Podcasts and sustainability

In the spring of 2022,  the podcast Consolation Prize was wrapping up its second and final season. As a member of both of the Sustainability and Consolation Prize teams, I (Megan) was tasked with initiating the end-of-project workflow for the show’s website. At the same time, RRCHNM’s other podcast, The Green Tunnel, was concluding its first season and R2 Studios – a podcasting studio at RRCHNM – was set to grow. These events combined to present an opportunity to create a sustainability plan for our podcasting efforts which would allow us to preserve materials proactively rather than triage five or ten years down the line. 

We also wanted to find a way to ensure long-term access to the episodes, and not just the audio. Every episode of a show from R2 Studios includes not only the audio file which is distributed across podcast platforms but a full transcription and robust show notes. These show notes might include information about guests, recommended reading, videos mentioned in the episode, photographs, and maps. 

Through the course of a number of conversations with Dr. Abigail Mullen, Dr. Jessica Otis, and Jeanette Patrick, we developed a plan for a workflow that would ensure the preservation of the shows as the robust resources they are. The plan involves treating the show websites and episodes as distinct but related items. It is an adaptation of RRCHNM’s general workflow for submitting items to the Mason Archival Repository Service (MARS).

The repository is built using DSpace, which has communities and collections. Communities are used to group collections, while collections contain items. Our idea was to create a sub-community within the RRCHNM community specifically for R2 Studios, within which we could then create collections for each podcast show. Every podcast show would be an individual item. The show’s website would also be an item, archived according to the principles we had already been using for other website-based RRCHNM projects. 

Each episode item would include the episode’s description, air date, and episode number in the metadata. We would attach the audio file for the episode, a plain-text copy of the transcript, a pdf of the show notes, and any album art. This solution meant that each episode would exist as an independent record in MARS which could be cited or directly referenced. It also allowed us to more easily credit the creators and guests for each episode – an important feature given the important contributions of undergraduate and graduate students as research assistants and interns on the shows. While the initial generation of metadata and related files would have to happen all at once, we plan to implement a process of archiving each show at the end of every season (for those shows which have more than one season).

Our ability to implement the plan was delayed by transitions at the library in the team responsible for MARS. In the interim, we moved forward under the hopes that our plan would be feasible. I created a template for what information to collect. Kris Stinson and Hayley Madl,  both graduate assistants, went through the episodes to compile the required metadata, generate plain-text transcription files, and capture pdfs of the show notes. The only material which they did not collect were the audio files, as these are cumulatively large as well as already stored on servers to which the staff have access.

One of the questions which arose during the process of metadata generation and collection was how to deal with videos in the show notes. Some of the episodes of The Green Tunnel had featured videos from various Appalachian Trail clubs in their show notes, usually as embedded video. These videos were interesting additional material but not essential to the argument of the show. Since these videos were not part of our intellectual production (and therefore we did not have rights to them), we decided to make a note in the item metadata of the video’s attribution and original link. This would allow someone looking at the item to find the original if needed.

When we were able to meet with Joanna Lee, the Digital Repository Services Librarian, we were happy to find that she approved of our overall plan for archiving the podcasts. She shared our guidelines, with the proposed mapping of information to MARS metadata fields, with metadata and cataloging librarians for review. Shortly after our meeting, she created the R2 Studios community and collections for both of the podcasts.

Lee also offered to implement some workflows in MARS for the podcast sustainability effort. First, she said that it might be possible to create a podcast-specific template in MARS which would help with the workflow and with the displayed labels when users are browsing. In addition, Lee explained how user roles interacted with communities and collections, which would make it possible to have R2 Studios staff review submissions created by research assistants before formally submitting the items to the system. 

As of this writing, we are in the process of taking the metadata created by the research assistants over the summer and submitting them to The Green Tunnel and Consolation Prize collections on MARS. We are still working with Lee to finalize the custom template.