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BONUS: The Games in Libraries Podcast

December 6, 2010

I’ve got about an hour before this project is due, so I thought I’d throw in a quick bonus post about my personal favourite library podcast, the Games in Libraries Podcast. I’m something of a board game geek, so finding a podcast that combines my hobby with my future profession was pretty great. The Games in Libraries Podcast is supported by The Games and Gaming Members Initiative Group of the ALA and The Library Game Lab of Syracuse, takes on more of a “variety show” format than the other podcasts I’ve mentioned so far.

Accessibility

Since this podcast isn’t associated with a particular library, how easy it is to access is a little more difficult to gauge, as there’s no particular library front page to start from. Googling “games in libraries” will show you the page in the first couple of hits, however, so if you’re interested in the topic, it’s pretty easy to find. The podcast page is laid out in blog style, with RSS and iTunes links in the upper right corner. It’s nothing fancy, but it’s effective.

Content

The Games in Libraries Podcast consists of multiple segments from different librarians around North America. Any members of the ALA Games and Gaming Members Initiative Group (which is free to join) are welcomed to contribute. A typical show consists of news about upcoming events, game reviews, discussions and reports on how individual libraries are using gaming to further their missions. It’s all put together in an entertaining and informal package, and it’s clear that the folks putting it together are enjoying themselves.

Conclusion

I’m more than a bit biased here because of the subject matter, but I think this podcast is a great example of a different approach to library podcasting, focusing more on specific topics. This podcast is aimed more directly at library professionals than at library patrons, but there is definitely something here for library users who want to see more gaming happening at their local library.

Rating:

Four out of five little microphones.

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Pritzker Military Library

December 6, 2010

After exploring the wonderful breadth of content avasilable at the Seattle Public Library, now we’re going to take a look at something far more focused; a library with laser-guided accuracy, if you will. The Pritzker Military Library is located in Chicago, Illinois and is home to “an accessible collection of materials and develop appropriate programs focusing on the Citizen Soldier in the preservation of democracy.”

Accessibility

The PML website is by far the best-designed of any of the sites I’ve looked at so far in this project. I might even go so far as to say that it’s a joy to use, if that didn’t make me sound too much like a UX geek. (Aaaw, who am I kidding? I am a UX geek, and this site’s design makes me happy.) Prominently displayed on the front page is a link to the Pritzker Podcasts page.

Here we have a nice little widget for streaming all of their previous episodes, separate feeds for each of the podcasts they produce, and a master feed. Everything as it should be. One great little detail is that the one feed that is no longer being updated is clearly labelled as such, so you won’t be left wondering why you don’t get any updates if you subscribe to it. None of the other podcast pages I’ve looked at had something similar, and it leads me to believe that whoever designed this page really “gets” podcasting as a medium. In addition, there is a section outlining how to subscribe to a podcast in iTunes, as well as listing a few other options for podcast clients.

Content

Military History and Literature may or may not be your bag, but if it is, then podcast makes a fantastic audio resource. There are three sections to the podcast:

  • the Authors Feed, which consists of interviews with authors of military history and fiction;
  • the Medal of Honor series, which features Congressional Medal of Honor recipients telling their stories; and
  • Front and Center, a public affairs program that unfortunately is not longer running.

Each episode is recorded in front of a live studio audience, and in this case, I really mean studio. Not only is each episode available as an mp3 download, but each is also filmed and available to watch in streaming video. I think these guys must have some funding, because this is professional quality video and audio here, folks. The content is in-depth, as it should be with the specific focus of a Special Library such as Pritzker.

Conclusion

I’m not much of a military buff, but I can still appreciate quality when I see it. My hat goes off to these folks for showing us an example of what is possible using podcasting technology. The expensive audio and video equipment may be beyond the budget of most public (and academic!) libraries, but there is still a lot to learn here, and equipment prices are dropping every day.

You may have noticed I’ve been handing out a lot of high ratings so far in this blog. There are plenty of examples of poor use of podcasting in libraries, but they mostly consist of broken or unmaintained feeds, and aren’t all that interesting to talk about. Perhaps if I continue this project a little further, I’ll find some interestingly poor examples of library podcasting to show you, but for now, I’ll try to stick with the good stuff.

Rating:

Five out of five little microphones.

