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.

Submit a blog post here.

To be an archivist: Deborah Davis

Our third post in the series “What does it mean to be an archivist at your repository?” is by Deborah Davis, the Director of Valdosta State University’s Archives and Special Collections.  Along with providing insights into what means to be the archivist at VSU’s archives, this post also highlights what it means to be an archival manager.

What does it mean to be an (the) archivist at Valdosta State University?
The VSU Archives is a mid-sized archives with 1 full time equivalent (fte) archivist, 2 fte staff members, 1 ½ time graduate assistant and 1.5 fte student workers.  One staff member and 35 hours of student labor are devoted to our digitizing and digital preservation program, including the website and social media.  These workers do 2/3 of the scanning for reference questions as well.  One staff member, the graduate assistant and 20 student assistant hours are devoted to paper processing and preservation and reference questions.  They handle processing on our Archon system. 
Well, a good question about now is what does the archivist do?  I’m a bit of a gadfly moving into all those areas.  I handle all teaching, about 50 classes per year including research, volunteer orientations, and work project design and teaching.  I handle all planning and design of our outreach programs, from sitting on inauguration committees and working across campus to commemorate 50 years of integration to designing exhibits and soliciting artwork for our 6 library art galleries. I design all exhibits, with assistance in mounting them.  I handle all administration, from writing annual reports to designing our assessment program to hiring and evaluating all staff and students. I supervise staff and students and assign and prioritize their duties.  I answer reference questions as needed, a few a week.  I work with the digitizing arm of our archives to set priorities, assign tasks, and evaluate results.  I occasionally process, mainly adding to collections when I come across something that needs doing, usually in the course of a reference question.  I handle all acquisitions, from negotiations to the move to setting processing priorities.  I purchase items for our Special Collections (Georgia Collection) and our rare book collection.  I write grants and handle our endowment spending.  I handle press outreach for our archives and our exhibits.
As a faculty member (I’m a full professor), I sit on and chair library and university committees.  Part of a faculty member’s duties are service and research.  I’ve just returned from teaching a week-long workshop to the archival community in Belize, and I work with the Consortium for Belize Educational Cooperation as their treasurer, archivist, and web master (with assistance from my staff) and have been helping to design and solicit classes in library training for that country.  I’ve worked for 15 years with a group that presents field trips for Georgia 7th graders on Asia and Africa.  We have several African art collections that we use with approximately 2000 students a year in this program.  For research, I’ve written a book and several articles, made over 50 presentations at state, regional, and national conferences, and I serve as the archivist for the Georgia Library Association.   I also teach the semester-long Archival Theory and Issues class for the VSU MLIS program every two years.

If I had to sum up my role as the archivist, I would say my work is to serve as the public face and advocate of the VSU archives.  Whether I am that face in front of a class or in another country, I’m always representing the needs of my archives.  My job is varied and in a lot of cases not the traditional processing/description role of an archivist.  In fact, my staff is better at those traditional tasks now than I am—even though I initially trained them.   But I love my job and love its diverse roles.  It’s never boring.  My favorite part is mentoring the staff and students I meet who want to be part of this profession.  Right now both my staff and my graduate assistant are in the MLIS program, specializing in Archives, and several of my student workers want to join them.  Students from my MLIS class have gone on to get jobs at UGA, the State Archives and other archives around the state.  I think that’s my biggest accomplishment and my biggest contribution to the profession.      
Thank you to Deborah for sharing what it means to be an archivist at Valdosta State University Archives and Special Collections!  Want to share what your own experience is like working as an archivist?  Submit your “What it means to be an archivist at my repository?” post to us at outreach [at] soga [dot] org.

To be an archivist: Rosemary Fischer

Our second post in the series “What does it mean to be an archivist at your repository?” is by Rosemary Fischer, the University Archivist at Clayton State University.

