Sounds of the Summer Reading Program: What Summer at the Library Sounds Like
by Sean Jones
Wichita Public Library
The Wichita Public Library was sort of the “odd duck” in the Data-Driven Storytelling Project: Making Civic Data Accessible with Audio program because it is not a newsroom and does not regularly produce news stories for the public. However, the Library collects a lot data for various services and projects, positioning it to be a prime adopter of the sonification technology.
For its first project, the Library looked at computer usage data before and during the COVID-19 pandemic. We looked at how many public computing sessions were conducted at the library system’s central location, showing an increase in usage, a sudden drop when the pandemic began, and a slow climb once the location reopened a couple of months later. Using TwoTone, a tool to turn data into sound, we began to test sonifications using this time-based Library data. It served as a unique way to hear the data rather than look at the numbers, and paired nicely with podcast-like narratives that gave the listener a broader story rather than a quick report on paper.
Several staff members from the Library collaborated on this project:
- Sean Jones, Communications Specialist, led the team through the project and helped organize and plan each sonification.
- Jeff Tate, Digital Services Manager, oversaw staff and assisted with miscellaneous tasks during the project.
- Kyle Holly, Videographer, recorded and edited each sonification.
- Janelle Mercer, Technology Trainer, narrated the podcast episodes and assisted with technology needs.
These staff members met regularly to plan, produce and create different sonification projects. They all attended training sessions to learn how to use the sonification platform to take visual data and turn it into something audible. They all came together to plan out each podcast episode and worked through Zoom technology to record episodes as well.
The second project the Library tested new approaches to communicate data with sound through the annual Summer Reading Program, a summer-long challenge for kids ages 0-18 to participate in early learning or reading challenges to win prizes throughout the summer. This program aims to combat the summer slide, or learning loss during months away from school. In the sonification, the Library used attendance data for several in-person and virtual programs to show the slow climb towards a more “normal” program. Last summer, the Library introduced an outdoor concert series for families, and the attendance numbers were sonified to show the progression of attendance. The same went for a number of in-person outdoor programs as well. The Library also used this as an opportunity to talk about the 2020 virtual program and how it reshaped the way the Library approached the 2021 hybrid program.
Working with blind and visually impaired (BVI) advisors was a huge win for the Library team. We were able to not only gain insight about our sonification projects, we also learned about ways we can better serve the BVI community in our branch locations and on our website. We learned about different tools the BVI community uses to navigate and find information, some of which could easily be incorporated into the Library’s overall goal to make library spaces more inclusive.
The Wichita Public Library is always looking for new, innovative ways to make access to information as accessible and inclusive as possible. Learning the tools to easily turn simple and complex data sets into engaging sounds for customers who are unable to see gives Library staff room to expand information sharing.
This podcast was created as part of ‘Data-Driven Storytelling: Making Civic Data Accessible with Audio’; a production, training and research program delivered by Sonify, Wichita Community Foundation and Envision. For this year-long initiative, three hyperlocal newsroom teams in Wichita Kansas worked with fifteen advisors from the blind and visually impaired community to create audio podcasts featuring data sonification. The project was supported by the Knight Foundation as one of seven national winners of their ‘Data For Civic Engagement Challenge’. To learn more, visit https://www.wichita.sonify.site/.