Seattle Public Library

December 6, 2010

Apparently, Voldemort can’t stop the rock. How do I know this? Because of the Seattle Public Library’s podcast, specifically, their teen-focused podcast. You see, not only do the SPL podcasts have things like author interviews and such, they also have live concert recordings by such luminaries as Harry and the Potters.

Accessibility

From the website’s front page, getting to the podcast section is not entirely obvious. What you need to do is click on the “Library Collection” tab at the top of the screen. While I agree that podcasts are definitely part of a library’s digital collection, it’s probably not the most obvious first place for people to look. Once on the Library Collection screen, you can see the “Podcasts” tab in a new row below the first row of tabs. This will take you to a screen where you can access all of the SPL’s podcast offerings. Interestingly, there’s another way to get at the teen podcast: by heading to the “Audiences” tab, you can click on “Teens” and find a link to it there. Why there’s not something similar for the main podcast in the “Adults” section, I’m not quite sure.

The podcast feed situation with the SPL is a bit of a mixed bag. There’s no master feed, but there is a little bit of overlap between the main feed and the teens feed, where appropriate. There are also a couple of anomalies listed in the “podcasts” section. There’s a “Central Library Tour Podcast”, consisting of two files: a video “virtual tour” and an audio tour. It also has a feed associated with it, though for only two files, I’m not sure what the point of that is. The other unusual bit is the “Audio for Library Professionals” section, which consists of several recordings from the 2007 Metropolitan Libraries Section conference, which was held in Seattle. In this case there is no related feed, so that’s a bit of an inconsistency.

Content

The content side of things is where the SPL’s offerings really shine. We have author readings and interviews, lectures, music and poetry performances, casual book discussions, interviews with local community figures, book reviews and recommendations, and a series created by the Teen Center Advisors, “a volunteer advisory group of high school students ages 14 – 18”. Phew! That’s a lot of content, and it’s all consistently well-produced. There really is way too much to go into in this amount of space, but it’s especially encouraging to see just how involved teens are in producing so much of this material.

Conclusion

Despite some inconsistencies in terms of accessibility, I’m giving the Seattle Public Library full marks because of the sheer variety and quality of the programs they have on offer. They have managed to get a significant amount of community involvement in order to pull this off, and it’s great that such a vibrant collection of podcasts is available.

Rating:

Five out of five little shiny blue microphone icons.

Western Kentucky University Library

December 6, 2010

Now it’s time to take a look at an academic library for a change. The Western Kentucky University Library has a large collection of podcast episodes, and as would be expected in an academic setting, the emphasis is less on author interviews and more on lecture recordings. Still, these aren’t just classroom recordings; there’s a wide variety of interesting general-interest topics covered.

Accessibility

When you first arrive at the WKU Library website, you’ll notice something quite interesting right at the bottom of the screen–a row of colourful icons that cover pretty much the whole spectrum of Web 2.0 services:

  • a blog,
  • Facebook,
  • a podcast,
  • YouTube,
  • Twitter,
  • flickr, and
  • a mobile site.

Not too shabby at all. What’s especially nice it that these icons are available at the bottom of every page, so access is never a problem.

On the podcast page, we see a huge variety of podcast episodes available for individual download, all organized by topic in a simple table. I’ll talk about what topics are available in the next section, but for now I want to point out one thing. Joy of joys! There’s a master feed for everything, and a separate feed for each topic! Now that’s the right way to do things, especially if you’re anal about such things (as I’m sure you’ve noticed I am, if you’ve read this blog so far). One other thing to note is that nearly every recording has a flickr photo set associated with it, documenting the event. It’s not really the focus of my project here, but it’s a nice little Web 2.0-ish detail.

Content

What we have to listen to on the WKU library podcast is a wealth of talks and lectures, recorded live, going all the way back to 2006. They are focused on different topics, such as “Black History Month”, “Faraway Places…with Strange Sounding Names” and “Kentucky Live! Southern Culture at Its Best”. With a couple of exceptions, they are all recorded live, with next to no editing of any kind. In fact, in one case, the recording continues after the lecture is over, and we get to listen in as the techies chat and rip duct tape off of various pieces of equipment. Kind of entertaining, but probably unintentionally so.

While we have a huge amount of fascinating content to listen to, both local to Kentucky and concerning all parts of the world, it’s too bad that a little more work couldn’t have been done to clean up the audio. Even a little standardized intro unique to each series would go a long way to help you figure out what you’re listening to when a new episode shows up on your iPod.