I was the founding archivist hired at Clayton State in December 2014.  The Archivist position was established by combining a ¼ time professional librarian position and a staff position. The school was 33 years old and had no archives.  I was shown to my work space.  It was a classroom-sized space with windowed walls that did not go to the ceiling.  Our windows looked out on the library and the microfilm readers faced our windows.  Following a minor renovation, this space had formally been the library’s circulation department.  There was a desk with three legs held upright by a stack of books.  The phone hung from the ceiling.  There were two doors to the room.  There was no shelving and only a couple of document boxes, each with one photo in them.  There was one room for the archivist, the collections, the work space, the interns, and the researchers.
At the same time that Clayton was establishing their school archives, the National and Georgia Archives were moving to the edge of Clayton’s campus.  A lot was written and said about the Georgia and National Archives and only a small amount about Clayton’s archives.  It was a challenge to promote the school’s archives.  Whenever you talked about the Archives, people would assume you meant the National or Georgia Archives. 
The Clayton State University Archives has collections.  We have about 2000 cubic feet.  This is a small archives but it is a start and we are now adding to our collections weekly.   I don’t have to split my time 50/50 as a librarian and I was given a very small budget to cover the cost of archival supplies and equipment for the archives.
Being my first job out of graduate school, I was a bit nervous about being responsible for establishing an archives.  I didn’t know anything about Clayton State’s history and no one knew me or about the school’s new archives.  I realized that it wasn’t archival skills I needed but promotional skills.  I had to learn to be a librarian and share my time 50/50 with the library.  I had to manage my work without a budget.
The Director of the Library  gave me the task of walking around campus introducing myself and telling folks about the school’s archives.  I created a brochure and proceeded to “spread the word”   and encourage faculty and staff to donate items to the archives and to help us preserve the history of Clayton State.  I got a break when the on-campus publications started doing articles about our new archives and included my photo.  Some of these articles were picked up by local newspapers.   In a few months, I had been in the papers about a dozen times.  But I was still getting the same response from folks on campus, “I didn’t know Clayton had an archives!”  I am still getting that response today after 10 years. 
My main focus is still “promotion.”  I handle that in many ways.  I am invited by some professors to speak to classes about archives and how to use them for research.  I am engaged in community outreach programs to promote our collections and encourage graduates to donate to the archives.  I have an active internship/volunteer program.  I accept students from any school and any major.  (I have been known to convert some majors to history or liberal studies so they could continue working with archives.)  My outreach is extended to helping churches, schools, and other organizations start their archives. 
When I am given the opportunity to work with a department of the university, I jump at that chance.  I put everything else aside to work with that department to build a mutual and beneficial working relationship.  I will publicize the progress of our work together as an example for other departments and individuals to follow. 
Currently, our library space is in the midst of renovation.  The majority of our collections are stored off-site.  Later this summer or fall, we will move into our new space.  The Archives will have a large workspace, an exhibit hall, a research room, and a separate room for the collections.  I will open the exhibit space to anyone on campus wanting to share an exhibit – faculty, student groups, and departments. 
Perhaps with a more visible university archives, I will be able to build and process collections, which is why I became an archivist.   But for now, I work with what I have.
Thank you to Rosemary for sharing what it means to be an archivist at Clayton State University Archives!  Want to share what your own experience is like working as an archivist?  Submit you “What it means to be an archivist at my repository?” post to us at outreach [at] soga [dot] org.

Outreach Collaborative Idea: Providing “Real World” Client Experience

This collaboration began in the fall of 2010 and continued through the spring of 2011, with plans to continue due to its success as an experiential learning experience and promotional tool for Special Collections.

Special Collections of Georgia College & State University deems promotion and outreach an important goal as it is more important than ever to validate the significance of archival materials and services, especially during current economic difficulties. To achieve this, collaborations were implemented to provide educational experiences for authentic learning and impactful promotion of the department’s rotating exhibit and special projects. Generally, the department works with history, English, political science and other liberal arts majors. However, a simple conversation brought together an unlikely pairing; Special Collections and a (Marketing/Communications) Publications Design class. 

Special Collections and the class teamed up to create a “real-world” client-based experience. In this collaboration, students learned about the importance of primary source research and the function of archives. Special Collections then tasked the students to design two posters (using the department’s photographs) advertising a future exhibit, “Health Education in Review” and the department’s oral history initiative, “The Legacy Project.” A week after projects were assigned, students presented their proofs to Special Collections staff members who critiqued posters for clarity of information and visual impact. The students then spent two weeks editing their work. Special Collections’ personnel made a final visit to select the two winning poster designs which were showcased on campus and throughout the local area. 

Special Collections would like to thank Professor Macon McGinley for providing the opportunity and enthusiasm for this exciting experience and to congratulate 2011’s two winners, Michele McGuire and Diane Health. McGuire said, “I loved the creative freedom associated with designing a poster for Special Collections’ Legacy Project. As a student, I am sincerely appreciative of the educational opportunity and the recognition of my design as it is showcased around the Milledgeville community.” Heath stated that “the ‘Health Education in Review’ exhibit is full of books and lessons that our alumni were taught. It was interesting to see what information was taught back then to help students stay healthy in every aspect of their lives.”

Please contact Special Collections for further information about the Legacy Project, exhibit, or collaboration by calling (478) 445-0988 or by emailing scinfo@gcsu.edu.

*Contributed by Katherine Pope, Georgia College & State University.