Libraries Can Inspire Empathy with Community-Wide Podcasts

Listening and programming suggestions for children and adults to enjoy together.

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Librarians know the power of listening, and libraries have always offered opportunities for their communities to listen together. Those include read-aloud storytimes, author visits, book clubs, collaborative learning games, and One Book, One Community programs, to name a few. The rise of easily accessible, on-demand audio, in the form of podcasts and podcast-related tools, brings new opportunities for programming that can inspire collective empathy and action in communities. To test this idea, we curated a podcast playlist, oriented toward messages of kindness, that can be easily shared among students, teachers, friends, and caring adults.


How listening inspires

Why podcasts? They’re phenomenally popular. For the first time, more than 50 percent of young adults and adults surveyed have listened to at least one podcast, according to Edison Research. With interest rising, podcast platforms and tools are evolving quickly. On the industry side, Spotify recently acquired Gimlet, a podcast network, and Anchor, a podcasting tool for creating and publishing content, for upward of $200 million. In 2018, there were more than 660,000 podcast shows and 18.5 million individual episodes across all genres, according to the company Podcast Insights. Those numbers are expected to keep rising in 2019.

Libraries are already exploring creative ways to use podcast listening, through podcast advisory, podcast programs, audio recording studios, and professional development. Meanwhile, researchers are investigating how podcast listening impacts interest, exploration, discovery, and experimentation.

A survey about family listening conducted by Kids Listen, a grassroots organization promoting high-quality audio for children, found that 75 percent of kids initiate discussions about what they heard, and 58 percent quote or reenact part of an episode. Also, 56 percent tell others what they learned, and 49 percent ask to do an activity inspired by the podcast. In other words, when kids and families listen, they also talk, act, and do.

Our first step while curating our playlist was to identify our audience: librarians and the families they serve. That guided our evaluation and selection of episodes. Next, we set out to identify a common goal or interest of our audience. Since the American Library Association’s (ALA) current advocacy efforts focus on strong communities, we selected a collective action topic that can draw our communities together: kindness.

We assembled our playlist with Listen Notes, a podcast curation and search engine that lets users filter searches by category, language, country, length, and other factors. A feature called “Listen Later” allows users to save episodes from various podcast shows to a playlist. Listeners can invite others to collaborate in creating playlists, and curated lists can be shared through a link or by subscribing to the RSS feed.

Our playlist can be listened to alone, with others, at home, school, or on a family car trip. To stream it, click on “One Playlist, One Community: Be Kind” link  or hit the “Subscribe” button to copy the RSS feed into your podcast player. The 13 episodes (alst listed below) provide more than five hours of listening and numerous thematic connections.

“Approaching with Kindness.” TED Radio Hour. A narrative journey through ideas, inventions, and fresh approaches to problems along with new ways to think and create.
CONNECTION: Be kind through gratitude.

“The Crossover.” Book Club for Kids. A book discussion podcast sharing kids’ voices and opinions.
CONNECTION: Be kind to your family.

“I Love You Like a Simile.” Buttons & Figs. A podcast for kids about playing with words.
CONNECTION: Be kind through play.

“The Emperor’s Challenge.” Circle Round. Inclusive folktales from around the world.
CONNECTION: Be kind to plants.

“The Friendship Formula.” Pickle. A podcast exploring life’s trickiest questions.
CONNECTION: Be kind to your friends.

“Helping Hand.” Peace Out. Stories of mindfulness and relaxation.
CONNECTION: Be kind to your mind.

“Kindness Rocks.” The Kindness Podcast. A podcast exploring the healing value of kindness.
CONNECTION: Be kind with your words.

“A Tasty Looking Moon and Sharing Caring Chimpanzees.” Wow in the World. A science podcast for curious kids.
CONNECTION: Be kind; it’s our nature to be.

“Toy Box Cinderella.” Be Calm on Ahway Island. Relaxing stories touching on history, science, and wellness with a positive message.
Connection: Be kind to others.

“Wangari Maathai.” Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls. True stories about remarkable women.
CONNECTION: Be kind to the environment.

“What Can Kids Do to Protect Animals?” Cool Facts About Animals. Just what it sounds like.
CONNECTION: Be kind to our fellow creatures.

“What Can Severus Snape from ‘Harry Potter’ Teach Us About Courage and Forgiveness?” Short & Curly. This ethics podcast also spurs listeners to look at complex characters.
CONNECTION: Be kind in challenging situations.

“What If Monsters Were Made of Carpet and Each Step You Took It Hurted Cause the Teeth Were Sticking Up?” What If World. Original stories, inspired by creative kids.
CONNECTION: Be kind; it’s effective!


Tips for community listening

Similar to community reading programs, podcasts can offer the opportunity to enhance existing community-wide discussions and spur action. Here are steps librarians can take to get started listening together:

• Identify the audience/community you wish to inspire through listening.

• Assemble the collective action goals or interests of your community.

• Curate a diverse, inclusive podcast playlist based on those goals or interests using tools such as Listen Notes.

• Invite participation and contribution from students, teachers, families, and community activists and leaders.

• Share the playlist across institutions, generations, and cultures using a variety of networked learning and social platforms.

• Invite your listening community to gather, along with community activists, leaders, authors, and podcasters, to listen, talk, act, and do—together.

Children’s librarian Pamela Rogers is cohost and creator of Buttons & Figs, a podcast for children about playing with words. Anne Bensfield is a youth technology integration consultant helping libraries and schools implement new models for innovation.

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