Academic journal article Information Technology and Libraries

Distinctive Expertise: Multimedia, the Library, and the Term Paper of the Future

Academic journal article Information Technology and Libraries

Distinctive Expertise: Multimedia, the Library, and the Term Paper of the Future

Article excerpt

Multimedia will have a profound effect on libraries during the next decade. This rapidly developing technology permits the user to combine digital still images, video, animation, graphics, and audio. It can be delivered in a variety of finished formats, including streaming video on the Web, video on DVD/VCD, embedded digital objects within a Web page or presentation software such as PowerPoint, utilized within graphic designs, or printed as hardcopy. This article examines the elements of multimedia creation, as well as requirements and recommendations for implementing a multimedia facility in the library.


The term multimedia, which some may remember being used in the early 1970s as the name for slide shows set to music, now is used to describe "a number of diverse technologies that allow visual and audio media to be combined in new ways for the purpose of communicating." (1) Almost all personal computers sold today are capable of viewing multimedia; many can, with minor modifications, also create multimedia.

One of the most important features of multimedia is its flexibility. Multimedia creation has several distinct elements--inputs, processes performed on those inputs, and outputs (see figure 1). Each element can be described as follows.

* Inputs--New video can be recorded, or existing video, stored on a hard disk, CD/DVD, or tape can be imported. The same is true of audio, with the added flexibility of creating soundtracks or sound effects later, during the editing process. Digital still images can be used, either shot on a camera or created by scanning an existing picture. Digital artwork or animated sequences created in other software also can be brought in.

* Processing--Regardless of the source, these digital inputs are loaded into the editing software. At this stage, the user will select and arrange the images and sounds, and the software may permit special effects to be created. In addition, the editing software may compress the file so that it is easier to use than the large file sizes used in raw video and audio recording.

* Outputs--At this point, the user has more choices to make. The new multimedia file can be sent to a program that will encode it for a streaming video in any one of a variety of popular formats, such as Windows Media, RealMedia, or ClipStream. Then it can be mounted on a Web site (either a regular page or within courseware such as WebCT or Blackboard), or the file could be burned onto a CD or DVD, or it could be used within presentation software such as Microsoft PowerPoint. Or the output file from the editing process could be encoded and embedded so that it is an Avatar running as part of a Web page with a product such as Rovion Bluestream. The possibilities are nearly endless.


All of this is made possible by advances in technology on a variety of fronts. One of the happy anomalies in technology is that greater performance is frequently accompanied by lower costs. This is certainly the case with much of the activity surrounding multimedia. The following factors have fostered advances in multimedia:

* increase in processing power and decrease in cost of computer hardware;

* quality and affordability of video equipment;

* compression of multimedia files;

* consumer broadband Internet access; and

* current multimedia editing software

The first two technology factors concern the equipment involved in multimedia production. Leading off is the familiar, ever-increasing speed of processors and improved memory and hard-drive space, all delivered for less money. This trend is something that many people take for granted, but a reality check is sometimes in order. The processor in the typical desktop machine on advertised special today is approximately forty-four times as fast as the first Pentium processor sold ten years ago, and is equipped with sixteen times as much RAM and 117 times as much hard-drive space--at 20 percent of the cost of the old machine (not even adjusted for inflation! …

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