Podcasts: what are they? What do they do? Who do they serve? Do I actually need an iPod to listen to one? All very important questions I hope to answer here today.
Podcasts are not a new technology, when one considers the fact that they are simply recorded audio (or video) programming meant for people to listen to/watch, enjoy, and perhaps learn something from them. Plus, you can use any type of mp3 player or your computer to listen to view a podcast. In fact before the dawn of web 2.0 (or what we now consider the dawn of web 2.0) there were multiple podcasts that were in syndication and used by patrons of the internet in the late 90's and early 2000's. Personally, I had no idea these sorts of thing existed, at least in the context of the word podcast. I was aware there were radio shows both through a radio and the computer, and assumed these were the same.
There are a couple of differences between radio programs and podcasts, however:
- While a podcast may record a live event, it isn't until the podcast is uploaded onto a server that it may be listened to, thus making it not as live as a radio show.
- There is no set function, format, or role to fill for podcasts, as this varies by the person or venue producing the podcast.
- While radio programs can be both through the radio and online, all podcasts are available online (although they are not all for free) and are much more portable.
For example, during a lab we were required to listen to three different types of podcasts. The first group was a collection of "story time" podcasts, primarily directed it seems towards younger children for them to listen to popular stories. I picked the LA Public Library's podcast on The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein, whose poetry I have loved since grade 4 when my teacher read several of his books for us. Reading stories definitely requires the right tone of voice to capture the attention of and entertain children. I'll actually discuss later how important tone and voice qualities are when it comes to things like podcasts. In any case, I feel podcasts like these are very important because they allow children access to public library events that perhaps they can't get to due to monetary issues, but they can instead download for free at home to listen to. These are also helpful for children who are auditory learners, or children who have visual disabilities.
The second podcast I listed to was from a group involving book suggestions, book readings, and author readings. Personally, I don't really care to listen to books being read to me. I am very much NOT an auditory learner; I fall somewhere between visual and kinesthetic (something I'll also discuss later in this entry). So I ended up choosing something I would actually enjoy listening to, which was the Seattle Public Library's "Seattle Biblio Café" (which I think sounds very hipster, but it's Seattle). The specific episode I listened to involved three librarians discussing the books they had just recently read and wanted to recommend to others. At first I didn't think I would like any of these suggestions, but one of the books recommended I now have on my Chapters.ca wishlist (as well as my Goodreads "to-read" shelf): The Taqwacores by Michael Muhammad Knight. Because quite frankly, I will never have enough books to read. Never.
My third podcast choice (from the group of Instructional or Informational podcasts) I think is an excellent example of "You're trying too hard. Stop it." I chose Fairfield University's podcast for students wanting to learn about Google Scholar, thinking it would give me some new information on a part of Google I am aware of, but don't have much knowledge of. It did not. The podcast consisted of who I assume was a staff member asking Google Scholar on how students can search for scholarly articles for their classes. I mean literally asking Google Scholar, who was anthropomorphized into a Californian surfer boy, complete with accent and space-case attitude. It didn't even really tell me anything about search functions or perhaps things unique to the Scholar search engine that's different from Google's regular engine. Actually it sounded more like an ad paid for by Google just to get students to use their services. So if there are podcast producers out there wanting ideas, pay attention: do not follow the lead of this podcast! It's demeaning to students to assume this kind of asinine advertisement is somehow useful or educational when it seems like we are being talked down to the entire time. Maybe even put something actually useful in it? Just a tip.
All three of my podcast choices had different types of tone and speaking styles in them, each seemingly specific to what the producer of the podcast was trying to get across. The woman in the first podcast had a soft but engaging voice, perfect for capturing the attention of children to listen to a story. In the second podcast they sounded a bit "boring" (and I won't lie: my attention was a bit shot after hearing about the first book so I wasn't really interested in the others. I mean come on: Islamic punk culture! What can top that?!), but then again I felt the podcast was definitely for those who are already established readers and are looking for something new to read, so this can be anywhere from 12-14 and up into someone's elder years. The third podcast had the clearest voices, but the tone was very exaggerated and condescending. It really did feel like they were trying to promote Google Scholar to academic students.
I feel that both the LA and Seattle's podcast choices are very important for libraries today, as they promote knowledge and information in new ways, entertain their audience, and keep libraries abreast of current technologies and help dismiss the idea that libraries are going the "way of the dinosaur" (I refuse to give the Google Scholar podcast any legitimacy as a real, informative podcast. I refuse, I say!). Podcasts can be used as a very effective and important ingredient of a "Web 2.0 pie" that a library can use to "feed" (educate) their patrons. If a library is looking for ways to keep their library updated with technology and want to promote things like local events at the library, podcasts would be an excellent tool to use. Using my remote, northern Aboriginal community theme I've discussed in the past, a library could be using their podcasts as a way to promote education or life skills events at the library, new Aboriginal-related books in the library, and events happening around the community like pow wows, gatherings of elders, or other instructional but culturally vital events to help educate the younger population on their traditions.
Overall I don't have much of an opinion on podcasts. This is mostly because, as I said above, I am somewhere between a visual and kinesthetic learner: I intake information much more readily by either seeing it being done and/or doing it myself. This makes trying to intake completely oral presentations difficult for me, as I have to really pay attention or I miss significant portions of the presentation. Tactics that help alleviate this are usually removing any distractions from my surrounding environment, and hoping to every god in the universe that the presenter can speak well. If these two needs aren’t met, listening to podcasts can become very difficult AND boring to try and pay attention to for me. I suspect these are also major issues for those who are non-auditory learners as well.
Despite my personal feelings on the matter, I think podcasts should be widely utilized in libraries, and would be forever sad to see them go. Outside of libraries I have on occasion used podcasts, as these have allowed people to get their voices heard without having to jump through hoops by major producers just to discuss topics, especially those which are contentious, like radical social justice, sexuality, and paganism. Much like these subjects, libraries are about free access to information and for the ability for people to educate themselves and others, which I think has become one the primary uses of podcasts: to educate others without having to censor or omit subject matter just because it doesn't fit a particular view. There is literally almost a podcast for everything, and probably several different versions on that particular subject to boot.
My recommendation to you, if you are reading this, is to check out if your library has podcasts, and see what they are like. Also check out podcasts in topics you are interested in, like pets, crafts, or religion. You would be surprised on how many podcasts are out there for people to enjoy. You'll never know what you'll discover. :)