Conclusion

I think I’ve made my point about the lack of production quality, although the actual sound quality is pretty decent for a live recording setup. Other than that, there’s nothing really that I can complain about. Tracking down the podcasts on the site is simple, and there’s every type of podcast feed you could want, whether you want to drink from the master fire hose, or just subscribe to the particular topics you want to follow. In terms of making its audio recordings available to the public, WKU Library does an outstanding job.

Rating:

Four out of five little shiny blue microphones.

Hopkinton High School & Hopkinton Middle School Library

December 5, 2010

Discovering how the Hopkinton Middle and High School Library uses podcasting to serve its students has been one of the biggest pleasures I’ve had working on this project so far. Located in New Hampshire, the Library hosts an annual series of booktalks of the Isinglass Teen Read Award nominees.

This Award started in Barrington, NH in 2001 and has since grown to include nominations from 7th and 8th graders from across the whole state. The schools in this area have been very successful at getting kids involved in reading, and they’ve used podcasting very effectively to further this aim.

Accessibility

If you head over to the Hopkinton High School & Hopkinton Middle School Library web page, you’ll find something very utilitarian. Just black text on a white background, a little bit of clip-art, and a couple of widgets (flickr and LibraryThing). There’s a link to the Isinglass Booktalks page on the left, as well as a direct link to the podcast feed in the RSS Feeds section at the bottom.

Once at the Booktalks page, we see a simple list of the podcast episodes published so far this year, with direct links to the mp3s for each talk and both an iTunes subscription link and a link to the RSS feed. In addition, the bottom of the page has simple directions for adding the feed to iTunes manually, so even young users shouldn’t have too much trouble getting things set up correctly.

I only have one complaint about the site. The audio files for the 2007/2008 series and earlier are hosted on a different server, and that server seems to be down at the moment. I don’t know if this is just a temporary problem or if it’s been down for quite a while, but it was my biggest disappointment while exploring the site, mostly because the booktalks are so enjoyable! You may notice that the booktalks page is broken up into years, similar to the way the National Book Festival pages were on the Library of Congress site I talked about in the last post. There’s one key difference, however. There is only a single feed, and it always points to the current year’s offerings. This means I may need to go back and download old archived files by hand, but I can be assured that once I’ve subscribed, I’ll always get new podcast episodes as soon as they are published.

Content

Now we get to the fun part. Each booktalk is about five minutes long, and absolutely entertaining. We get a little bit of Seinfeld-esque music to start us off, and then librarian Donna Zecha gives us an introduction, explaining a little bit about the award, and then hands it over to library assistant Janet Moore, who provides an energetic overview of the latest book. You really should just listen to it yourself. It’s only a few minutes long, and well worth your time.

Conclusion

Despite the mystery of the missing archives, I can still wholeheartedly recommend the Isinglass Teen Read Award Booktalks, both for their ease-of-access and their production values. School librarians could do far worse than to look at this as an example of how to get kids more involved with reading.

Rating:

Five out of five little microphones.

The Library of Congress

December 5, 2010

OK. Now we’re hitting the big time. The Library of Congress, one of the most prestigious libraries in the world, is involved in the podcasting game. How well do they stack up against little old Fairfax County Public Library? Why don’t we take a look?

Accessibility

I found out about the LoC’s podcasts using an old-fashioned Google search for “library podcasts”. Their podcast page looks great, but it has a few issues which we’ll see shortly. Now, what if we wanted to find the podcasts from the front page? The Webcasts from the Library link looks promising, but actually, that’s something different. There’s a lot of great video here, but it’s nearly all in RealPlayer format (gak!) and not available for subscription. Remember from my first post that having a feed that you can subscribe to is one of the two key features that are required for the definition of podcasting that I’m using here. Fortunately, there’s a little link at the bottom of the main page that says Podcasts. Jackpot!

Remember what I said in the last post about splitting up podcastable resources into multiple separate feeds? Well, the Library of Congress is a major offender here, and I’ll try to show you why it bugs me so much. We see five lovely looking “Featured Series” boxes, each with its own “subscribe” button:

These look like some fascinating topics, but what happens when they start up a new Featured Series? My only option is to keep coming back to this page, or subscribe to one of their many RSS feeds and hope that something is mentioned there. This undermines my favourite thing about podcasts, which is being able to “set it and forget it” and rely on fresh content showing for me. The weirdest one is for the National Book Festival, as that link is only for the 2010 festival. If you want to hear recordings from previous festivals, you can see them listed on the left side of the screen, and they each have their own feed. If I want to follow along with the National Book Festival, I’m going to have to re-subscribe to a new feed every year.

