Raising a Voice: Librarian Uses New Web Medium to Inform, Entertain

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A reference librarian in the Midwest USA is using his skills and previous career experience as a radio personality to produce webcasts that are smart, fun, "listenable" and heard by people around the world.

He's a librarian, but he does very little shooshing. In fact, he's extremely talkative.

In his day job, Marv Kaminsky is a reference librarian at a public library in the Midwest USA, but on weekends and evenings, he produces and hosts "radio" programs on the Internet heard literally around the world.

Kaminsky is a former broadcast radio personality who left the business for a more secure existence as a librarian. When the new medium of podcasting (Internet distributed radio, no iPod needed, listen anytime, right on the computer) appeared two years ago, he saw it as an opportunity to reunite with his former "dream job" yet not be restricted by big corporate media and lowest-common-denominator programming.

"In a way, it's an extension of my work as a librarian. I'm conveying information and combining it with the radio background of presenting it in a compelling way and making people smile," says Kaminsky.

In February 2005, he launched The Mr. Nice Guy Show (http://MrNiceGuyShow.com/), described as "a smart, fun look at our world, pop culture and news." In weekly editions of about 15 minutes, the Oswego, New York native has dealt with everything from the proliferation of high-caffeine energy drinks to cool Web sites you may have missed, research on how body symmetry affects looks and IQ, interesting forthcoming books and topical humour (with attribution; hey, he's a librarian) to his whimsical dream of running away from the workaday world and living "in the forest in British Columbia." Listeners literally throughout the world have heard him interview a former major market newsman, a spokesperson for one of Google's competitors and a prominent psychologist who studies the pain people feel when they're ignored. He's even sung a Jewish hymn into the voicemail of Mel Gibson's publicist.

"This isn't like KISS or MIXX or what you get on the radio dial," says Kaminsky. "I'm not going to talk down to people, yell, or entice them with prizes to win. There's no angry, devisive talk like on AM radio. This isn't for everyone, but I think it's for a whole lot more people than we'd think. Folks are smarter than radio programmers give them credit for. It's a complicated world: people deal with it every day. They want to learn things and not be patronized and preached or barked at."

He's quick to add though that this isn't like public radio or a lecture hall. "We have fun with it. Listeners know that I'm not so good at science and math, can't solve for X, but am curious about the world around me, just like they are."

In '06, Kaminsky debuted two other programs, LibVibe, a library profession news podcast (http://LibVibe.com/) and JNewsLight, a look at the lighter side of Jewish news (http://JNewsLight.com/). Both approximately five-minute long, upbeat newscasts. "Again, people are busy, but they want to know what's going on. It's concise, listenable, fun." All of the programs are free and available for listening anytime someone visits the site and can also be added to iTunes, My Yahoo and other so-called aggregators or podcatchers.

With audiences for the programs growing, podcasting's confusing terminology ("maybe we should call it 'Webcasting'") and the profusion of homemade podcasts he describes as "terrible, almost unlistenable," remain an obstacle. "People think you need to own an iPod to listen. You don't. Many try to get into podcast listening, go to the directories and find that 90% of all podcasts being produced seem to deal with technology, science fiction or inane sex jokes. It's very subjective, I know, but sadly true. It hurts the rest of us."

"We're still in 'early-adopter mode' and just keep doing the good work, hoping for positive word-of-mouth and a winnowing process that'll make the medium as mature as the people out there yearning for something smarter than the top-40 and divisve talk."

Personally, Kaminsky hopes for a full time position doing podcasting for a library ("It's very 'Library 2.0'"), university, or other socially-responsible organization, pointing to the many opportunities the medium offers for informing, entertaining and teaching. "Okay, maybe I'd also continue doing some library reference work, too. I love libraries and helping people find information. Libraries remain a vital part of the community."

He adds, "at its best, the medium of podcasting can be like a library: we open the doors every day to make people smarter, make 'em laugh, enriched. The goal is a better world."

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MARV K.

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