The 7 Best Library Podcasts

Best Library Podcasts

Whether you think about libraries or not, libraries are thinking about you. For evidence of this, look no further than the many wonderful podcasts produced by library workers and other supporters. These library podcasts function as complements to existing library programs and services, aids for learning and development, and as completely self-contained shows. They are focused on everything from libraries and library news to books and literature to popular culture and beyond. And as libraries have faced challenges in the last few years – including the COVID-19 pandemic, decreased funding, yet more technological shifts, and right-wing opposition to collections and programming – library podcast offerings have only gotten stronger. In addition to a spate of new podcasts (some of which were born out of thinking about how to address these and other issues), many of the older shows have “leveled up,” getting even more creative and innovative.

All of this is to say that now is the perfect time to start paying attention to library podcasts if you have not already. To that end, here are seven shows that should absolutely be on your radar.

librarypunk

Hosted by a triumvirate that represents both academic and public libraries, librarypunk provides a winning mix of topical library discussion, left politics, and good humor. Co-hosts Justin, Sadie, and Jay also seem to want to travel at least somewhat incognito, given their use of only first names to identify themselves – a touch that perfectly emphasizes the no-B.S. quality of the podcast. The guest lineup is consistently outstanding and each episode can be counted on to engage thoughtfully with some pretty big questions. Recent high points include an episode on the state of “intellectual freedom” at a time when bad actors are figuring out how to manipulate digital distribution services to disseminate hate speech and fascist tracts. Other fascinating conversation topics include the lawsuit brought by a group of major publishers against the Internet Archive and its implications for libraries; what is working and not working about information literacy efforts in the “post-truth” age; and library workers’ counterintuitive need to be more combative in the response to the uptick in book challenges and bans. The hosts’ funny repartee and tongue-in-cheek use of a “morning zoo”-style soundboard helps keep things lively and entertaining as well. Not only will librarypunk get you thinking, but it will also have you chuckling.

Book Club for Masochists: A Readers’ Advisory Podcast

Another podcast featuring hosts from across the spectrum of library jobs, Book Club for Masochists follows Anna Ferri, Matthew Murray, Meghan Whyte, and Jam (RJ) Edwards as they undertake a bit of professional development: better acquainting themselves with the book genres and media types they do not know very well. (Amish romance? Check. Military non-fiction? You bet. Nordic/Scandinavian noir? Got it covered.) Their good faith efforts to try new things also turns out to be very much to the benefit of listeners. While many library podcasts similarly position their audience as flies-on-the-wall for “book club”-style discussion, the hosts’ earnest desire to learn and teach makes this one special. In particular, they are always careful to explain things that might be inside baseball and give ample time to thinking through any thorny questions raised by a genre/type. For instance, listen to the meta-episode “What is a Book?”. Book Club for Masochists is a great example of how librarians can bring a range of talents and abilities to bear on podcasting— it should not be missed.

Circulating Ideas

Now more than a decade old, librarian Steve Thomas’s long-standing Circulating Ideas remains a crucial resource for library insiders and others. Devoted to “conversations about the innovative people and ideas moving libraries through the 21st century,” this is the talk show librarianship never knew it needed. If there is a book, article, conference presentation, or idea that everyone in the field is thinking and talking about, there’s a good chance that Thomas will eventually offer a longform interview with its author or authors. In addition, he also makes room for writers and artists, critical insights from outside the field, and everything in between.

And as if its regular programming were not enough, Thomas finds ways to go the extra mile in terms of being of service to the library community at large. Nowhere is this clearer than in a recent innovation: his chats with the American Library Association (ALA)’s presidential candidates. There may be other forums for them to share their visions and field questions, but nobody does it better than Circulating Ideas.
 