Content

OK. Enough complaining about how we access the content. There’s got to be lots of quality stuff there, right? Well, actually, the quality varies quite a bit. I’m not going to review all eight feeds that you can subscribe to, but they range from absolutely excellent audio quality (Exquisite Corpse and Digital Preservation) to actually rather atrocious (this year’s Book Festival recordings). The Book Festival is particularly puzzling, since the 2008 feed contains excellent quality audio with intro/outro music and upcoming events, while the 2010 feed sounds like it could have been recorded off the radio. All in all, it’s a mixed bag. The interviews themselves are uniformly excellent from what I’ve listened to, but it’s disappointing that they didn’t do a little more work on the overall production.

Conclusion

I was surprised to find that the Library of Congress didn’t pass with flying colours like I was expecting. Like I said, there’s good stuff there, but it’s marred by what seems like a basic misunderstanding of the point of subscribing to podcast feeds, as well as some unfortunate production quality issues. I’d recommend younger readers (and the young at heart) check out the Exquisite Corpse podcast though, as it contains original writing and artwork by some great names in the realm of children’s literature.

Rating:

Three out of five little microphones.

Fairfax County Library

December 5, 2010

I’ve never been to Virginia, let alone Fairfax County, but if the quality of their podcasting is any indication, they have a pretty great public library. I found out about this one through LibrarySpot.com‘s Podcasts page, and I’m glad I did.

Accessibility

LibrarySpot provides a link straight to the podcast feed for your subscribing enjoyment, but how easy is it to find the podasts from the library’s home page? That depends, actually. Fairfax County Public Library (how about I call it FCPL from now on, OK?) actually has three different podcast categories: BookCast, BookTalks for Kids, and BookTalks for Teens. I’ll get into what these sections cover in in the next section. Getting to the BookCast page was simple: just click on the “Reading” link on the left hand side of the page, and a link to the BookCast page was right there.

What about the BookTalks pages? Well, unfortunately, those were much more difficult to track down and in fact, the only place I could find them was in the “Site Index” page under “Podcasts”. There are even perfect spots for the links on the Kids and Teens Booklists pages, so my guess is that they were there at one point and got removed during some web maintenance. Fortunately, the feed itself contains all of the audio content from all three sections, so you only need to subscribe in one place to get everything. As we’ll see in some future postings, some sites split up their content into multiple feeds, including special feeds for time-sensitive events, such as a particular year’s book festival. This, to me, misses a huge point of podcasting, which is that once you set up your subscription, you don’t need to keep coming back to see if anything new has showed up. While it would have been even better for FCPL to have three separate feeds in addition to the master feed. The fact that they provide an all-in-one subscription gets a big thumbs-up from me.

Content

So, what are these here shows about? Well, the BookCast is essentially an author interview series, where authors are interviewed by Sam Clay, the FCPL Director. They’re nice bite-sized interviews, in the 15-20 minute range, with everything you’d expect from a reasonably well put-together podcast, including a music intro and a fairly high recording quality. I haven’t listened to them all, but there seems to be a good combination of both local Virginian authors, and those from further abroad.

The BookTalks series are 1-2 minute book summaries that provide a reader’s advisory service for the younger patrons of FCPL. This seems like a common topic for public library podcasts, and FCPL does it well. Again, we have high-quality audio, and a little intro music. It’s amazing what little touches like that do to improve your listening enjoyment.

In addition, the feed has a few other little goodies, including a recording of a Sirius/XM Radio interview with some library staff, and a recording of the 1967 opening ceremony of the Woodrow Wilson Library.

Conclusion

The Fairfax County Public Library does a great job of using podcasts to further its mission to serve its community. They have been podcasting since 2006, and they have produced an average of 3 podcasts per month consistently since 2008, which is a great thing to see. In my searches, I’ve found a number of libraries that have started off strong, and petered out in the last year or two. Aside from the few accessibility issues I noted, there’s not much else to complain about. That’s it for now. Next up, we’ll see how the big boys do it, when we look at the Library of Congress.

Rating:

Four out of five little microphones.