I’ve been a long time fan of Lost in the Stacks -- a weekly radio show out of Georgia Tech. I had a chance to catch up with Charlie Bennett (Undergraduate Programming & Engagement Librarian) and Ameet Doshi (Director, Service Experience & Program Design) about the show and how it has progressed since launching in 2010.
Tell me about Lost in the Stacks. How did it start? How has it evolved? How do you measure success?
CB: Lost in the Stacks is the one-and-only research-library rock’n’roll radio show. Every Friday at noon on WREK Atlanta (Georgia Tech’s radio station), we broadcast an hour-long mix of music, library talk, interviews, in-jokes, and the occasional short piece, all connected to the theme for the day. After 263 shows (as of July 4th, 2015), we’ve had themes of all kinds, from coffee shops to high-density storage facilities to metadata creation to professional development. We have a very simple metric of success that’s almost impossible for us to measure: if a listener learns one new concept from the episode, then we did a good job for them. I can sum up that success in a story.
My wife worked as nanny. She was driving the youngest kid around while his sisters were in school, and they listened to our “The Library of/at Alexandria” episode. At the end, he turned to my wife and said “So, people think the Library of Alexandria burned down but it didn’t?” He was four years old. I was so pleased.
How did the name come about?
CB: There was a list with everything from “Libraries Unbound” to “The Library Music Hour” and “Lost in the Stacks” was floating right in the middle. We ran that list by friends and family, and “Lost in the Stacks” kept sounding right. Now I can’t imagine the show being called anything else.
How have you developed your craft?
CB: When we started, we were completely dependent on our board op for the technical stuff -- bumper music, set playback, station IDs -- and we were just scheduling the interviews and providing sets of music. The first show was 43 minutes of music, 15 minutes of pre-recorded studio interviews, and 2 minutes of intro and outro. Now, five and half years later, we’ve done episodes with on-location recording, RadioLab-style cut-ups, scripted bits, and all sorts of radio shenanigans. And now that there are five of us, we’re able to spend more time on each individual show and to put more work into developing the episode themes.
[caption id="" align="aligncenter” width="500"] Charlie and Ameet[/caption]
I think the biggest development, the most-changed quality in the show, is confidence. Radio is amazing -- the more you think you can do, the more you can do. There aren’t many limits beyond sound quality and time to work. Everything else is just believing you can do it.
What have you learned along the way?
CB: I should have saved my “confidence” answer for this question. I have also learned that the constraint of a format actually creates freedom -- the structure of the show is quite rigid but the show (almost) always feels loose, happy, and free. We know that if we get somebody who knows his or her stuff, then we’ll have a great show.
I’ve also learned about editing, interviewing, and producing, but those are incredibly boring skills until you apply them to something you love.
What’s your creative process? How do stay excited and energized? How do you develop shows?
CB: The shows develop through conversation, usually over coffee and tea, between all the possible combinations of the five of us: Ameet, Wendy Hagenmaier, Fred Rascoe, Lizzy Rolando, and me.
[caption id="" align="aligncenter” width="605"] Wendy Hagenmaier, Charlie Bennett, Ameet Doshi, and Fred Rascoe.[/caption]
To plan the semester of shows, we meet for an all-hands production meeting. Each of us has a particular set of interests and networks to explore, and the show really flourishes in the places where those sets brush against each other. We find a theme, someone suggests a guest, someone else suggests a music theme, we refine the show theme, connect it with another planned show, and after an hour of that, we’ve got 10 to 15 shows ready to produce. Then we assign a single producer to each show, and that producer is responsible to the guest and the music concept.
And speaking of the other producers, the show has become richer and more interesting because Wendy, Fred, and Lizzy joined us. Fred, a true rock’n’roll librarian, is now our music supervisor and has final cut on the song choices, and we are lucky to have him. Wendy is an archivist and has brought a streak of archival-crazy to our show -- archivists are divine trouble-makers. And Lizzy, a data librarian, opened up the show’s concerns to include the digital and the progressive -- talk to her about copyright some time -- more than Ameet and I ever would have.
Are there any particular episodes you would like to highlight?
CB: There’s a streak of DC punk rock in the past year, connecting three shows I’m proud of:
Episode 215: “Citizen Archiving”
Episode 223: “Citizen Archiving II: Documents & Dischord” with Ian MacKaye(!!!)
Episode 262: “The DC Punk Archive”
AD: We just rebroadcast an episode about Little Free Libraries for the 4th of July. It was a fun show to do because of all the found sounds in the mix. I also like that we talked about something that a lot of people have heard about but maybe haven’t spent an hour really contemplating. It’s an episode for librarians, book-lovers, and folks who like to swing a hammer.
Episode 192: Our Little Free Library
These two episodes are with an architect who was an essential part of the Clough Undergraduate Learning Commons planning. Sometimes the show operates like an informal archive of the Georgia Tech Library and associated projects.
Episode 175: Beautiful Library Renovations
Episode 176: Libraries as Inspirational Space
Where do you see the show heading next?
CB: We’re going to become required listening for all library students, and This American Life is going to do a story about rock’n’roll librarians that features us. Those are my dreams.
Anything else you want to share?
CB: I recommend this book (Radio: an illustrated guide) to anyone who is interested in radio:
Lost in the Stacks links: