To Podcast Or Not To Podcast...
...that is the question. At least it was yesterday on the Bibliocasting list. There have been some great discussions about what libraries can do with podcasting and why more libraries aren't actively using the technology. You can read the threads starting here and here. There are lots of great ideas for potential podcast applications!
A few posts address concerns about ROI and the issue of do your library users really want content in podcast form. I think we as librarians/ libraries sometimes want to over study, analyze and focus group every potential new service we might offer to our users. Of course we need to make sure that the time and energy we are going to spend implementing new projects is worth it in our particular institutions. But sometimes the focus seems to be on the focus group and making sure that 99.9% of our users know they want a service before we offer it instead of being willing to try new things to reach people. Where they are. This isn't to say that every library should go out and immediately start a podcast, but I think it is OK to go out on a limb sometimes and try stuff. Start an IM reference service, a blog, make a MySpace page. Do it "right" and in an organized way of course. And be prepared to adapt as your users react to the service. And have an exit strategy in case it really doesn't work after all your best efforts.
The issue of having to market your services to get an audience was raised as well. This is kind of a chicken and egg situation: how do you know that the needs of your users can be met with a particular new service or technology when your users don't know a particular service or technology is available. I would say that the basic need of most library users is to access information, whether it's for a class assignment or their own personal use. So how do we let them know what tools we have available for their needs and get them assistance in using them? Marketing.
Marketing our library services is a huge part of my job as public services "coordinator". I constantly remind classroom faculty to take advantage of our library instruction offerings. New faculty may not be aware of these services or had bad experiences in previous institutions. There are established faculty who aren't necessarily library advocates who need some friendly cajoling to get their students library info. So I talk to them in faculty meetings, in the halls, at events to remind them about our offerings. Marketing. Should we not offer instructional services because a certain percentage of faculty members aren't aware of what we can do for them?
Same with students. 90% of kids probably never gave a thought to potentially using IM to get reference assistance. But if the service is available when they need it and they know about it, many are likely to use it. And some of those users might be folks who would never come into the library, no less approach a reference desk. So offer the service, do it right, market it and see what happens. If we don't try to reach out to our users and meet their basic informational needs where they are, we'll keep sitting at the reference desk wondering why the parking lot is full but nobody is in the library.
Soooo...back to podcasting. I really do think podcasting requites a greater commitment than starting a blog or an IM service. So definitely think "can this technology help me reach my users?". Either as a marketing or an instructional tool. Is there a wider move towards podcasting at your institution? Get the library involved! To paraphrase Greg Schwartz, don't do it because I'm doing it or it's the cool new thing. But at the same time don't let the need to feel 99.9% certain that a majority of your users are waiting with bated breath for a library podcast (or blog or IM service or instructional program or creative orientation or whatever) stop you from exploring new and different ways to let your users know what you can do for them to serve their primary informational needs. Sure it might fail, but at least you made the effort!