Web Magazine for Information Professionals

Book Review: Listen Up! Podcasting for Schools and Libraries

Elizabeth McHugh looks at how podcasting has the potential to take library services and activities to new audiences.

Linda Braun is an educational technology specialist who is an enthusiast for podcasting - in all its formats - and the reasons why it should and how it could be used. The book is slanted towards education but the ideas and suggestions in it could appeal to a wider audience. Although written primarily with American readers in mind (the specific references tend towards American Web sites) this is not to discount the relevance of the book for an international audience. The instructions and examples presented are applicable regardless of location.

The Content

Wikipedia [1] describes a podcast and podcasting as:

'a digital media file, or a related collection of such files, which is distributed over the Internet using syndication feeds for playback on portable media players and personal computers. The term, like "radio", can refer either to the content itself or to the method by which it is syndicated; the latter is also termed podcasting. The host or author of a podcast is often called a podcaster.'

Braun's explanation of podcasts in the first chapter of the book is shorter and simpler:

'...regularly produced audio and video files that are available for subscription and that can be automatically downloaded to a computer and / or portable audio and video device.'

The explanation is part of a Sidebar entitled 'Podcast FAQ'. The chapters of the book expand on the FAQs contained in that first sidebar and so the 'Podcast FAQ' could be said to act as a synopsis for the whole book.

At 6 chapters in 91 pages, with 3 appendices and a short glossary, the book does not set out to be an exhaustive tour of everything available in terms of podcasting. It seeks rather to present itself as a brief guide on how to set yourself up as a podcaster, where you might find the resources that would allow you set up a podcast and ideas on how to get it noticed on the Web. The book provides a Web site [2] to accompany the text, which lists the Web sites used in the book, covering podcasts, software and tools, articles and blogs, books and more about the author. Short on graphics and illustrations, the book uses what it terms 'Sidebar' information in the chapters to provide examples and explanations which lie outside the normal flow of the text. The 5-page introduction sets out the author's enthusiasm for podcasts, why the book was written, and a short description of each of the chapters.

The chapters are broken down into areas discussing the equipment needed to listen and develop a podcast and its visual twin - a vidcast. It looks at why they could be used as a method for disseminating information, the planning and marketing required to achieve this, and provides examples of them in use.

While the book talks of other 'Web 2.0' sites such as blogs and social bookmarking, it does so briefly and in the context of marketing a podcast . The reader is left with the feeling that podcasting et al stands as separate from these communication methods, rather than a part of the Web 2.0 phenomenon.

A particular strength of the book is its ability to provide advice on the preparation required before the technology is used to develop the podcast, e.g. why the reader should consider developing podcasts, who should be involved in their development. Braun recognises that podcasts, as with any method for disseminating information, should have a purpose to them and an intended audience and she seeks to give step-by-step reasoning to assist users in this aspect of developing their podcast ideas. A weakness is that the book offers little in-depth advice on copyright and Accessibility.

Possible Uses

When looking at purpose and intended audience, examples are provided for various audiences.

The University of Missouri's School of Information Science and Learning Technologies [3] collects and does podcasts on varied topics - whether it's related to what librarians are doing in their jobs, interviews with readers and writers, discussions on human interaction behaviour.

Public libraries in the US are also making good use of Podcasts. Kankakee Public Library in Illinois [4] not only records authors' talks, but also looks at genealogy, 'one-person shows' on lives of historical or current figures, co-operation between schools and public libraries.

If you want to listen to a show produced by children, for children, then head to Radio Willow Web, Willowdale Elementary School, Omaha, Nebraska [5], and to see how the teenagers get involved Coulee Kids Podcast [6], Longfellow Middle School, LaCrosse, Wisconsin, is a place to start.

Finally, in the mainstream media, anything goes. Coverville [7] looks at cover music, Rocketboom [8] looks at the news - in a not so serious fashion.

So from intellectual to fun productions, for young and old, technologists and the rest of us, podcasts and vidcasts are available and can be made on a variety of topics - the only limit it would seem is your imagination.

The Technology

The US Web sites listed are applicable regardless of location, although international examples would have been welcomed. Where equipment brand names arise - microphones, video cameras, digital voice recorders - there may be more difficulty for an international audience in obtaining such specific branded equipment. As a result the branded equipment mentioned should be taken as a guide.

The Style

Covering a subject that inevitably includes technical detail, the book seeks to demystify it as much as possible. Although technical information is spread in small amounts throughout, the chapter that deals with it specifically tries to keep information about the technology required in acceptable chunks so that the reader is not scared off. This is the style throughout the whole book.

The book gives brief examples, but does not set out to give a complete step-by-step guide on how to use any of the technology mentioned in the book. The reader is encouraged to obtain the technology and/or investigate the Web sites and experiment. For confident users of technology this will not be an issue - they will go and get the technology or go to the Web sites and start to experiment without concern. Less confident users may prefer to look for a book that gives a more in-depth explanation of the technology listed and its use, once they have read this one.

The general style is intended to be encouraging and to imbue the reader with an enthusiasm for the possibilities offered by the medium. The Sidebar content breaks up the text and provides some variety in content and style.


For the inexperienced or those who prefer to learn how to use these technologies through a step-by-step process, this book may not be the right one for them. At most it should be seen as a short general book on the subject. In fairness it doesn't claim to be anything other than that. Braun's enthusiasm for her subject cannot be doubted and the Web site examples she provides give a good introduction to her topic. She emphasises that podcast creation should be a collaborative process, employing skills available in librarians' work environment - whether such skills belong to librarians or their colleagues - and gives the reader ideas to emulate.


  1. 'Podcast', Wikipedia. Accessed on 26 October 2007 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Podcasting
  2. Listen Up! Podcasting for Schools and Libraries Web site. Accessed 26 October 2007 http://www.leonline.com/listen_up/
  3. LiS Radio. Accessed on 26 October 2007 http://lisradio.missouri.edu/index.php
  4. Kankakee Public Library. Accessed on 26 October 2007 http://www.lions-online.org/podcasts.html
  5. Radio Willow Web. Accessed on 26 October 2007 http://www.mpsomaha.org/willow/Radio/
  6. Coulee Kids Podcast. Accessed on 26 October 2007 http://www.sdlax.net/longfellow/sc/ck/index.htm
  7. Coverville. Accessed on 26 October 2007 http://coverville.com/
  8. Rocketboom. Accessed on 26 October 2007 http://www.rocketboom.com/vlog/

Author Details

Elizabeth McHugh
Electronic Resources Manager
UHI Millennium Institute

Email: elizabeth.mchugh@uhi.ac.uk
Web site: http://www.uhi.ac.uk

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