A little over nine months ago, I attended a professional development webinar on podcasting. I was feeling, to put it frankly, down in the dumps. Part of my new job as an adult services librarian at the main branch of the Jefferson-Madison Regional Library (JMRL) system was to produce our podcast, “On The Same Page,” and I had a few problems. My original co-host, one of the women who had created the podcast back in 2017, had just left our library system, leaving me to flail as a one-woman show until her replacement was hired. The pandemic continued to rage. And suddenly, everything felt stagnant, including the podcast. I realized I didn’t know why we were even producing this podcast. What was the point? What did it matter? Was this podcast helping anyone? Was it filling any void, doing anything?
A few months later, EJ Dowling became our team’s newest adult services librarian, as well as my new co-host. She brought incredible energy, and a boatload of ideas, to our podcast. We didn’t want to be a one-trick pony, so we dipped our toes into lots of different segment ideas. We hosted scavenger hunts and contests through the podcast, and started thinking outside the library box in other ways too. We still offered book recommendations, library news and advertisements, and interviewed library staff, but we also came to our recording sessions with favorite recipes we wanted to share, personal stories, and interviewed members of our community. Our news wasn’t always “bookish.”
When we did keep things literary, we tried to push ourselves into new waters. We launched a podcast book club called “Overbooked,” and we’ve had way too much fun reading and discussing the historical fiction romance mystery, The Glass Ocean, by Lauren Willig, Beatriz Williams, and Karen White. We didn’t need a modus operandi (not yet anyway) – and we had fun mixing and matching new sounds, styles, and segments. We even tried video segments to share on our library’s YouTube page.
I told EJ we were on the right track. What I’d gleaned from the webinar was that podcasts were all about intimacy. Libraries have long been communicating with their local communities through printed newsletters, blogs, flyers, brochures, and handouts. More recently, libraries have been creating relationships with traditional media outlets, radio and TV, to spread the word about special events. Only with the advent of social media could librarians share audio-visual messaging with their communities, and the world at large, on their very own platform. Podcasts, I learned, are conversations that lie between the hosts and the listeners. The spoken word – filled with tone, pitch, inflection, volume, speed, and cadence – penetrates deeply in a way the written word can only hope to mimic. Successful podcasting is all about being real, authentic, and even vulnerable.
Producing our favorite episode, “I call it my salvation,” was both exciting and emotional. EJ and I traveled together to the Louisa County branch of our library system to record for our podcast “in the field” at the “bring your own craft” club. We had a few questions in mind related to the crafts we might see and figured the crafts would create great photo opportunities, but I was nervous that the crowd would likely be older and reticent. Having arranged this visit on short notice, we knew we were going to need to stay on our toes.
We were pleasantly surprised to find that all of the women wanted to be interviewed, and as we talked to each woman, the podcast fell away. We listened quietly as they told stories about finding new purpose in retirement by knitting clothing for those in need, and stories about being widowed and lonely, but then finding solace and deep friendship – story after story about how the weekly group changed lives. The women found much more than a warm, safe space to create.
They found fellowship that extended even beyond the library walls. While they all started out as strangers, they kept in touch diligently through the pandemic, and relied on one another through every hardship. While at the library program, we laughed abundantly, gave and received hugs, and even shed tears. We ended the day with a collection of testimonials on the power of a found family, achieved through the library.
I used to wonder if I was speaking into a void. After all, we spend about half our working hours each day on a public service desk, answering questions and helping people in real time – we’re accustomed to rather instantaneous feedback. With the podcast, we weren’t getting any engagement at all, and wondered if anyone was listening. When we finally cracked the code and figured out some of our quantitative statistics, we were shocked. Because we’ve been on the air for just over five years now, we’ve racked up over half a million total listens (535,194 and counting).
Other Virginia Public Library Podcasts
- Fairfax County Public Library
- Handley Regional Library
- Library Out Loud (on hiatus, but previous episodes available)
- York County Public Library
Check with your local library to see if they have one you can tune into!
Our most popular episode, which comes from season 4, has been listened to over 66,000 times (you can listen here). Each and every day, we add a few hundred listens to our running total. Turns out, we have a consistent following!
Our library podcast, “On The Same Page,” is a treasure trove of stories. Spanning six seasons and one hundred episodes (and counting), our podcast ultimately aims to support our library mission: fostering personal growth and lifelong learning by connecting people with ideas, information, and each other. The angst I felt last year is gone. Here at JMRL, we facilitate connections every single day, and the podcast is just another way to reach our patrons where they are and hopefully meet them at their point of need. No matter where you live or what library you frequent, in Virginia or beyond, our podcast is for you!
–Abby Davis, Adult and Reference Services Librarian, Jefferson-Madison Regional Library