Emerging Technology Planning: Creating community artifacts and engaging cross-generational patrons through podcasting

I was immensely inspired after reading about the Listening Station’s concept of archiving stories told by many different types of people and allowing others to interview them and ask questions about a life different from their own (Storycenter, n.d.). I began tying this idea with Anythink Library’s get to know your neighbor program, where people picked questions from a bowl and had conversations with people from the community and coupled it with Westmount Public Library’s postcard archive for their community (Baicco, 2016) where community members donated postcards to their library which were digitally archived and put into a software for the community to explore. Tie this together with Eric Klinenberg’s (2018) concept of bridging generational divides and bringing a community together through shared experiences, and I wanted to introduce a program that uses a media center room to hold storytelling interviews. The interviews could either be edited by the project creators or by a library staff and kept as a local community artifact. Specifically, I want to introduce a program that incorporates Erie County’s love for genealogical research with new media technologies and introduce a service where grandkids, family members, or other participants could interview seniors within the community about their family history, life experiences, how they came to the area, or even their recollection of other large events in history. Historical interviews could be posted to the library’s website and archived as part of the area’s cultural history. They could also be viewed within the library or media center for others to listen to or watch.

The Library

Erie County Public Library, Blasco Branch contains an Idea Lab with a media center room with three microphones, a computer with Adobe audio and video editing software, an audio mixer, a camera, two lights, and a green screen. The Blasco branch also has a very in-depth Genealogy- Heritage Room with microfiche, yearbooks, and other historical books and documents meant specifically for genealogical research. Because genealogy is so important to the community, I wanted to introduce a program that could teach patrons to create archives of their own.

Bayfront photo of Erie County Public Library's Blasco Branch.
Erie County Public Library’s Blasco Branch. Retrieved from https://www.theatlantic.com/national/archive/2016/09/a-waterfront-library/498665/

Description of Community I wish to Engage

I wish to engage cross-generational patrons of Erie County to bring the community together doing an activity that will be fun for young and older generations.

Purpose and benefits

This program would benefit the community of Erie County in multiple ways. It is meant to be a multi-faceted program that can be easily adaptable to different themes. The major historical and cultural theme would bridge the generational gap present within the community. It would create a space where the younger and older members of the community could work together on a project. Generations could learn new technology alongside one another while learning about their family or cultural history. In this way, the program creates a learning opportunity for new technologies, as well as an opportunity to bring the community together and listen to stories. It has an added benefit of archiving histories and providing cultural resources for future generations to listen to in the genealogy department.

Goals and Objectives for Service

  • Promote diversity by engaging multi-generational residents of the community.
  • Incorporate Erie County’s love for genealogical research by documenting and creating cultural and community artifacts for Erie County.
  • Support digital literacy by teaching the community how to use audio and video recording hardware and software, as well as editing techniques.
  • Support critical thinking and interviewing skills by engaging the community in live interviews where members must listen and respond thoughtfully to others.
  • Create a sense of community identity by having stories be told, listened to, and played within the library or on the library’s website, mirroring traditional storytelling and oral history methods and marrying that with new technologies.
  • Create a service that ignites excitement and curiosity within the community and engages them on multiple levels both online and offline.
  • Help the community of Erie County continue to mold the library into a community center and space they want by involving residents in the program evaluation and conversation.

Action Brief Statement

I want to convince the residents and community of Erie County that by using the media center to interview members of the community they will create new cultural artifacts for Erie County and new skills which will support digital literacy and bring the community together because they are using new technologies to create living artifacts and record their own histories while getting to know members of the community.

Evidence and Resources to support Technology or Service:

Mission, Guidelines, and Policy related to Technology or Service:

The Erie County Public Library’s policies for its Idea Lab will need to be adhered to. Patrons will need a library card in good standing and a signed Idea Lab Agreement in order to use the media lab and new interviewing stations. Currently, policies are in place for the media lab to be reserved for up to two hours at a time and it must be scheduled. With the hopes of creating one more media station for multiple interviews, times could be booked simultaneously. The patrons will need to check in with a library staff member to help set up the interview room and staff will need to be available for help with tools.

Currently, the media lab is set up for personal projects only, but the community service I am proposing will include a day of open community interviewing in which those who wish to participate can do so in addition to solo interview projects. The community interviewing day will begin with an orientation of equipment use and signing of the Idea Lab Agreement and an agreement to allow the videos to be put on the library website. A staff member will need to oversee the service for the day to help users with tools and to facilitate interviews.

