Saturday 11 June 2011

Podcasts and Collective Innovation

The Rise of the Podcast 

‘Read widely’, this statement is made again and again to new and emerging librarians. We need to absorb information not just from our industry, but from across the board because you never know where that next little nugget of inspiration will come from. Podcasts can provide an alternative source of material for those times when reading print might not be practical (car, gym, pub, etc). There are literally thousands of podcasts available that can deliver professional, trend and technical information from the internet directly into your ears. Recent research out of the US highlighted the ‘potential podcasts hold as a professional information source’ and their usage is on the rise (Peoples & Tilley, 2011). The latest information from the Pew Internet Project found that nearly 20% of all internet users download podcasts, those numbers are up from 7% from April 2006 (Madden & Jones, 2008).

Collective Innovation  

What makes certain podcasts unique from other types of information sources is how the information is constructed. The podcasts that are featured below all have a similar format where a panel of experts, critics and academics discuss topics, projects and news in their respective fields. What makes this special is something that author Steven Johnson discusses in his 2010 book Where Good Ideas Come From:  The Natural History of Innovation. Johnson writes about the research psychologist Kevin Dunbar preformed on scientists in the 1990’s trying to find out where their ‘eureka moments’ came from. Dunbar found that

The most productive tool for generating good ideas remains a circle of humans at a table, talking shop, the lab meeting creates an environment where new combinations occur, where information can spill over from one project to another (Johnson, p 61) 

We have all experienced something similar at industry conferences. We sit in a darkened lecture hall and listen to an expert talk about an amazing project relevant to our profession, but the truly inspirational moments come at the lunchtime discussions with colleagues. (Or else why would the Unconferences be so popular). Particular podcasts can replicate the experience. Take a mix of specialists in literature, film, technology, and information literacy, whatever; give them topics to discuss and start rolling the tape. The resulting discussions can be powerful as the information ‘spills over’. The collective energy can produce something more insightful than that of the individual. 


So where can one source podcasts? Since the iTunes store was launched in 2003 there has been an easy distribution channel for podcasts. Not that iTunes is the only game in town; quality podcasts can be located through directories like and Learn Out Loud or search engines like Podscope and Double Twist. Whatever your passion, these sources will help to locate a podcast. But one final clever idea for locating podcasts comes from Wendy Boswell, associate editor at Lifehacker

You can also use this little trick to find even more podcasts you're interested in:
inurl:podcast "star trek"
This works well in Google, Yahoo, and; not quite as well in MSN 
but you can still find a few goodies

Below is a short list of serial podcasts that offer panel discussion in their subject areas. All are updated at least monthly and are current as of this blog post. This is by no means a comprehensive list of useful serial podcasts, so please share any others in the comments page.

This brand spanking new is podcast produced by arguably one of the most influential blogs on the net, Boing Boing. Hosts Rob Beschizza and Mark Frauenfelder talk about comic books, games, sci fi, books, movies and more. Recent episodes (of which there are only 6) include an interview with sci fi author Ernest Cline, a discussion on the first-person puzzle video game Portal 2 and a chat with Eisner nominated comic book ‘troubadour’ Tony Moore. It will be interesting to see how this podcast develops.

This podcast presented by Kennedy Gordon and others doesn’t just talk about the new release books, but also discusses older series as well. The format is fast, opinionated, and covers a lot of ground. Past themes have include CS Lewis, Harry Potter, the holocaust, fantasy books, chick lit, vampires and Russian literature.
 (A bit of a language warning comes with this one)

Each week Linda Holmes, editor of NPR's (National Public Radio) entertainment and pop-culture blog, Monkey See, is joined by music editor Stephen Thompson, arts editor Trey Graham and comics blogger Glen Weldon to discuss books, movies, TV, and more. This podcast is a great way to keep up with all things pop culture with a group of people who are passionate but don’t take it too seriously. This is a funny, smart, critical, and sometimes snarky look at popular culture. It is worth listening to just for the ‘What’s making us happy this week’ whip around at the end of each show.

Anne Delaney on ABC Riverina talks technology with Charles Sturt University academics Peter Adams, Phil Roy and Dr Barney Dalgarno. Recent episodes included epic fail, augmented reality, GPS, social media mash ups, tablet reviews.  What’s refreshing about this tech podcast is that it has an Australia focus but with a global view. The information is useful and accessible even for the biggest technophobe. 

Digital Living describes the latest technology for work and home, from the newest in entertainment options through to forthcoming releases in software and even changes in industry standards.

Adventures is a must listen for anyone in the library and information industry, not just those who are IL instructors. This monthly podcast is hosted by Jason Puckett (2010 winner of ALA mover and shaker award), Anna Van Scoyoc, Rachel Borchardt, with many guests. The focus is on library related issues including, professional development, inspirational ideas, book reviews, conferences, Zotero, technology, Google, teaching techniques, information literacy,  transliteracy, and of course, zombies. 

Johnson, Steven (2010). Where good ideas come from:  the natural history of innovation. Penguin Books Limited, London.
Madden, M., & Jones, S. (2008). Podcast downloading 2008. Retrieved from
Peoples, B., & Tilley, C. (2011). Podcasts as an emerging information resource. College & Undergraduate Libraries, 18(1), 44-57.

Amy is an ALIA Sydney committee member on Twitter @unlikelylibrary


  1. Fantastic posting Amy. I personally find also that inspirational moments happen during lunch times with my colleagues and podcasts have the same flair because it is more "personal" than listening to a lecture. The value of a Podcast is truly a learning experience. Am off to look at your examples, they are fantastic.

  2. I'd never thought about podcasts in this way before! Can't wait to check out all your examples! Especially the last one - zombies!

  3. *grin*, Sophie the zombies podcast from the AdLib team is awesome!

    I agree Amy, podcasts are gold and there is plenty of gold out there, I'm already an Adventures in Lib Instruction groupie, but thanks for the list of other things for me to go and check out!