Launching a Library Podcast: A brief history of Library Bytegeist

Posted on July 10, 2017

Library Bytegeist is a podcast that tells audio stories about the libraries and archives of New York. Our 11 episodes have run the gamut, with stories of:

Library Bytegeist was born as a kind of hacked solution to a logistical roadblock.

In September 2016, Molly Schwartz started her METRO Fellowship with the goal of designing a “Story Lab” in METRO’s office space in order to help the libraries and archives of New York tell their stories using different media. There was only one problem: because of an imminent move, METRO didn’t have an office space. For much of Molly’s fellowship, the new, beautiful 8,000 foot office space was just an open industrial floor, and serious renovations were necessary before it would be usable as an office, much less a media studio.

So Molly decided to take the Story Lab on the road!

METRO had three Blue Yeti USB microphones left over from an archives podcast they used to produce, called “More Podcast Less Process.” Molly took the microphones to where her interviewees worked or lived and started conducting interviews, which she then edited into podcast episodes.

While recording in the wild had its challenges, especially since Molly was an audio novice, the ease and accessibility of launching a podcast shows that audio is an ideal medium for sharing stories without prohibitively expensive equipment or specialized skills.

And it’s also really fun! Molly quickly caught the audio bug, and now she is an active member of the NYC audio community, becoming one of BRIC’s community radio producers, teaching a DIY Audio Storytelling class at BPL’s Skillshare, and attending monthly Radio Clubs.

It also became quickly apparent that the intersection between libraries and audio is an exciting one to explore. Now that we all carry mini audio players in our pockets and spend so much time listening to headphones that some people are spending 3.5 days of their lives untangling earbuds, many people are calling these the golden days of audio. Podcasts are growing in diversity and popularity. Audiobook sales are jumping. And oral histories have been on the rise since the 1960s and ‘70s as an alternative form of primary sources that let people record their own histories in their own words. The ease of producing and disseminating audio has made it a platform that gives voice to diverse groups that have not historically had a place in mass media or history books.

But recording a podcast also has its challenges. Finding a quiet place to record with good acoustics in New York City is a constant struggle. Many people are discouraged by how time-consuming certain processes are, like generating transcripts of interviews. These are the types of issues that we are looking to address by setting up an audio production studio at METRO and forming an Audio meetup.

Having recently been hired on permanently as METRO’s Studio Manager, Molly is passionate about spreading her love of audio by making recording equipment and instruction accessible at METRO. The libraries and archives of New York are literally full of stories – it’s time to get more of them into people’s headphones.