A View outside the Mainstream: Boldly Go beyond Popular Home Video to Build an Exciting and Diverse Video Collection

By Handman, Gary | American Libraries, November 2003 | Go to article overview

A View outside the Mainstream: Boldly Go beyond Popular Home Video to Build an Exciting and Diverse Video Collection


Handman, Gary, American Libraries


In the past decade or so, library literature concerning video collections and programs has become as perplexingly rare as Betamax players. It seems absolutely incredible that close to 30 years after the introduction of the VHS player, suspicion of "nonprint" media still continues to buzz around the profession like a myopic and particularly annoying fly on a hot day. Well, I, for one, refuse to swat anymore! With VHS players ensconced almost universally in American living rooms (and DVD following closely behind), and with video collections of one stripe or another widely established in libraries, it's a dead and gone issue. The revolution that brought the movies home and into library collections ain't revolutionary any more.

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While I no longer worry (much) about the acceptance of video in libraries, I do worry constantly about the nature and direction of library video collections. Admittedly, video collection development has never been an easy process, especially once you venture outside of the tinsel realm of Hollywood features. Simply identifying particular types of video on specific subjects can be a maddening undertaking, not to mention the often-perplexing task of finding distribution sources for those materials. The commonly high cost of video titles outside of the home market has also thrown up many roadblocks to a diverse collection.

Given these inherent difficulties, it's perhaps no wonder that a good number of library video collections seem to have been built along the lines of least resistance. Those lines generally lead directly and exclusively to libraries stocking up on popular features, sundry kidvid, and the relatively low-cost, mass-market nonfiction works that can be conveniently scooped up from our friends, the jobbers. Matters certainly have not been helped by the fact that both academic and public librarians most often treat video collection development and management as an occupational sideline, rather than a professional focus. Without the skills and the time to navigate difficult selection and acquisition waters, it's much easier to chart a dead-straight course and set the ship to autopilot.

The line-of-least-resistance scenario may be the easy and cheap way out, but it seldom results in collections that reflect or support either the full range of user needs and wants, or the full range of potential uses for the medium. Regardless of the type of library, building creative and responsive video collections requires at least occasional intrepid ventures beyond the comfortable realm of popular mass-market offerings into lesser-known (and often more exciting) cinematic waters.

1. Independent documentary works. With some notable recent exceptions (Michael Moore's Bowling for Columbine comes to mind), the documentary film form has always survived well outside of the Hollywood mainstream. This general independence from box office expediencies has been both a function of the form itself ("No big-name stars! No action scenes! No heavy romance! Heavy subject!") and a liberating factor for many documentary filmmakers. Independence has allowed these directors to further their personal political or artistic agendas, to question the cultural status quo and push for social change, and to share their unique and sometimes dangerous visions.

Since the 1960s, independent documentary filmmaking has given an increasingly strong voice to diverse, historically marginalized communities. Over the past three decades, documentaries by filmmakers of color, by women, and by gays and lesbians have provided us with previously untold stories and unheard viewpoints, which often stand in startling contrast to the tales told in the mainstream media.

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Independence often comes at a price, however. Because they are created and distributed outside of the mass marketplace, the majority of the most provocative, insightful, and socially relevant documentary works are seldom seen in video rental stores or on the shelves of retail outlets. …

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