InfoIssues: October 2005 | Mansfield Library | The University of Montana-Missoula

The University of Montana Libraries—Missoula

A publication of the faculty of the Mansfield Library at the University of Montana

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To comment on this issue or to suggest an issue, please contact Jennie Burroughs, Chair, Key Constituencies Committee.

Issue of the Month: October 2005

Keeping Up with “Podcasting”

-Steve McCann, Assistant Professor
Digital Projects Librarian

The term “podcasting” is a portmanteau of the words “broadcasting” and “iPod.” It comes from the practice of publishing audio files on the web, via RSS or Atom, which subscribers then obtain and transfer to an offline source, such as an iPod or similar device. It’s a confusing name, since in order to subscribe you don’t actually need an external player like an iPod, only a web connection and computer. Subscribing to a podcast can be a great way to keep up with what’s happening in a given field, whether it’s the conference proceedings from something like BlogHer 2005 , foreign-language class assignments, or the type of music you can’t find on the local dial. This article will briefly discuss how podcasting works, how to find podcasts relevant to your area of interest, and some of the legal issues surrounding the technology.

Podcasting depends on the syndication made possible by “Really Simple Syndication” (RSS). A podcast RSS feed is a machine-readable XML file which includes metadata such as title, originator, date the file was published, as well as links to “enclosures” (external files such as images, sound, or video files). Through the use of software aggregators, users are able to “watch” these RSS feeds for updates (it’s a subscription, really) and then automatically download the audio files once they’re published. Popular and free podcast aggregators include iTunes (which is available for both Mac and Windows machines), Odeo, and iPodder . If you’re interested in publishing your own feed, there are several good tutorials available, including one at

Podcasts cover a wide spectrum of topics, from entertaining to scholarly. With over 18 million results available through a Google search on “podcast feed”, finding relevant content can be a challenge. Yahoo! recently launched a beta Podcast search engine which allows you to search by series, episode, or a combination of the two. For example, a search for the conference “BlogHer 2005” as a series title turned up no results. On the other hand, an episode search for the same title turned up 35 hits from such disparate podcast series as “IT Conversations,”“Silicon Valley, Technology, and Media InfoTalk,” and “Village Girl’s Video Blog.” If you’re interested in technology, the above search immediately turned up three potential subscriptions. Another strategy for finding interesting content is to consult an index. Good indexes can be found at,, or the Yahoo! Podcast Search page. Other podcast search engines are available.

As usually happens with fast-moving technologies like podcasting, intellectual property laws in the United States have not been able to keep up with recent changes. If you’re looking to experiment with this medium, here are a few copyright points to keep in mind. To include music in your podcast, you will most likely need to obtain a performance rights license, which is usually granted by the recording company. If you don’t want to go to that expense, there are alternatives. As Laura Gordon-Murnane notes, you can include music that is not copyrighted or music that has “some rights reserved” like with a creative commons license. Helpful search engines for locating this type of music include the Internet Archive,, and a Creative Commons search engine such as the one provided by Yahoo!. If you’re subscribing to podcasts that send out music, keep in mind the amount of work required for making those music files legal. Chances are the podcaster hasn’t gone to the above trouble to stay legal, which may mean the file you’ve downloaded may not be legal as well.

To learn more about podcasting, try these links:

Podcasting News: Podcasting FAQ

Implications of Podcasting in Library Land

Podcasting in Education

Government Podcasts

NPR Podcast Directory

To comment on this issue or to suggest an issue, please contact Jennie Burroughs, Chair, Key Constituencies Committee.