller, of the American Library Association, that the Association for Library Collections & Technical Services hosted a whole webinar about podcasts and the role libraries can play back in 2013 — recording/slides).

Thus far, the efforts seem somewhat silo-ed and basically driven by individual librarians who are interested in podcasts and see an opportunity to respond to a growing community need. There’s no doubt I’ve only scratched the surface of this topic, however. Do you know of libraries who have programming around podcasts? Let us know about it or comment here and we’ll update this post as we learn more.

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