LibVoices

LibVoices, hosted by librarian Jamia Williams and Ph.D. student Jamillah R. Gabriel, is another interview-based podcast, but one with a specific focus on librarians of color. Each episode’s guest or guests “speak to the fullness of their careers including successes, challenges, and achievements,” with the central question being: “How do they do it?” This query acknowledges both the historical barriers that librarians of color have faced as well as the contemporaneous ones – urgently important matters for discussion, to be sure. Following the global Black Lives Matter protests in 2020 and the strengthening of other movements for racial justice, the library profession has put much more attention on equity, diversity, and inclusion efforts; anti-racism and anti-oppression training; and looking more critically at the history of our field. A number of new podcasts seek to contribute to this work, but LibVoices is clearly the leader on this front.

The interviews are often warm, intimate, and revelatory in ways that can remind you more of oral history interviews. This certainly speaks to the hosts’ excellence and goes a very long way towards ensuring that the interviews will have an impact on listeners. For a prime example of this, look no further than the most recent episode featuring Dr. Stanton F. Biddle, a major figure in the history of the Black Caucus of the ALA.

Overdue Finds

Of the many “official” podcasts produced by public libraries in North America, the Edmonton Public Library (EPL)’s Overdue Finds stands out. Hosted by EPL Manager Caroline Land and Senior Marketing Consultant Bryce Crittenden, each episode is well organized around established segments: an opening check-in about the hosts’ recently borrowed items, a themed discussion (usually with a guest or guests), and a wrap-up conversation/Q&A. Like a lot of library podcasts, the show is often centered around “fun stuff”. But Overdue Finds goes above and beyond the usual with items like their annual, interactive “March Madness” bracket on a pop culture topic (“Best Movie Based on a Book,” “Best of the ‘90s,” etc.).

At the same time, Land and Crittenden also sometimes shine a light on EPL programs and services that are on the leading edge of librarianship. Recently they offered a pair of exemplary episodes in this vein: one about the library’s participation in “a project that connects Ukrainian families with virtual programming for kids of various ages” and the other about its new kitchen space for community learning about food, cooking, and nutrition. But no matter what they’re talking about, Overdue Finds is a reliably terrific listen.

Library Land Loves

Looking more expansively at the podcasts coming from regional library organizations, the Ontario Library Association (OLA)’s Library Land Loves has distinguished itself by being of benefit to those inside and outside the most populous province of the Great White North. The podcast has done this by rather elegantly threading the needle between podcast and educational tool; it is a veritable fount of information, and eminently listenable. Library Land Loves also tends to be ahead of the curve: host Michelle Arbuckle, who serves as the organization’s Director of Member Engagement & Education, gets relevant episodes out to listeners almost as soon as they have begun to think about new developments in the field. By way of illustration, the podcast has put out no less than two episodes about book challenges and bans in the past eighteen months, as if anticipating the current wave of trouble.

It is also worth mentioning that Library Land Loves has been particularly good about introducing listeners to new/newish digital technologies as they become more important. Of special note are the episodes about “library Twitter”, the utility of Discord for library programs, and library contributions to “BookTok”. For a podcast that says its goal is simply to celebrate the “passions” of library professionals, the immediate usefulness of most episodes is really quite remarkable.

Call Number with American Libraries

Finally, if you are looking for a podcast that represents the best of what national-level organizations have to offer, the ALA’s Call Number with American Libraries is still your best bet. Hosted by Diana Panuncial, Associate Editor of the ALA’s American Libraries magazine, it smartly stays focused on big news stories and urgent issues in the library world, marshaling the organization’s resources to cover them well. Among other things, this means the occasional big “get” in terms of guests – and not just notable library workers like Librarian of Congress Carla Hayden but also such luminaries as novelist Yaa Gyasi and Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Nikole Hannah-Jones. A little production value goes a long way here.

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Daniel Clarkson Fisher is a librarian based in the Greater Toronto Area. His writing has appeared in Progressive Librarian, H-Net: Humanities and Social Sciences Online, and the Oral History Review Blog, among others. He can be found online at LinkedIn.