Podcasts, an Underutilized Tool for Archives?

By Megan Kerkhoff, SGA Assistant Communications Director

Podcasts have been on the rise for the past decade, gaining more downloads every day. They are short episodic audio shows that can cover various topics including, true crime, cooking, celebrities, entertainment, and lifestyle, just to name a few. Podcasts are surprisingly easy to create and consume, making them a great tool for promotion. There are several podcasts that utilize archives to tell history, but there are also podcasts produced by archivists to promote their institutions. How do they go about producing podcasts and can they be an attainable promotional tool for any institution?

Below meet Lolita Rowe, Community Outreach Archivist at Emory University’s Stuart A. Rose Manuscript, Archive, and Rare Book Library, where she gives some sage words of advice on starting a podcast and how it is beneficial to promote archival institutions. The Rose Library currently has three podcasts with multiple episodes already available for downloading, so we asked Lolita how and why she went about creating podcasts for the archives.


How and when did the idea for creating a podcast at your institution come about?

Podcasting as an outreach tool for archives has been on my mind for a while. When I started my position in 2018, I was asked what I wanted to do first. I proposed a podcast. A podcast can be consumed at any time the person who is listening can digest the information. An archives podcast could reach an audience of people who may have never set foot in one before but would be interested in the stories we have about the collections.

I didn’t know what it would look like, but I was inspired by LeVar Burton Reads Live show in Atlanta. Reading Rainbow was my childhood. It created awe, but curiosity and it inspired me to learn. I wanted to do the same for archives, to demystify them and introduce them to people who have never set foot in one, as well as people who may not know what materials the Rose has in its collection.

I knew that others outside of our profession have been doing podcasts, so instead of reinventing the wheel, I wanted to learn how the wheel turned. I went to a Podcast Convention PodX, now PodCon, and purchased a ticket that allowed me to learn from the different podcasters at the convention. I got to speak with the creators and talents behind popular shows like Welcome to Nightvale, Lore, and The History Chicks. When I told them the premise of my show, they were supportive and thought it was a great idea.

I had the idea, but I did not have the tech background until Poetry and Digital Humanities Librarian, Nick Twemlow, was hired. The idea for one podcast morphed into two shows. One that would answer the question, “What is an Archive?,” which became Rose Library Presents: Behind the Archive. The second show would be a conversation about a historical person, event, or place connected to Rose Library collections, which we turned into Rose Library Presents: Community Conversations.

How do you prepare to record a podcast? Any important tools to invest in? Is it nerve wracking?

Photograph provided by Lolita Rowe

To answer your last question first, it is nerve wracking when you first start. Then you have the first tech issue or a global pandemic that changes how you thought things would go, and you realize, you got this. Mistakes happen and can lead to a better show. I recorded episodes for both podcasts in February 2020, then the global pandemic gave us a chance to rework how we would move forward. We discovered a platform called Squadcast that allows people to connect anywhere they have access to the internet.  It also led to our colleague, Randy Gue, Assistant Director and Curator of Social and Political Movements, to use the framework and guidelines that Nick and I wrote, to create a third show in our suite of podcasts, Rose Library Presents: Atlanta Intersections. The shows were launched in October 2020 for Archives Month and we have continued to grow our audience ever since.

This delay led us to an amazing editor who could handle any issues we have with sound, since I have been recording in my home’s closet since episode two. Yes, we have Audacity, a free tool, but having an editor who understands how to fix sound levels or give us tips on the backend has been instrumental in our show. We also have Emory Center for Digital Scholarship Lab, who have been extremely helpful with guests who work on campus and can interview in their sound booth. But most of our interviews have happened in our guests’ homes.

The tech has been the most interesting component. The questions feel like a reference interview or an oral history interview. I have prepared questions that we loosely base the interview on, but the interview is about the guest.  I send out an email before the interview with a list of questions, I ask if there is a project or organization they want to highlight and tell them what to expect the day of the interview. The day of the interview we start when they are ready, and once we begin, we have a conversation more than an interview.

Do you think a podcast is attainable for any archival institution to implement? And do you have any tips for podcast beginners?

I think it can be. There is some cost associated with starting a podcast, but podcasts can be as inexpensive or expensive as you make it.  You just need good quality equipment and software. And good quality is not the most expensive microphone. You can use your phone, or your computer’s microphone. Yes, a real microphone is better, but you can start small and build up. Below are some other things to think about as well:

  • Quiet place to record (HVAC hum will also be audible)
  • Recording device (Cell phone, Zoom H4N Recorder, computer)
  • Microphone (Will need an omnidirectional microphone if recording with one mic and two people)
  • Computer for editing
  • Program for editing (Audacity or Audition)
  • For editing, we mostly use Audacity, which is free to download. There are great tutorials online, which are needed.

I think anyone can start a podcast if they have the support to do so. I planned how I wanted to record the shows, when I wanted to record, and my timeline and guest list were thrown out the window in March 2020. Be flexible and adjust to your circumstances. The most imperfect moments are the best.

Do you have any favorite archives and non-archives related podcasts to listen to?

Lore, LeVar Burton Reads, Smartless, The History Chicks, Welcome to Nightvale, Why Won’t You Date Me? with Nicole Byer, and I keep downloading more each day.

Interested in Rose Library’s Podcasts? See the links below!

Rose Library Presents https://rose.library.emory.edu/research-learning/rose-library-presents.html

Behind the Archives https://rose-btarch.transistor.fm/

Community Conversations https://rose-commcon.transistor.fm/

Atlanta Intersections https://rose-atlint.transistor.fm/


Thanks to Lolita Rowe for satisfying our curiosity and helping us to better understand how podcasts are made from the archives. Let’s continue to promote our archives in fun and innovative ways!

Let us know some of your favorite podcasts about or produced by archives in the comments!

Reach out to us at communications@soga.org.

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