Podcasting “At the Library”
“All right, we’re going to do a quick mic test first. Could you introduce yourself—name, pronouns, title—and give just a little greeting? Then I’ll play it back and start the intro.”
As they ran through the line, I turned in my chair to flick a switch. Outside the recording room, a bright red light cast its cheerful message in the hall: RECORDING.
Before this project had legs, when I was still trying to finetune the structure and set the guest list, I knew two things would be absolutely necessary if I was going to pull it off: easy access and user-friendly equipment.
I vaguely remembered hearing something about the studio in the days before the pandemic. It was, of course, closed to the public along with everything else as the library navigated unexpected restrictions over the last two years. But services have been slowly resuming, and as my plans for the podcast project began to take shape, I took a shot in the dark and reached out. Heather Zbinden and Glenn Whaley at the CALS Roberts Library had me on the schedule in minutes.
A week later, I wound my way up to the third floor of the Roberts Library and met my first guest in the quiet corner-room studio. After staff offered a quick run-through of the recording equipment, we were off—my first, shaky attempt at recording.
Over the next few weeks, I met, one by one, with six library professionals at the studio. Welcomed by the bright and creative atmosphere of the Roberts Library, we carried that energy into each session.
It only took a few rounds to begin feeling comfortable behind the mic—comfortable balancing listening with timing with responding with pausing. It helped that my guests were just as eager as I was to share their stories.
“Hi, and welcome to At the Library—a podcast on libraries and their communities. I’m your host Bekah, and today we’re joined by…”
Libraries and their communities.
Back in March, over massive bowls of vegan mac-and-cheese and cozy drinks in a Portland, Oregon, joint I’ve sadly forgotten the name of, I was caught up in an energetic and—I’ll admit, uncharacteristically loud—discussion with five or six other librarians. We were all in town for the annual Public Library Association conference, along with hundreds of other library professionals. When we weren’t sitting in on sessions, we were endlessly discussing the fight against censorship (#ReadBannedBooks), the mental health crisis among library staff, and the unique potential public libraries hold as centers of genuine community.
It always came back to community.
The history of public libraries (like many public institutions) is a long wall, a barrier to access assembled and secured by racism, classism, sexism, and homophobia. Walls that modern library professionals are doing our level best to demolish brick by brick, wrecking ball swing by wrecking ball swing. There is a reason we say, “The Library Is for Everyone.”
One of the greatest barriers to access, though, is simply connection. For so long, libraries have been little more to many members of the public than academic institutions, museums for old and dusty titles, places whose only redeeming quality was the Summer Reading Program. Most folks are shocked to hear we offer more than just books.
ESL training. Video games. Job assistance. Movie nights. Clothing closets. Dungeons and Dragons campaigns. Period products. Writing circles. Food access. Yoga and Tai Chi. Continuing education. On-site social workers. The very recording studio I used to create this podcast. The list goes on, but none of it is possible without connection.
As we sat on either side of the mic, the usual hubbub of the River Market area completely blocked out by the studio’s soundproofing, I couldn’t help but smile at the excitement in each guest’s voice and the light in their eyes as they shared their favorite moments of connection with patrons.
The family who joined in to celebrate Día De Los Muertos at the library for the first time.
The struggling artist who found a gallery connection through her library social worker.
The kids, laughing and happy as they ate together in the library’s community garden.
Every single one of my podcast guests is working hard to build up their communities, to foster connection and ensure access, to empower their patrons and provide everyone with the resources they need to thrive.
And me? Carefully cutting and stitching each episode, sending them out into the world, sharing them with anyone who wants to listen and learn—that’s how I connect to my community. From a second-story, sound-proofed room with a microphone, a soundboard, and some stories.
“Thank you so much for joining us, and I hope to see you next time—At the Library.”
The podcast At the Library is available on Spotify.
By Bekah Smith, Community Resource Programmer at the Central Arkansas Library System
The CALS Roberts Library has a recording room with audio and video equipment available for public use. Schedule an appointment by calling 501-320-5700.