On a much larger scale, the service will adhere to the Erie County Public Library’s Mission to “build a culture of curiosity and creativity by connecting people to information and interactions that ignite ideas, excite passions, and inspire action to improve our collective quality of life” (ECPL, 2016). The service being offered will help the library reach its goals of connecting the community and engaging people in learning new skills and coming up with new ideas. Both the service and the interactions made with the community online and offline will help spark ideas and help the community refine the service to meet their needs and excite their curiosity.

Erie County Public Library’s Strategic Plan. Retrieved from https://erielibrary.org/about/strategic-plan/

Funding Considerations for this Technology or Service:

This service will require funding for one more audio recording station which would include a desk, computer, software, and two new microphones with stands and pop filters. Thankfully, the Blasco Branch Library has media editing computers in the makerspace, so once an interview is recorded, it can be edited in the makerspace and others can record new interviews. There will, however, be a need for a library SoundCloud or podcasting platform channel to post interviews that have been agreed to be posted and a staff member will need to run the channel. A staff member will also need to run the open community interviews.

The Public Library Association (2016) offered ideas for funding a digital media lab through budget add-on requests, putting aside funds from the budget, grants, or other sources, such as The Friends of the Library. It does recommend, however, that “Instead of a single funding source, look to blend a variety of ideas as mentioned along with those that may be unique to your location” (p. 16). Because the community is heavily involved in local history, grants or funding could be procured from benefactors or foundations, such as the Erie Community Foundation or the ECGRA Community Assets grant, wanting to help create cultural artifacts. A donation box could be set up on the days the service was being offered in the library or links to donation pages could be put in the podcasts descriptions on social media if the library was set to expand its media lab for community interviews.

Action Steps & Timeline: 

The staff training will serve as a prototyped interview to help bolster the marketing for the project. The service flow will depend on community engagement, staff training schedules, and volunteer sign-ups, however, a reasonable timeline might look something like the following:

Week 1: Order new equipment.

Week 2-3: Training staff on software and hardware: 3 sessions within two weeks. Begin marketing for volunteer positions in schools and through social media.

Week 4-5: Promotion and marketing of service, continuation of procuring and training volunteers.

After promotion, the open-themed interviews would happen once or twice a week for four weeks, depending on other programs that are happening. Ideally, the media lab would be open for community interviews all day and patrons could come and go as they please, however, that may not be feasible and the media lab could be open for four hours during the day for community interviews and podcast editing. The media lab is shared with those wanting to work on personal projects, so the schedule must be mindful of those patrons, as well. The podcasting and interview program would be ongoing, like other library services, and could have different themes throughout the year. It would be under continuous iteration and channeling feedback into program refinement.

Staffing Considerations for this Technology or Service

A librarian or senior staff member will need to oversee the open interview days, however, there are other considerations for finding people to assist the librarian in: working with the technology, signing people in, and performing short orientations.

Volunteers:

  • Offer experience for those enrolled in an MLIS, history, archival, media, or communications program. This program will meet multiple educational goals.
  • Ask for volunteers who wish to be involved in a heritage and culture documentation project.
  • Ask local media professionals, communications, or audio editors if they would like to be a part of the program.

Staff:

  • Ask if those who wish to be a part of new library programming want extra hours helping with the community interviews.
  • Interns or clerks working at the library can help with a special project that deals with programming, media, and cultural studies.

Day-of help:

During the program, there may be a need for people to help interview others if there are more interviewees than interviewers. Some ideas for extra interviewing help include:

  • A sign up sheet for interviewers or a call for volunteers to help with interviewing
  • Work with local schools or the local college news team to help them with interview and podcast skills
  • Try and invite some of the interviewees to interview others if a staff member who is helping with the interviews could show them the ropes

Interview Questions Help:

While library staff can help come up with interviewing questions to help facilitate the podcasts, it would be interesting to crowdsource through social media. As part of the marketing, ask community for interview question ideas and types of stories they’d like to hear about.

Training for this Technology or Service:

All library staff who are using the media center would need to be thoroughly trained on how to use the software and hardware. It would only need to be a short 3-hour training on how to properly set up and use the microphones and the editing software. Classes could be conducted by the librarian in charge of the media center and program. After the first hour in which staff learns to properly handle hardware and software, they could engage in an exploration project where they interview a volunteer and edit the interview to gain practice and confidence with the editing software. At the end of the training, they could share the prototyped mini-project with other staff. The training would need to be done two or three times to accommodate schedules and have different volunteers, preferably family members or friends of the staff who wish to participate. Additionally, the library could reach out to media specialists who could come in as guest speakers during training and answer questions. As the podcasting program would be ongoing, learning will consistently be done during the program.

To train volunteers, certain senior staff members or the librarian in charge could give a quick rundown of the software and hardware. This training would need to be done at the discretion of the librarian in charge of the project. Discretion would also need to be used to put certain volunteers to work in certain aspects of the program.

