Podcasts, Data Models, and a Library Student

What does a data model for long term storage of podcasts look like? For a person just entering into library school this may not seem like an obvious question you may need to answer, but it was the question I found myself working on a year ago when I started my studies.

Thanks to some previous experience working with databases, my years as a podcaster, and my previous studies as a mathematician I had managed to get a job as a project assistant for PodcastRE, a database and archive for future academic research, at the University of Wisconsin, Madison. I was very excited about the job, podcasts have been a passion of mine since I first heard about them 2004, so being a part of a project to preserve them was a dream come true. I was rather unsure I was the right person for the job. While I had worked with databases before it was primarily on the querying not the development side and while I knew podcasts I was studying to become a librarian so maybe I should have just taken a job at a library instead.


The question about the data model was the first big part of the project I had to tackle. Podcasts are an interesting challenge because they are not just downloadable episodes/files, primarily but not exclusively audio, they are also the feed itself, which in the language of library and information schools are collections of those files. So when I had to think about the data model I had to think about how we would store the metadata about and files for the individual episodes, but also how we would tie those episodes to the metadata and xml files which represent the feeds. To make it even more fun the author of a podcast feed can change the content of a feed or an episode at any point.

While trying to answer the data model question it became clear to me that even though I had not understood it when I was hired, my bosses knew exactly what they were doing. I say this because it turns out all of these issues are exactly the sorts of things library/information schools prepare you to tackle. Within only a few weeks of one of my intro classes I came to understand that in order for PodcastRE to be a proper archive I would need to make sure it captured the original version of an episode, along with any modified version in such a way that the system could tie them all together as different version. At the same time I was in a very helpful database class which helped me hone my ability to structure a database which would allow for this style of archiving. While I had initially thought my studies and my job would not have a huge amount of overlap, I quickly came to understand that while it might sound to most people that I was doing the work of a developer I was really doing the work of a librarian.

So, when you are looking for jobs while at library school do not fall into the trap I did and think that the only ones really relevant to your future life as a librarian are the ones at libraries. The skills of a librarian, and us library students, are vast and applicable in many more places than any of us are aware. I have spent time now working in libraries on campus as well, and while I definitely think those experiences are important none of them have taught me as much about being a librarian as trying to puzzle out how to deal with the problem of archiving podcasts.

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