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Overview: Audio, Video, & Libraries

From novels to dictionaries, our libraries are filled with the printed word. Text is often the most efficient and effective way to communicate an idea. However the introduction of low-cost, easy-to-use technology for developing and disseminating digital audio and video is having a profound impact on how people communicate. No longer are information seekers restricted to what they read on a page.

Adding the visual and auditory channels of communication enrich the information experience. For example, you learn American Sign Language (ASL) by seeing the movement of the hand in a YouTube video. Or, you can learn to play the guitar using a book and an instructional video series.

Audio and video also contribute to evolving leisure activities. For instance, you can view a movie trailer at iTunes Movie Trailers or IMDb. You might listen to an online radio programs at NPR (National Public Radio).

Audio and video can be powerful information resources. Have you ever noticed how a piece of music can take you back to a particular time or place? What about recalling a favorite scene from a movie that you saw five or fifteen years?

Today, streaming audio and video can bring the world alive for viewers and listeners. For instance, Facebook's Live option now allows live interaction. Check out the Facebook Live Map. Think of the possibilities for sharing author talks with the world beyond the physical library.

try itTry It!
Check out the Facebook Map. Also, to the Explore Facebook page to see an example. Or, go to the Explore.org website for some examples of their live programs.

lambAnnette's Reflection
My sister and her family live over a thousand miles away in Austin, Texas. However through Facebook Live, I was able to watch my nephew play in the band during a live middle school football half time show. My entire family turned in live to enjoy the "broadcast" of his first band outdoor band performance playing the oboe.

My sister's iPhone was able to zoom in and stream high-quality images and audio. The video phones I imagined while growing up are now a reality.

The Audio and Video Experience

In Digital Games, YouTube, and Virtual Performance, Kiri Miller shares how people are connecting the physical and virtual world by immersing themselves in games, videos, and virtual experiences. She describes

“how digital media are brought to bear in transmission of embodied knowledge: how a Grand Theft Auto player uses virtual radio to hear with her avatar’s ears; how a Guitar Hero player channels the experience of a live rock performer; how a beginning guitar student translates a two-dimensional prerecorded online video lesson into three-dimensional physical practice and an intimate relationship with a distant teacher; how a yoga practitioner relearned the possibilities of his own body by participating in the ‘cybershala’”.

To really experience many topics, you need a wide range of materials. For example if you're studying the Holocaust, you might want sounds, photos, audios, videos, and websites, along with books, primary source documents, diaries, kits, and maps. You may even create your own information sources by collecting oral histories from survivors.

schindler's list covertry itTry It!
Watch the movie trailer for the 1993 film Schindler's List.
A combination of materials can extend the experience.
1) Start with the 1993 movie Schindler's List.
2) Explore the factory site at Krakow from the movie.
3) Take a virtual trip to the Holocaust Memorial Museum. Listen to the music that was heard in the ghettos, concentration camps, and partisan outposts. Watch videos from the period.
4) Adapt learning materials to fit the needs of a group of students. Explore the Schindler's List Teacher's Guide (free signin required).

Think about another high-quality film. Consider how this video could be extended through other informational and instructional materials.

Seeing, hearing, tasting, and touching are some of the ways we experience our world. Listening to a poem read aloud is very different from reading the poem in a book. Hearing a poem read by the original author in an audiobook can provide even more insight. In the same way, reading a speech on paper is much different than seeing and hearing the speaker on video.

At the 2013 Presidential Inauguration poet Richard Blanco read his poem "One Today". The poem comes to life when heard aloud.

If a library’s mission is to provide a rich information environment, then audio and video are essential components.

try itTry It!
Try the following activities:

(1) Go to the text of Maya Angelou's poem Still I Rise and read the poem silently. Then, read it aloud.

(2) Listen to the poem Still I Rise read by Rosie Perez. The audio button is in the upper left corner.

(3) View and listen to the video of Maya Angelou talking about her poem and reading Still I Rise.

Compare the experiences.

Think about other types of text, audio, and video sources where the experience is very different depending on the media type and the individual(s) involved.

Creators and publishers are thinking in new ways about creative works. For instance, the poet Richard Fox has released a video poem called “Europe” from his collection of sound poetry available on CD. Watch it on YouTube.

