LISten vs. ALA Step-by-Step Guide to Podcasting

I noticed this morning in the Twitter stream a series of posts from ALA Mid-Winter relative to a document giving a step-by-step guide to podcasting. Initially assuming it was only available in printed form I inquired if I could snag a copy somehow. Surprisingly it was accessible online. The document is entitled "A Step-by-Step Guide to Creating a Podcast".

I looked at the document and was amazed. LISten's audio engineer was not amused. In his view it was a recipe for a bad outcome. Why was this? It was anticipated in the document's structure that serendipity would take its course and any problems could be fixed in post-production.

Is putting LISten together as simple as what is propounded? No, not really. As I have been reminded, the show is not a one-man operation. Granted we do not have the equipment that Leo Laporte uses for TWiT.TV but we do have some equipment. The microphone we use is an MXL-990 with a homemade pop filter and that runs through a Tascam 208 mixer with an in-line phantom power unit. Sound effects and production pieces are pre-recorded and fed into the mixer using the stereo output of a Personal Digital Assistant.

I wish I could say we edit in post-production. We do not. On average we are recording roughly three to five takes that are normally complete run-throughs. The only time we pieced together clips was for the New Year's Eve special when the script was fairly long. For the fifth episode we almost got it in one take except for me flubbing something way too close to the end.

Editing in post-production creates problems. While recording straight to MP3 could be convenient in getting a podcast out it makes it maddening to try to edit. MP3 is not a means of perfect sound reproduction as it is a lossy compressor. The compressor is based on the notion that editing out the various parts of the audio spectrum that are not essential for human hearing will cut file size and nothing will be lost. This makes it more profound hearing differences between analog and digital matters.

Sound quality is important. Proper microphone use is essential to getting good sound. The production team encountered this Saturday night in Summerlin at a Guitar Society of Las Vegas production. Although I could hear one student perfectly well that was only because I was very close to "front of house" so that I could hear directly. LISten's audio engineer was in the back of the performance area and could barely hear the guitar student's vocals as the guitar student kept pushing the microphone away.

The means of recording is an interesting question. Should one record straight to MP3? No, not necessarily. We record first to wave files before we then compress down. A wave file has a higher quality than an MP3 file. This is much akin to tax levies. It is easy to go down to a lower millage if it is no longer necessary. It is difficult to go up if the millage was not sufficient.

What should a library be looking for in podcasting? There are some questions that should be answered before rushing into such. Questions include:

1. Why do I want to podcast?
2. Who does this serve?
3. Is this the best way to serve those concerned?
4. How much time can be devoted to this?
5. How long should this run for?
6. Will this take away from any other priorities?
7. How will I assess the impact of this?

Prior to suggesting to Blake the trial season of LISten these were all questions I considered. There have been some metrics we have been observing throughout the trial season. With the feed-back seeking post by Blake qualitative data is being sought for this assessment. The review survey is essential as it helps us gauge the demographic being served so that we can tailor content better. One impact that survey may have, for example, is that if the show is listened to primarily by systems librarians then more hi-tech content could be included.

So, what could change? What could be done to improve? An initial thing that started earlier today is that proposals for workshops in the summer are being put together. Near or around week's end we may get those in the mail with demo discs to certain institutions that teach in library science. Other ideas of a more general nature are also being discussed but I will hold off on mentioning that here.

The audio engineer is a wee bit concerned. He has been very concerned after listening to an episode of District Dispatch from the ALA Washington Office. We actually sat down to listen to that since that was the model used in making the guide RUSA has posted. We put the volume level to maximum on my computer as we listened. At roughly halfway through I was the one that hit stop as I had trouble hearing it and what fragments I heard in a very quiet room was not making much sense. Once I shut the playback off we then discussed what we would have done differently and how we would have done it.

And that's what resulted in this blog post. Thank you for listening to the show during this trial season. If the numbers I have seen are accurate it looks like we have at least three hundred listeners to the show. That you choose to tune in to the show each week is a great thing.

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