Promotion & Marketing for this Technology or Service:

The library would make use of all social media (Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, the library’s website, and Instagram) for promotion and marketing, as well as in-library flyers. The library could tag organizations who have helped with the program, as well. Casey (2011) posited that “The participatory library engages and queries its entire community and seeks to integrate them into the structure of change” (para. 8) which is what this service plans to do. As stated previously, interview questions and ideas could be crowd sourced through social media as a way to get the community involved and hyped about the program before it begins. The program is about the community and it means to engage them in every way. By filming or recording an interview and posting it on the library’s website, YouTube, or SoundCloud then disseminating it through social media could be an excellent way to promote the program, as well. A steady stream or clips of interviews shared through social media once the program begins could help get more people involved.

For those who do not have access to social media, the library could post flyers in all the branches. A station for watching or listening to interviews could also be presented in the library to show patrons what the program is all about. Canvassing or posting flyers in local shops, restaurants, museums, senior living communities, schools, and heritage centers could also help promote the program and get people of all ages involved.

Evaluation:

The program will need to be evaluated in iterations to make sure it is serving the community. Success would be measured by community engagement with the program and use of the media lab for podcasts and interviews. Social media interaction, likes, shares, and comments could be monitored to see how the community is reacting to the program. Google analytics data of the library website, SoundCloud, and YouTube channel could also be monitored. In addition to passive monitoring, surveys could be distributed in the library with regards to the program. Meetings with library staff would also need to be done to gather any insights staff members may have into how the program is working and focus groups could be conducted to help refine the program.

Moving forward, the service could include a mobile interviewing station with a field recorder that could potentially be shared among the different branches of the library. This would allow different communities to share their stories and help reach all communities within Erie County. The service could also be expanded to have different themed interview sessions surrounding different aspects of life in Erie County. As Mack (2013) proposed with the LA Library, the Erie County Public Library could ask the community for feedback on what types of interviews they’d like to participate in and how to make the program better suited to their needs. There could be a college life series, a maritime series, or a State Parks series where members of the community could come and help interview volunteers, students, park rangers, or artists within the community.

Conclusion:

This service will hopefully integrate the community at every step both on an organizational and individual level. By involving the community in the creation of the service, engaging them in interviews and creating artifacts, posting those podcasts online and archiving them in the library, and having discussions about the service online and in-person, the community will feel like they are a part of the library and are helping to mold it into a community space for everyone all the while learning new skills and about one-another.

Photo by Rogerio Cunha. Retrieved from FreeImages

References

Anythink Libraries. (2016, December 21). Get to know your neighbor. [Video File]. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rzLI-aqFzDQ

Baiocco, L. (2016, May). Labor of love: Opening up archival gems for community engagement. Computers in Libraries, 36(4). Retrieved from http://www.infotoday.com/cilmag/may16/Baiocco–Labor-of-Love–Opening-Up-Archival-Gems-for-Community-Engagement.shtml

Casey, M. (2011, October 20). Revisiting participatory service in trying times – a TTW guest post by Michael Casey. [Blog post] Retreived from https://tametheweb.com/2011/10/20/revisiting-participatory-service-in-trying-times-a-ttw-guest-post-by-michael-casey/

Erie County Public Library (ECPL). (2016). Strategic plan 2016-2020. Retrieved from https://erielibrary.org/about/strategic-plan/

Klinenberg, E. (2018). Palaces for the people: How social infrastructure can help fight inequality, polarization, and the decline of civic life. New York, NY: Crown.

Mack, C. (2013, February 17). Crowdsourced design: Why Los Angeles is asking the public to create the library of the future. Retrieved from https://www.good.is/articles/crowdsourced-design-why-los-angeles-is-asking-the-public-to-create-the-library-of-the-future

Public Library Association. (2016). Quick Reads for busy librarians: Building and operating a digital media lab. In K. Hughes (Ed.). Chicago, IL: Public Library Association. Retrieved from http://www.ala.org/pla/sites/ala.org.pla/files/content/pdfs/membersonly/pla_quickreads_03_medialab_digital_FINAL.pdf

Storycenter. (n.d.). The listening station- A new approach to capturing stories. Retrieved from https://www.storycenter.org/listening-station

2 comments
  1. This is so thorough and well thought out! I love the idea of a service for and by the community members. I also love the term ‘cultural artifact.’ It really makes the ultimate goal of the service sound less product-like and instead more intimate to the community.

    1. @elizabetholson Thank you! I was hoping to stray away from a product-type service and try and create something that would be interesting to future generations, as well! I also wanted the service to sort of echo the “storytelling around a fire” oral history type activities that people engaged in, but create something in the process with some new tech!

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