The Podcast: first reflections

AKA reflecting on how my ‘thing’ became a thing.

The idea:

I was out for a run when the idea of setting up a podcast for and about librarians popped into my head. The podcast was inspired by hearing people’s career stories at the CILIP conference in July. I wanted to give those stories more space to breathe and I wanted to provide a platform for people to reflect on their experiences. I decided to focus on a different person each episode and chat to them in-depth about their background, career, CPD, frustrations, and achievements. Initially the whole idea of doing a podcast was just that. I treated it as an experiment I could conduct and, if it didn’t work out, could quietly forget.

The beginning:

I contacted a couple of people and asked them if they minded being guinea pigs. I recorded a small number of interviews (one in-person and a couple over Skype Audio), converted them to a suitable format for a podcast, uploaded them to Soundcloud and sent out a few Tweets. The first episode of the Librarians with Lives podcast was released on 3rd September.

The ‘thing’ becomes a thing:

In the last eight weeks the podcast has taken on a bit of a life of its own. LwL alumni now chat to each other online, offering each other advice and exchanging ideas (and Gifs. Mainly Gifs.) The podcast has been picked up by some of the great and good of the information profession [My favourite response to the podcast was from Charles Oppenheim on Twitter: “Not listened to any of these yet, but it looks like they would be interesting“] – @NLPN_ @CILIPInfo and a number of the CILIP Special Interest Groups have championed it.

I have interviewed people 5 minutes from my place of work (Helen, Juanita), and with a 5-hour time difference 3,500 miles away (Tracy.) So far the epicentre of the podcast seems to be Yorkshire (Clare, Mike, Andrew, Laura, Tom) although the North West of England is proving to be fertile ground for interviewees too (Michael, Helen, Amy.) I have interviewed several academic librarians but I have also spoken to people who have worked in a number of different sectors and a couple semi-escapees (although no-one ever really stops being an information professional.) I’m a mid-career information professional so the focus of the podcast has been on them but I’m making a conscious effort to connect with people at the start of their career as well as those nearing the end of their careers.

Learning points:

Organisation – many podcasts are recorded in a studio, have an editor and/or a promoter. Some are developed by production companies and have sponsorship. The LwL podcast was set up by me and me alone. I contact potential interviewees and liaise with them to work out suitable dates/times to record interviews. I work full-time and have a family so everything is scheduled around my other commitments. I record the interviews, edit them (not aggressively), upload them to Soundcloud, write show notes for the blog, promote the podcast on social media (Twitter and LinkedIn), answer questions about the episodes, and ensure that everything works effectively. It’s a very low-tech affair. The only thing I have paid for is an unlimited Soundcloud account. This is all on me. LwL is a wonderful project and I love the fact that it is absolutely mine, but it’s a lot of work. I’m quite precious about the podcast so I wouldn’t want to give the responsibility to anyone else but I have to be careful about the amount of time that the podcast takes. That’s the main reason for only releasing episodes during term-time.

Mishaps and criticisms – Episodes 3 and 4 didn’t record properly (sorry Clare, very sorry Mike). I didn’t give Helen (Episode 1) sight of the questions beforehand. It took Tracy (Episodes forthcoming) and I a month to complete our interview due to busy schedules and the time difference. I talk too much. I talk too fast. Recording over Skype means that sometimes I talk over the interviewee, and vice versa. I have to listen to each episode back at least once to write the show notes so I have to listen to my own voice A LOT. The episodes are longer than I originally intended. The podcast isn’t accessible to those with hearing disabilities. I have resolved all of the technical issues now and the recordings sound pretty good. I send pre-interview information to interviewees so they know what to expect. I’ve got better at being clear about when I can do podcast-related activities and when I can’t (or won’t.) I’m learning that I don’t need to talk to fill a silence and that it’s not about my opinion. I’m not going to apologise for the length of the interviews. When they’re clearly going to go on for more than 75 minutes I stop recording and so a Part 2 (Laura) and sometimes a Part 3 (Tracy). I stated that I wanted to give participants space to reflect, so I don’t want to hurry them through the process in 30-40 minutes. As a one-person podcaster I can’t solve the accessibility issue very easily. The best solution would be to produce transcripts, which I don’t have time to do.

People skills – all of my interviewees have given up their time for me, so it’s my responsibility to treat them with respect. I have become more attuned to when an interviewee wants to talk more about a topic and when they would rather move on and talk about something else. I have learned ‘on the job’ how to handle sensitive issues. I’m incredibly grateful to everyone that has agreed to be interviewed for the podcast. They have all been very open and honest, and I’m so glad that I’ve been able to create a comfortable environment for them.

Bravery: some participants have been approached by me, others have volunteered themselves, and others have been volunteered (Michelle acts as my unofficial guest booker.) It is much easier to ask someone over Twitter than to approach them in person, although I think I’d be comfortable doing the latter now, too. I have had to overcome some of my own insecurities to get the podcast off the ground. Originally I wanted to be the anonymous voice of the interviewer – you’ll notice that I don’t refer to myself by name when I introduce the episodes – but that hasn’t quite worked as I’m very much linked to Librarians with Lives as a ‘brand’. I have resurrected the old @libswithlives Twitter account so there is some separation between the podcast, the blog and my thoughts on Strictly, Bake-off, current affairs, nail varnish, etc.

What’s next?

I have now released seven episodes, recorded a further nine episodes, plus a side-special on librarians who run, and have a number of interviews lined up (all of them are really exciting but one in particular is really nerve-wracking for me.) The podcast will run well into 2018 and people are now contacting me and asking if they would be suitable for interview. This is absolutely not what I expected when I set the podcast up. It’s wonderful.

So that I can better understand the interview process, Helen Berry is going to interview me for the podcast in a couple of weeks. I want to see what it’s like from the other side and hope people find me as interesting as I have found them.

At some stage I’m going to reflect on some of the commonalities of experience across the episodes, collate all of the answers to the ‘What would you change if I put you in charge of the library universe for one day and could change one thing’ question, and put together a world map of dream library locations and a diagram of dream colleagues.

I know it isn’t the done thing to be too self-congratulatory but I’m ridiculously proud of the Librarians with Lives podcast. It is evolving constantly and I’m always looking to improve it (I’m a very self-critical person so if you’ve thought of something you don’t like about it, I will have already beaten myself up about that very thing at 3am for several nights running) but I’m overwhelmed by the reaction that the podcast has had and I’m grateful to everyone that has listened, liked and Tweeted about it.

Episode 8 starring Michael Cook will be released on Tuesday 31st October.

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