michaelk's blog

Outsourcing outreach

Wandering through the iTunes Music Store, I noticed multiple library science-related podcasts that have faded out of existence. Programs like Uncontrolled Vocabulary and LibVibe no longer exist as going concerns. Some programs seem to potentially still exist but have gaps between episodes ranging between seven and ten months. Library Geeks shows gaps of up to ten months between individual episodes. LIS Radio from the University of Missouri-Columbia has not released a podcast since February 2009 and their webcast calendar is currently devoid of entries. Prior to the two programs in February 2009, nothing was released between then and July 2008. The only graduate programs with any consistent presence showing in the iTunes Music Store were San Jose State University and Indiana University.

Online expression can be tricky when it involves more than just writing. Academic settings are not the easiest places to locate such efforts. While Journalism and Mass Communication programs are used to hosting the operation of student newspapers and student radio stations, other disciplinary departments may not be similarly equipped. There are ways around this.

One might imagine that the 2008 accreditation standards of the ALA for library science graduate programs might include a explicit requirement for community outreach. Such does not actually appear within the standards explicitly although it is referenced by standard III.2. There is a possibility for a service act, though, that would require hopefully minimal effort.

As most ALA accredited graduate programs in library sciences in the United States are located at state-owned and/or state-funded institutions, it is understandable that there are budget woes presently. Nevada's state institutions of higher education were facing 36% overall budget cuts as it was when the current budget haggling started in Carson City. The most recent news reports indicate legislators are trying to keep cuts to the teens but negotiations are stalled right now.

Some institutions hosting ALA accredited graduate programs in library science are also home to National Public Radio affiliates. LISNews Netcast Network programming is slowly but surely being made available on Public Radio Exchange for potential licensing by those same National Public Radio affiliates. Public Radio Exchange is the middleman system whereby small producers and independent producers can make content available for National Public Radio affiliates to pick over. Right now we have individual segments posted but do not have any complete shows yet. Due to the rigid network clock in use, the indeterminate length of network programs week by week makes it rough for us to regularly offer standalone programs on PRX. With some re-packaging perhaps, Tech for Techies and Hyperlinked History might fit into Morning Edition slots.

With this being a time of doing more with less, I can at least bring something to the table. A nice bullet point for status reports on service could be made relative to an outreach effort. Sending a memo or otherwise twisting arms at a campus connected National Public Radio station about broadcasting LIS-related content could count as attempting outreach efforts. Nothing says a graduate program has to produce the material itself as materials could be distributed from the ALA as much as the LISNews Netcast Network. LIS-related content is already out there on one National Public Radio station, KUOW, with Nancy Pearl's book reviews. Unfortunately her program is only available on broadcast and as a podcast but is apparently not arranged for syndication to other broadcast stations.

The cost of writing a memo is understandably far smaller than putting together a full new media production operation. The cost of production itself is already borne by the LISNews Netcast Network so the graduate programs don't have to. If a graduate program wanted to work in partnership with the network, that can be discussed.

Writing a memo is a small thing. It is a start, though. At the least, it is a cheap option.

And now a word from the podcast engineer

This was originally prepared to start LISTen #51 but I chose to yank it and put it here instead. -- Michael J. Kellat, Podcast Audio Proudction Engineer

Hi, this is Mike your audio geek. I bring this up now as it is better to be too soon than too late. As many of you are aware, these are hard economic times. Many people are looking for life rafts in this sea of uncertainty. I will be part of that group in a few weeks when my job disappears at work. Stephen has been there since August and has been trying to get out of it.

Like PBS, we are underwritten. We are underwritten by me with a small amount of support from Blake. If I am without a job, the underwriting disappears. Unless another miracle happens, I am slated to be out of work in mid-January 2009.

I sent letters to the heads of the fifty graduate programs in library science recently. This was not a simple matter and Stephen did most of the grunt work physically preparing the mailing. By the time this airs the programs should have seen their letters unless the postal service had a snag. Those letters discussed things on a smaller scale than I am about to.

Maintaining an endeavor requires capital. With respect to the audience served by this podcast, it is nearly impossible to raise such by conventional means. The audience is so erratic that we cannot in good conscience even talk to an ad broker. We cannot seek operating grants as we are not an incorporated charity. Trying to offer things for purchase so as to raise some capital has not resulted in a single penny coming in.

While ad dollars for online productions are actually up, we have no concrete data to be able to show advertisers about the audience they might reach. Librarians are often fiercely private in terms of their online data. For us, this creates hideous consequences. Without even a small sliver of a consistent notion as to the demographic we reach, we have nothing to approach an advertiser with. Any librarian who thinks that advertisers are not dependent upon demographic data needs to reconsider what they think they know about advertising.

With most of the normal avenues to fund a podcast foreclosed to us by a unique audience, we have to ask directly for support. While some librarians likely see this as begging, it should be instead regarded as the inevitable consequence of choices made by the audience at large. There is nothing wrong or immoral or inappropriate in doing this. If Felicia Day can be applauded for doing the same thing with The Guild, why does it suddenly become different in this context?

Considering full tax burden, the total cost for a full year to operate the podcast full-time approaches 78 thousand dollars. While things were great when jobs existed to be able to fund podcast operations, soon that is not going to be happening once January 16th comes around. A full thirty percent of that figure is the currently estimated tax burden owed to the government provided there are no changes in tax law. As is common with a startup and other such entities, a fairly large cost is ensuring that those producing things can have a roof over their heads as well as food to eat.

Up against other operations, that figure is actually low. To do what we do in any other subject field would cost almost 90 thousand dollars a year. So far we've been lucky to not have to replace any equipment or otherwise have balloon costs. These are very normal costs for any media effort and the spec shows us working below the going rate for local government A/V techs. For your average individual local government A/V tech, the average annual pay ranges between 52 thousand and 83 thousand dollars plus benefits. The 78 thousand figure lets us pay for two people, telecommunications, utilities, and more.

In a declining economy, we bring value to libraries. First and foremost we provide professional development functions through “current awareness” segments. Secondly we help highlight issues that might have disappeared from the landscape or escaped the attention of outlets like the BBC or the CBS Evening News. A prime example is the issue of Australian Internet censorship that we covered before even the BBC program Digital Planet got to it this past week.

The cost of this is not that bad. The cost to operate LISTen full-time for a year would be equivalent to roughly 273 round-trip coach tickets flying from LaGuardia to Denver for ALA Mid-Winter. Another way to look at it is that the full-year cost for us would be equal to 173 round-trip coach tickets between Seattle and Chicago for ALA Annual in July. The full-year cost of the program would also be 64 round-trip coach tickets between Auckland and Chicago. The cost of 6,500 subscriptions to Howard Stern on Sirius Satellite Radio would fully fund us for an entire calendar year.

The podcast has done great things in the face of quite a bit of adversity. Having the operation funded so that we don't have to worry about food and shelter will free us up to bring you even better shows. Since we already failed at trying to get somebody to give us a piece for free in a commissioning effort, money will help us have some leverage to hear local voices from outside the US about library issues. Stephen quietly tried to commission a freelance piece in the United Kingdom about a matter there but nobody would cooperate unless paid.

The biggest goal in 2009 is to bring you a little bit of professional development material every week. Our goal is to try to keep things going so that professional development is an on-going thing rather than just a patent nostrum at a conference. If anything, going this way actually would have less of a carbon footprint than traveling to different events across the planet.

I've laid out the case and given you almost all you need if you choose to act. There are so many ways to reach us that it cannot be said that we are unavailable. In the end, the choice is yours.

With that being said, I now give way for your regularly scheduled podcast programming.

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