Videoconference Screens "Motion Media & Library of the Future"

By Mason-Robinson, Sally | American Libraries, August 1997 | Go to article overview

Videoconference Screens "Motion Media & Library of the Future"


Mason-Robinson, Sally, American Libraries


The name "library" has lost its etymologic meaning and means not a collection of books, but the central agency for disseminating information, innocent recreation, or best of all, inspiration among the people. Whenever this can be done better, more quickly or cheaply by a picture than a book, the picture is entitled to a place on the shelves and in the catalog.

- Melvil Dewey (Public Libraries, January 1906)

While the prescient Mr. Dewey hit the nail on the head with his view of the future library, he would likely be as breathless as the rest of us in trying to keep up with the changes in the organization and delivery of information at the end of the century. And while the profession has moved along rapidly to stay in the forefront of electronic information delivery, its focus has been almost exclusively on the delivery of text, with the sometime enhancement of "visuals."

The development of VHS video changed the complexion of all types of libraries, making motion media an important part of virtually every collection. However, the profession's historically ambivalent attitude toward "nonprint" has led to a dearth of information on the future of the motionpicture component of multimedia technologies.

An international videoconference, "Video, CD-ROM and the Web: Motion Media and the Library of the Future," addressed these issues May 15. The broadcast from KRMA-TV, Denver's PBS outlet, was received by nearly 200 downlink sites in 44 states, Puerto Rico, Canada, and Mexico. Produced by National Video Resources, with support from the Annenberg/CPB Project, AT&T, and the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, the two-hour program offered discussions of administrative issues such as infrastructure, planning, and budgeting; collection development and management of the current "hot" formats, such as CD-ROM and the World Wide Web; and emerging technologies such as DVD (digital video disc.)

The keynoter was former San Francisco Public Library Director Kenneth Dowlin, who called on his more than 30 years of experience in building libraries and pushing the envelope of new technologies. Other speakers and panelists, all selected for their media savvy, represented various types and sizes of libraries. The program host was Gary Handman, media services librarian at the University of California/Berkeley's Moffitt Library.

Infrastructure issues

A vital issue for all libraries is how to deal with the infrastructure of increasingly electronic library service: How do new libraries support new and emerging technologies, and how do older libraries adapt? Or, in a larger sense, will there be a need for library buildings? Keynoter Dowlin pointed out that "public opinion polls and public referenda consistently show that the public is willing to support libraries in the future. At worst they will become marginal institutions in the community. The actual risk is to librarianship."

The way libraries can retain their place in the community, Dowlin maintained, is to see that the library infrastructure from the era of print is adapted to incorporate the visual media, which is the way most people today receive their information. Key to the successful shift for libraries will be the integration of all formats in the digital age, and for librarians to move from being experts in content to being experts in access.

Gordon Conable, director of the Monroe County (Mich.) Library System, pointed out that "libraries will no longer be defined by physical collections, but by the mechanism that allows users to pick from a vast array of possible materials."

Both Conable and Dowlin stressed the need for libraries to approach funding from a broader view, making "information resources" an operational budget item that includes all formats, rather than separating out electronic formats, which often appear as capital expenditures. James Scholtz, director of the Yankton (S.Dak.) Community Library, added that for smaller libraries consortia and shared resources are important resources. …

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