Format Preferences

"The university with a library that can provide unique resources and a broad range of content in an area of scholarly interest will set itself apart in attracting faculty and students. To serve this goal, libraries will invest more in... audio, video, and data sets, that serve the needs of researchers in a particular area of focus. This shift will be funded at the expense of other content, such as scholarly journals and monographs in less emphasized areas" (Levine-Clark, 2014, 433).

Today, library users have a wide range of choices when exploring the works of Shakespeare.

Desmet, Christy (July 2016). Shakespeare and the digitized word. CEA Critic, 78(2), 213-228. Available through IUPUI.

lambAnnette's Reflection
I'm sure I read works of Shakespeare all the way through my middle and high school years. However, I really don't remember.

On the other hand, I have fond members of watching the movie Romeo and Juliet as part of a class field trip to a local movie theater. Watch The Balcony scene. They brought the play alive for me.

When you were growing up, how did you "experience" Shakespeare?

Certain types of information are best served by particular formats. Many people have format preferences based on their learning styles. For example, some people would prefer written directions while others would prefer to follow a map.

You’ve probably heard that an image is worth a thousand words, but what about an audio or a video? For many library users, audio and video can bring information alive by providing an element of authenticity. Users are able to see and hear a particular frog in a specific pond, not a generic, static description in written words. Oral descriptions can help the auditory learner gain descriptive information, while the movement of video can help a student understand the context of the descriptions.

If you’re looking for information about whales and dolphins, you might enjoy reading a book, viewing photographs of whales, watching videos of whales moving, and listening to audios of whale songs.

try itTry It!
Explore the following resources.

1) Watch videos about the Bottlenose Dolphin from Voices in the Sea.

2) Listen to audio of a Bottlenose Dolphin from National Geographic.

3) Read about Bottlenose Dolphins at American Cetacean Society.

What types of materials do you prefer? Why?
If you wanted to address the individual differences of learners, what materials might be considered?

The Impact on Print Materials

When printed books for the masses became commonplace, concerned citizens felt that they would lead to idle workers and destroy memory. Live storytellers were much more interesting and dynamic than static books. The same has been said of audio and video technology. For decades people have debated the threat of television and technology to thinking and learning.

It seems that all new ideas take time to find their place. Harry Potter books have motivated many children to read, but they also have led kids and their parents to watch the movies too. Today, readers extend the experience through Pottermore online. Maybe it’s not the delivery format that matters, but what the format can do that is appealing to the library user.

Harry Potter

The History & Future of Media Libraries and Librarianship

Multimedia began with the introduction of the picture book Orbis Pictus in the 1658 that combined pictures and words (See also: Orbis sensualium pictus - Latin version). In the early 1800s, Harvard introduced maps to their collection. The New York Public Library developed the first music collection in 1882 and the first picture collection began at Denver's Public Library in 1897. By the early 1900's the Library of Congress began motion picture and phonorecord collections.

The advent of audiovisual instruction that was embraced by the military for training service personnel during World War II gave rise to a wider adoption of non-print media for public and higher education. During the post WWII era, the audiovisual movement was gaining influence and momentum. Instructional television systems boomed in the Fifties and Sixties. 16mm film libraries were built and maintained. During those times, many media librarians entered the field with degrees in instructional and educational media rather than a MLS degree. In many cases, the programs were offered within schools of education rather than ALA-accredited schools of library science.

The Evolution of Media Librarianship

In the 80s, John W. Ellison wrote What are Media Librarians? This seminal article examined the position of media librarians (librarians involved with non-print collections) and how things had or had not changed in recent history of the library field. How were media librarians alike and different from other librarians? Was there really a separate field? What particular skills were needed for librarians working with audio and video, non-print media? One position was that media librarian positions were not given equal status with other library positions. But it was a different time and positions for audiovisual media / media librarian / instructional media personnel were never as widespread as traditional librarians. They were usually employed in academic libraries or schools of education at universities and in the larger urban and metropolitan schools.

Format Discrimination

Historically, many libraries have had difficulty dealing with non-book materials. In a 1976 study published in Catholic Library World (Dec 1976, p. 223), Don Roberts found that “there is a strong disregard and lack of respect for non-print media in the profession. Traditional school media specialists have been heard to say that books belong in the library... everything else goes in the classroom or a special 'locked closet'.”

