by Molly Schwartz
Mary Kidd (MLIS ’14) and Dana Gerber-Margie (MLS ’13) first met at a Radio Preservation Task Force meeting in 2016. They bonded over experiences of conference fatigue, but quickly moved onto topics near and dear to both of their hearts: podcasts and audio archiving. Dana Gerber-Margie has been a long-time podcast super-listener. She is subscribed to over 1400 podcasts, and she regularly listens to 40-50 of them. She launched a podcast recommendation newsletter when she was getting her MLS, called “The Audio Signal,” which has grown into a popular podcast publication called The Bello Collective. Mary was a National Digital Stewardship Resident at WNYC, where she was creating a born-digital preservation strategy for their archives. She had worked on analog archives projects in the past — scanning and transferring collections of tapes — but she’s embraced the madness and importance of preserving born-digital audio. Mary and Dana stayed in touch and continued to brainstorm ideas, which blossomed into a workshop about podcast preservation that they taught at the Personal Digital Archives conference at Stanford in 2017, along with Anne Wootton (co-founder of Popup Archive, now at Apple Podcasts).
Then Mary and I connected at the National Digital Stewardship Residency symposium in Washington, DC in 2017. I got my MLS back in 2013, but since then I’ve been working more at the intersection of media, storytelling, and archives. I had started a podcast and was really interested, for selfish reasons, in learning the most up-to-date best practices for born-digital audio preservation. I marched straight up to Mary and said something like, “hey, let’s work together on an audio preservation project.” Mary set up a three-way Skype call with Dana on the line, and pretty soon we were talking about podcasts. How we love them. How they are at risk because most podcasters host their files on commercial third-party platforms. And how we would love to do a massive outreach and education program where we teach podcasters that their digital files are at risk and give them techniques for preserving them. We wrote these ideas into a grant proposal, with a few numbers and a budget attached, and the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation gave us $142,000 to make it happen. We started working on this grant project, called “Preserve This Podcast,” back in February 2018. We’ve been able to hire people who are just as excited about the idea to help us make it happen. Like Sarah Nguyen, a current MLIS student at the University of Washington and our amazing Project Coordinator.
One moral of this story is that digital archives conferences really can bring people together and inspire them to advance the field. The other moral of the story is that, after months of consulting audio preservation experts and interviewing podcasters and getting 556 podcasters to take a survey and reading about the history of podcasting, we can confirm that podcasts are disappearing and podcast producers are not adequately equipped to preserve their work against the onslaught of forces working against the long-term endurance of digital information rendering devices. There is more information on our website about the project (preservethispodcast.org) and in the report about the survey findings. Please reach out to email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org if you have any thoughts or ideas.
Molly Schwartz is the Studio Manager at the Metropolitan New York Library Council (METRO). She is the host and producer of two podcasts about libraries and archives — Library Bytegeist and Preserve This Podcast. Molly did a Fulbright grant at the Aalto University Media Lab in Helsinki, was part of the inaugural cohort of National Digital Stewardship Residents in Washington, D.C., and worked at the U.S. State Department as a data analyst. She holds an MLS with a specialization in Archives, Records and Information Management from the University of Maryland at College Park and a BA/MA in History from the Johns Hopkins University.