Plan for a University Library Podcast
Bird Library at Syracuse University is typical of a large research university, with holdings of over 4 million items and an annual budget of more than $9 million. The Library serves a University community of over 20,000 students and over 1500 faculty. Bird is typical in another way, in that it serves its existing clientele very well, and tries to stay abreast of digital advances, but there is room for improvement in the area of patron engagement. Rather than developing additional services, this proposal focuses on a method for enhancing engagement, especially with community members who may not yet have accessed the Library.
Instituting a podcast from the Library provides several simultaneous and concrete benefits:
- engages university scholars and other community members
- creates a new avenue for communication with Library users and potential users
- raises the profile of the Library
- increases the credibility of the Library by highlighting the Library’s use of current technology
An important purpose of the podcast is to communicate from the Library to the community, but an even more important purpose is to engage the community in creating it. Once the logistical and technical aspects are addressed, students and scholars within the University community will have a substantial role as the subjects of the podcasts. While the Library’s people and collections can be sources for interesting casts, mining the community for their stories and experiences will be a vital aspect of the project.
Community to Engage
All users and potential users of the Syracuse University Library System
Action Brief Statement
Convince the Library Director that by supporting a weekly Library podcast, we will engage University scholars and other community members, which will raise the profile and the credibility of the Library because it will reach users in a different way and will highlight the Library’s utilization of current technology.
Evidence and Resources
Podcasts are a popular and inexpensive method of raising the profile of the Library and connecting with users through a different modality. They also create the opportunity to highlight special and unique features of the Library and the University community.
- The Free Library of Philadelphia highlights well-known authors in their podcasts.
- Milner Library at Illinois State University focuses on history and other regional topics in their podcasts.
Some of the benefits of podcasting, such as quick and low-cost communication, ability to personalize information, and potential to deepen relationships are noted by Learning Times.
LifeHacker offers a clear step-by-step guide for creating your first podcast.
Mission, Guidelines, and Policy
The primary mission of the project is to communicate with and engage the University community.
The first step would be to form a Technology Committee or New Technology Subcommittee with interested staff and student workers/interns, and with appropriate IT support staff. The Committee would research the experiences of other universities and libraries to design the scope and the operation of the podcasting project.
A key function in the initial stages is to compile suggestions, “best practices,” and especially what pitfalls to avoid.
The Committee would need to decide how often to present the broadcasts (once a week is the proposed frequency), and the scope of the topics (would certain topics or guests be considered too controversial, at least initially?)
The Committee would need to seek counsel from the University legal department and from whatever office oversees the University’s social media policy.
The Committee needs to design a mechanism for soliciting suggestions for topics and guests to be included in podcasts from the larger University community, perhaps by establishing a Community Advisory Committee. The Technology Committee and the Advisory Committee would have to determine guidelines for community participation.
The most important partner in this enterprise would be the broadcasting program at the Newhouse School at Syracuse University. They have produced their own podcasts already, including for their annual Audio Summit. They would be able to provide both guidance and equipment to professionalize the effort.
It would also be worthwhile to investigate some grant money, to help defray costs, assist with upgrades as the program develops and evolves, market the project, and to pay student interns or fellows.
Action Steps & Timeline
Once the Library Director has approved the project, a Planning Committee must be created, which should include the Outreach Librarian, the Digital Services Librarian, and at least one member of the IT staff. Other members would be included if they showed an interest and appropriate level of commitment.
- Researching podcasting by other organizations and meeting with current podcasters would take 2-3 months.
- Assembling the equipment, learning the Audacity software, and choosing a site to host the podcast (SoundCloud is a good free option, which also offers upgrades, for later) could happen simultaneously, but would probably add another month to the planning process.
- During this time, hold contests to determine the podcast name and logo.
- It is recommended to complete at least 3 podcasts prior to launching, so planning and preparing those would be another 2 months. At the same time, the Launch Party must be planned, and marketing needs to be done.
The podcast could be reasonably expected to launch about 6 months after the project is approved.
Ideally, student interns can be engaged to do a bulk of the work on this project, with oversight and assistance from Library and IT staff. The initial set-up might require a contract with knowledgeable outside personnel, but that would be a one-time expense, and might not be necessary if there is sufficient commitment from existing staff and students.
One of the frequently mentioned keys to successfully podcasting is consistency. The people involved must be willing to commit to the project, and to devote the time necessary, especially after the project has launched. Getting the right people, with the necessary level of enthusiasm, will be a major key to the project’s success.
Again, student interns should be engaged to learn and apply this technology. The initial training would be designed by a Technology Committee, with appropriate IT support and interested staff members. Audacity is a free online software, easy to install and learn, that could be employed initially. If the project is successful, the Committee could consider upgrades, which might require additional training.
Promotion & Marketing
This new program can be promoted through the Library’s existing social media, such as Facebook and Twitter, and the planning and set-up can be documented on Instagram.
The project should also be promoted through standard marketing methods, such as the Library’s website and monthly bulletin, on bulletin boards in the Library and other campus buildings, and through alumni newsletters and other information methods employed by the University.
Buffer listed a number of excellent marketing ideas drawn from their own experience:
- Have student contests to choose the podcast name and design the podcast logo.
- Plan a Launch Party and maybe smaller events on the following 2 or 3 weeks, so that the podcasts get a lot of fanfare and also stay on the community’s radar.
- Encourage listeners to rate the show on the library’s website and have a drawing for a prize each week for reviewers, such a mug or tshirt with the podcast’s logo. If there is no budget for prizes, have the weekly winner be a guest on the following week’s podcast, introducing the show or making announcements.
- If possible, start a companion YouTube channel – videotape the podcasts as you are recording them, and upload the videos to YouTube at the same time as the podcast for cross marketing and additional exposure.
The Library should use their website and social media to solicit feedback about the podcasts, as well as having feedback stations within the library and other campus buildings, such as the student center.
Those involved should be open to the project evolving and changing, based on the response. Which topics evoke a strong reaction? Which topics lead to greater engagement? What methods best incorporate the community into the project?