The discussion of format discrimination may seem strange to people who have grown up in a multimedia world. However remnants of this bias are still found in the way many libraries treat audio and video materials.

Some people equate all video programs with film and television violence and endless commercialism. They may never have seen a quality documentary or good educational program. The same can be said for audiobooks which some people consider only for non-readers, rather than looking to a growing number of travelers and commuters who enjoy listening to books “on the road.” Some people consider YouTube a "waste of time" rather than as a source for high-quality video materials.

Digital Convergence

With the introduction of mobile technology, wifi, and easy-to-use software and apps, library users are exploring new ways to use resources and participate in library programs. From joining library social media websites to streaming library resources, library users are engaging with the library in new ways.

try itRead!
Read Hopkins, Peta; Hare, Jo; Donaghey, Jessie; and Abbott, Wendy (February 2015). Geo, audio, video, photo: how digital convergence in mobile devices facilitates participatory culture in libraries. Australian Library Journal, 64(1), 11-22. Available through IUPUI.

Digital Librarianship

Today, some academic libraries still employ audio, video, or media librarians. However, increasingly the shift is toward digital librarianship or digital media librarianship. Or, discipline-specific librarianship such as music librarians with an emphasis on audio recordings or humanities librarians who focus on areas such as cinema studies. Because audio and video are now considered to be commonplace, they've largely been embraced by librarians as simply another format of information.

try itTry It!
Watch the ALA VRT presentation An Exploration into the World of Multimodal Scholarship in the Digital Arts Sciences + Humanities. This presentation does a great job showing what's happening with media in libraries.

What do you think is the future of video and audio in libraries?
How will librarians support new forms of scholarship?

Library Settings

Although audio and video can be found in most libraries, audio and video sources have different functions depending on the setting.

Public libraries generally provide audio and video source for both information and entertainment. Today, this includes both physical formats such as CDs and DVDs along with online formats such as digital music, audiobooks, and videos.

School libraries use audio and video along with other information sources to address curriculum needs of students. Although some leisure materials such as audiobooks are also used for entertainment, the primary purpose of multimedia collections is curriculum related.

The Wonderful World of Academic Digital Media divides academic digital media into four categories:

Professional Connections

One of the best ways to learn about audio and video sources in libraries is through professional associations and other professional connections.

Professional Associations

A few professional library associations are aimed specifically at audio and/or video. However, many organizations have divisions or special interest groups geared to this specialty area. For instance, the Video Round Table (VRT) "provides leadership within the American Library Association (ALA) on all issues related to video collections, programs, and services in libraries". 

The list below contains both library associations and interest groups related to audio and/or video.

try itTry It!
Go to the American Library Association YouTube Channel. Or, check out the YALSA channel.
Notice how they use video to address many different professional needs

Online Discussions

From mailing lists to discussion forums, many professionals who focus on the area of audio and video connect with others online. These types of group discuss important issues such as licensing and copyright, streaming options, and resource evaluation. ALA's Video Round Table group area at ALA Connect is an example.


Many journals aimed at librarians contain reviews and other information about audio and video sources. However, only a few are specifically focused on audio and video.


Duncan, Cheryl & Peterson, Erika Day (2014). Creating a Streaming Video Collection for Your Library. Rodman & Littlefield.

Ellison, John W. (December 1980). What are media librarians? Catholic Library World, 52, 233-234.

Horrigan, John B. (September 9, 2016). Libraries 2016. Pew/Internet.

Levine-Clark, Michael (July 2014). Access to everything: building the future academic library collection. portal: Libraries and the Academy, 14(3), 425-437.

Menard, Elaine (2012). Multilingual taxonomy development for ordinary images: issues and challenges. In D.R. Neal, Knowledge and Information: Indexing and Retrieval of Non-Text Information. Water de Gruyter.

Miller, Kiri (2012). Digital Games, YouTube, and Virtual Performance. Oxford University Press.

Perrin, Andrew (September 1, 2016). Book Reading 2016. Pew/Internet.

Rasmussen, Diane (2012). Knowledge and Information: Indexing and Retrieval of Non-Text Information. Water de Gruyter.

Roberts, Don (December 1976). Catholic Library World, 223.

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