Some civil servants are just like my loved ones

“Don’t worry about the government.” (Talking Heads ’77)

To inaugurate this blog, I thought I’d get started by talking about some public library podcasting initiatives. No sooner had I opened up the “Podcasts” page of Librarysuccess.org than I noticed that the Manchester, CT public library, ten minutes from my childhood home, had (to my admitted surprise) joined the 21st century with a teen services podcast. I clicked onward.

Now, a word or two about Manchester seems appropriate here. It’s a relatively sprawling suburb, home to one of the larger shopping centers in eastern Connecticut at one end, and a beautifully-preserved quaint New England main street facade at another. Perhaps because it’s been so selectively developed, it’s also one of relatively few Connecticut towns that have been able to avoid outright white flight without turning into a commuters’ slum. Everyone who lives near Manchester drives through part of the town at least daily, yet nobody seems to know quite how to get from the mall to the Salvation Army without getting on the highway. The locals, meanwhile, have a notably less-developed vocabulary of Ivy League schools than most of their neighbors, but seem to enjoy quite pleasant lives all the same.

All of this sociological profile is to say that it’s a very ordinary American town in a part of the country which is often thought to be quite short on normalcy. As such, it’s home to a great many teens who could benefit a great deal from a good public library. The podcast, however, is — to put it mildly — all over the place. It’s available via both FeedBurner (an RSS standard, distributed in .mp3) and iTunes, which shows professionalism and versatility; while this isn’t so much laudable as it would be an unacceptable omission, so far so good.

From here, things get questionable. An average descriptor tag reads:

“ed babbles a bit about the Summer Reading Program here at MPL the home of summer reading – booshanka!!/”

The recordings themselves seem to be very much in the “by kids, for kids” vein. They range in length from less than a minute to upwards of 10 for the most recent, recorded in January of 2007 and apparently abandoned since. Each is read by a different library patron, which is a nice step toward community involvement, irrespective of whether a given reader speaks clearly enough to be heard. Although there seems to be some basic noise canceling at work, these clips are only nominally “produced” — they sound, in other words, exactly like public television.

Should this be counted as a failure of a well-meaning, no doubt underfunded public library? There definitely seems to be more wrong here than right, not least of which being the nearly three-year absence of any new content, scarcely a year after the podcast began. Ignoring that, there seems to be a gaping absence of a librarian’s guiding hand. I’m not asking for much, but any cataloging or production values are really nonexistent. The idea of kids walking into a recording studio, talking for a couple of minutes, then uploading and tagging their own content notwithstanding, this raises some questions about what a librarian’s role might be in this context. Autonomy for teens is a good thing, but the audience here definitely skews younger, such that I’m wondering how many actually managed to tune in. The teen services website, while by no means easy on the eyes, is at least partially up-to-date, making that “podcast” link stand out all the more.

Three years ago, this probably seemed like a proactive item on a checklist. Now, it’s clear that it really didn’t work. Hopefully, things will improve from here!

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