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Occasional Papers

Occasional Paper 19: Video Collections and Multimedia in ARL Libraries: Changing Technologies

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Prepared by Kristine Brancolini, Indiana University, and Rick Provine, University of Virginia

More than 20 years after the introduction of the videocassette player and recorder, video collections and services in academic research libraries still remain uneven in size and quality. The academic library members of the Association of Research Libraries include the largest, most prestigious and innovative libraries in North America. However, we have learned through surveys conducted over the past three years that their commitment to current and emerging video and multimedia technologies varies widely. While we are busy building digital libraries and virtual libraries, many of our users still do not have access to tens of thousands of essential publications. Why? Because these publications are motion pictures, distributed on videocassette and optical disc. Academic research libraries do not build collections of motion media with the same intensity devoted to print materials.

Academic research libraries have been slow to develop audiovisual collections, despite a number of compelling reasons for them to do so. All libraries profess to support any technology that helps us meet the needs of students and faculty. However, at some of our institutions audiovisual collections were established in separate campus media centers, rather than in the library. Multimedia collections are cropping up in computer centers and instructional technology centers rather than in the library. We believe that all of these collections and service belong in the library, regardless of collection building and services offered by other campus administrative.

Libraries provide superior bibliographic control, with thorough descriptive cataloging and subject analysis. The capabilities of online catalogs have improved the quality of searching for all formats, print and audiovisual, but their impact on the retrieval of audiovisual materials has been phenomenal. In order to maintain access by format, libraries were reluctant to integrate their audiovisual materials in union card catalogs, preferring to maintain a separate catalog for audiovisual materials. However, the online catalog allows the user to bring together all versions of a work or limit a search to one format only. In contrast, few campus media centers offer the same level of cataloging or universal access to their catalog. Collections in departmental libraries and campus computing centers often receive no cataloging at all.

Libraries typically offer better hours of service and easier access. Because they primarily support classroom instruction, campus media centers operate during office hours, Monday through Friday, 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. Libraries, on the other hand, continue to operate at night and on the weekend. At least one university media center houses its film and video collection at a remote location, requiring users to order films and videos for viewing the day before, so they can be delivered to an on-campus viewing site. Most media centers require in-house viewing, except for classroom showings. Libraries deliver videorecordings and other materials on demand, with no waiting period. Libraries are also more likely to circulate video recordings at least to faculty for a limited time period.

Library collections are developed to support campus instruction and research based upon collection development and selection policies. The librarians who select video for library collections need not worry about the appeal of these collections to potential off-campus borrowers. Thus, their collections can be more directly responsive to specific teaching and research needs of the university user population. Libraries can respond to individual needs more readily than campus media centers. For example, at Indiana University recent library video purchases have supported dissertation research on film maker Peter Greenaway (Department of Film Studies) and on performance in cinematic auto/biography (Department of English). The more obscure and minor works among these acquisitions would be inappropriate for a rental collection.

Libraries extend access to all members of the campus community and, in the case of some public universities, to any resident of the state. Departmental libraries and archives, on the other hand, exclude most users. Multimedia resource centers operated by computing services often limit access to faculty or to students enrolled in specific courses. By centralizing collections and services in the library, we extend access to a significantly larger user population, which is a more efficient use of often scarce campus resources.

The newest video technology in libraries, multimedia CD-ROM, is a computer format. Although it does not replace videocassette or laserdisc, we have seen the last analog distribution format; whatever replaces VHS will be a digital format. Libraries lose their credibility as the high-tech leader on campus when we avoid these collections and services. The digital library of the next century must encompass all computer technology, including formats that store and deliver motion media. When asked Why is your library involved with multimedia? One librarian responded, "We become irrelevant if we are not actively involved. Emerging video technologies and multimedia in libraries project the image we want on campus."

Video Collections and Multimedia in ARL Libraries: Changing Technologies presents the results of two surveys conducted in 1993 and 1995 and makes recommendations for building video and multimedia collections and developing services to support them. The two surveys update the results of an even earlier SPEC survey conducted in 1990. The publication of the resulting SPEC Kit 162, Audiovisual Policies in ARL Libraries (March 1990) marked the first attempt to describe the audiovisual collections and policies since 1977.

Ordering Information

Occasional Paper 19: Video Collections and Multimedia in ARL Libraires: Changing Technologies
Kristine Brancolini and Rick Provine
April 1997 • ISBN 0-918006-79-1 • 53 pp.
$25 ($18 for ARL members)
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