Finalist: Cassandra Hickman, Pratt Institute School of Information
KNRC Youth Radio: A Podcasting Program for Teens
It can be a challenge to draw teens into programs at the public library. I work at the Canarsie Library, a branch of the Brooklyn Public Library located in East Brooklyn. The Canarsie Library is conveniently across the street from the Canarsie Educational Campus, which houses several smaller high schools. We do see teens in the library after school, but teenage attendance in our programs is low.
Students in Canarsie come from diverse socio-economic and ethnic backgrounds. Particularly in the current climate, these teens are passionate about discussing social issues and things that impact their lives. However, their perspectives are often unheard, or underrepresented. The public library can be an empowering space to provide youth an outlet, a safe place where they can talk, ask questions, interact with technology, and learn skills that will prepare them for a successful future.
By creating a podcasting program for local teens, we can give teens an opportunity to share their stories while reshaping the way that they interact with the public library.
Through the BKLYN Incubator, I proposed and won funding to create a series of digital radio workshops for local teenagers. The KNRC (“Canarsie”) Youth Radio program gives teens the opportunity to tell stories and learn technical skills by producing a podcast at the Canarsie Library.
I first heard about teen radio projects from my colleague, Caitlin Wilson, during a brainstorming session at a BKLYN Incubator workshop last year. I was struck by the idea as a creative way to connect with teens at the Canarsie Library. Podcasts are accessible, versatile in format, and recording equipment is relatively affordable. Anyone with the basic knowledge of recording and editing can create a podcast. In the digital age, podcasts provide a democratic platform for a diversity of voices to be heard.
To connect with possible participants, I partnered with the librarian at the Canarsie Educational Campus, Marie Edwards. Marie recruited interested students and arranged a meet-and-greet outreach session at the school. Her positive relationships with students were instrumental in making this project possible.
Beginning in October, 2016, a group of seven teens between the ages of 13 and 18 learned the skills to produce a podcast at the Canarsie Library. We hosted six, 90 minute workshops, and had a culminating Listening Event at the end to celebrate students’ work.
Teens learned about different styles of podcasts, how to craft a compelling story, and how to conduct interviews. They learned how to listen to their surroundings and record sound. Teens were able to borrow recording kits to bring home and record outside of the library. They also learned how to edit their projects using audio software.
The theme of the podcast was Current Social Issues, but students had the independence to choose whatever topic they would like to discuss under that umbrella. Students chose to participate in this program in their free time, so it was important that they were excited about their own projects. Participants were asked to create pieces that were 4 minutes or less, and had the option of working independently or in a team. There were no strict format guidelines – we left it up to the students to explore their creativity.
Two talented instructors taught the workshops. Jamie Courville, a film and audio maker, was our storytelling instructor. She wrote our curriculum, and guided these students as they crafted their ideas, learned how to interview, and practiced storytelling techniques.
Mark Pagán, the Community Radio Specialist at Brooklyn Free Speech, BRIC, was our tech instructor. He taught the participants how to use professional microphones and digital recorders to record sound. He sent students on a sound scavenger hunt, and showed them how to edit using digital software called Reaper.
I was fortunate to have support from three additional Canarsie staff members during the program, Emily Jones, Desiree Watson, and Julia Legutko. We all received training on how to use the recording equipment and editing software from Mark Pagán. We assisted students with their projects, and also gave them an overview on how to access great library resources like Lynda.com. Perhaps most importantly, we developed personal, positive relationships with the teens. Now, the participants know multiple people at the library.
During this program, teens truly opened up and came out of their shells. This was particularly evident at the culminating Listening Event. We played the students’ pieces out loud in front of an audience of friends, family, and librarians. Each student stood up and gave a speech about their project and what they learned. It was amazing to see how their speaking confidence had grown. The sense of community, friendship, and trust was palpable in the room. One participant said that the workshops humanized the library for him. He now sees the library as not just a building, but as a place where he can go that he knows people.
Not only did these teens have their voices heard during the Listening Event, but they also have their work published online. The KNRC Youth Radio podcast is available on the Brooklyn Public Library website (bklynlibrary.org/podcasts), iTunes, Libsyn, and BRIC media channels. Students have creative ownership over their pieces, and can add them to their portfolios and resumes.
All of the participants now have a library card, and they have all visited the library since the workshops ended. They want to know when the next session will begin! I hope to continue working with teens on podcasting at the library. This podcast project was also selected to be replicated in a forthcoming BKLYN Incubator Replication session this spring. I look forward to learning how public libraries use podcast programs to serve and inspire contemporary communities in the future.