Multimedia Power; UCB's Online Audio Recordings Project

Article excerpt

I clicked on a link in a Web-based OPAC, and seconds later heard Mario Savio's voice through my computer's speakers as he addressed a 20th-anniversary rally commemorating the beginning of the Free Speech Movement. Another click, and I was listening to Malcolm X. The emotion and inflection in their voices, the clapping audience, even the feedback from the soundstage brought me almost to tears.

If you think information isn't power, listen to Savio and Malcolm X; it's the First Amendment come alive. And if you think librarianship isn't powerful, think about how the speeches got there; librarians made it happen.

As head of the Media Resource Center at UC/Berkeley since 1985, Gary Handman has been working with multimedia since long before it was cool. Recently Gary (who's also American Libraries' "Quick Vids" columnist) has been leading a library project to put audio and video files online. Like the Everglades Digital Library project (AL, Oct. 1997, p. 76), the particular appeal of the UCB Media Online Audio Recordings project is its strong handprint of classic librarianship.

We librarians are famous for focusing on questions of access and preservation from a long-range, big-picture perspective. Gary believes passionately in the value of the resources his library delivers - both in terms of high-quality, on-demand access for his library users and in the value of the content itself to our collective library treasures. He knew creating this archive was about much more than stuffing data on a server.

The risks and opportunities in this project carried equal weight. On the risk side, Gary had to plan a large-scale conversion project in an era of technology change that he described as "trying to see the future over a brick wall." Given the media formats that have crashed and burned in the last 20 years (looked for an 8-track tape or a gopher lately?), it takes some chutzpah to spend significant chunks of change on transferring files to a new format.

However, Gary had the advantage that the UCB Music Library had gone down the same path the previous year when the library got a grant to digitize musical recordings. They had struggled through some tough decisions - for example, choosing to use a high-quality audio player, Streamworks, rather than the better-known RealAudio. Gary's decades of library experience convinced him that, given the Media Center's primary role as a research center, following in the Music Library's footsteps to use Streamworks was in the best interests of his patrons and his media.

Again, careful strategy, born of experience, directed the efforts. The language lab, which does the conversion, takes the prudent step of converting the audio files to CD format, which is then used to create the Streamworks files. This means if a new format emerges, the data can be converted from the CDs, just one step away from the primary (and rapidly aging) format. Where does the language lab fit into the library? It doesn't; it's part of the Berkeley Language Center - a unit outside the library. This type of collaboration will become increasingly important to all of us. …