The value of podcasts for school library staff

Amy Hermon recording the popular School Librarians United podcast

School Librarians United is an American podcast dedicated to the nuts and bolts of running a successful school library. Host Amy Hermon shares the podcasts that help her do her job every day.

No one likes to feel foolish, and I don’t know anyone who wants to admit that they don’t know something. This is how I became such a fan of podcasts and decided to create one of my own.

I was never more aware of my kryptonite than sitting in my first class in library school. With nine years of experience teaching high school social studies, I figured returning to graduate school would be fun, and a welcome distraction from my teaching. It certainly wouldn’t be hard!

My first class was Young Adult Literature, with the infamous 100 Book project. It became readily apparent that I was out of my league. I floundered, as others around me rattled off their favourite titles and reads aloud. Unlike many of my classmates in library school, I wasn’t called to this profession because of a love of reading. I do not have a lifetime of reading upon which I can rely when I arrive at my library each day.

Rather, I am obsessed with information and revel in the ease of access to it. I find everything interesting, and I love learning. So what do I do with my kryptonite? How do I not let this gap in my personal knowledge adversely affect my ability to do my job? Just as importantly, how do I do this without alerting my co-workers to this embarrassing predicament?

Over the years, I’ve cultivated my own Personal Learning Network. I regularly visit my favourite blogs of leaders in children’s and middle-grade literature. I love attending conferences, and take advantage of the presentations that focus on literature. Another way to bolster my knowledge of children’s literature is with audiobooks. These are available for free through my local public library, and entertain me during dog walks, grocery shopping, and housework.

However, perhaps the most meaningful and sustained solution to my quandary is subscribing to a host of podcasts. I scour archived episodes for ones that I’d find useful. I have become a devoted listener, and receive alerts when new episodes are posted. It isn’t uncommon for me to take notes about programming ideas and add book titles to my ongoing purchase orders. As a result of this, the knowledge I have gleaned from fascinating author interviews and informative book reviews finds its way into my interactions with students and teachers throughout the day. As a dedicated podcast listener, I’ve learned to embrace my kryptonite and enjoyed finding ways to compensate and catch up with my fellow school librarians.

I fell in love with podcasts seven years ago. When we moved to our new home, I spent afternoons and weekends in our new house alone for hours as I painted nearly every room. As a former history teacher, I became addicted to the podcast Stuff you Missed in History Class. I went back into their archives and committed to listening to their entire back catalogue. I continued to listen while I weeded the garden and packed up boxes. My initial reaction was ‘Where was this podcast when I was teaching history to teenagers?’ But, by that time, I had graduated with my Master of Library and Information Science, and had already started working as an elementary library media specialist.

This was the very first time it had occurred to me that podcasts could help listeners be more effective in their jobs. As I state in the intro to my own podcast, School Librarians United, I wanted a podcast which addressed ‘the nuts and bolts of running a successful library program’.

My podcast is the culmination of many things — a perfect storm, really. I’m a chronic overthinker. Not only has my podcast offered me the opportunity to ruminate aloud about the finer points of school librarianship, but I also have the perfect excuse to delve into subjects about which I know very little. Over a bitterly cold mid-winter break in 2018, I discovered Google Keep, and started jotting down episode ideas. Before long, my passing interest had taken on a life of its own.

More than 30 episodes later, my podcast is my connection to a growing listening community around the world. I see it as another support I provide, alongside the work I do with students and staff in my schools every day. I network with school librarians via social media. We share with one another, and this is clear to anyone who tunes in.

School library professionals possess an extraordinary willingness to learn. Educators of all subjects and grade levels can find relevant podcasts using a phone app. Podcasts fill the gaps in my education and life experience. In addition, they offer ways for me to improve as an educator and keep me up to date with constantly evolving technology, and its applications in the classroom.

In many ways, podcasts are how I personalise my professional development. A recommended strategy is to review archived episodes and cherry-pick the ones that serve your interests and needs. Or — as I sometimes refer to it as Netflix for your ears — binge on a podcast, beginning at the very first episode. It is rarely a waste of time.

If you’ve ever encountered another podcast fan, perhaps you too have found yourselves pulling out your phones to compare playlists. Dedicated podcast listeners are always looking for new shows. Here’s a list of what you’d find on my phone. Keep in mind that podcasting is a dynamic field and, just as some new podcasters come onto the scene, so too do podcasters decide to stop recording. Hopefully, you’ll find something that helps you do your job!

My current podcast list

Literature

Like all of us, I don’t have the time to read all the new books which, no doubt, my students will want to. This is where book review podcasts come in. Caution: Listening to these podcasts can get expensive as you will want to purchase all the books that are reviewed!

Teaching

I teach all day — six classes of 45 minutes, with students aged from five to 11. There isn’t a day that I don’t discover some aspect of my teaching, classroom management, or lesson design that could be improved. My advice is to try an episode or two of the podcasts below. Also, try not to limit your options because the podcast is designed for English teachers and you’re a school librarian, or is focused on high
school and you teach primary — or vice versa.

Technology

My Michigan teaching certificate is for the K–12 school library and technology. I have taught K–5 technology while also working as a school librarian. I get asked a lot of tech questions throughout my day and technology podcasts are a great way to get tips and advice on generating relevant lessons, and advising on technology and makerspace purchases. It also helps me with my committee work for the district.

Image credits

Andrea VanBecalaere

Amy Hermon

Host of School Librarians United

Subscribe to School Librarians United anywhere you get your podcasts. Follow @LMS_United on Twitter and School Librarians United on Facebook. Email [email protected] – feedback and episode suggestions welcome.