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Interview with Scott Spicer, Media Outreach and Learning Spaces Librarian, University of Minnesota.


Sarah Resnick: This is Sarah Resnick and I am here with Scott Spicer. Today is February 5, 2011 and we are recording this interview for the ILMS Moving Image Specialists in Libraries project in the Moving Image Preservation program at NYU. Thank you Scott for agreeing to do this interview.

Scott Spicer: Thanks for having me.

SR: First, why don’t you tell me your job title [and] where you work.

SS: Sure. I’m the Media Outreach and Learning Spaces Librarian at the University of Minnesota’s Twin City Campus. I work for the University of Minnesota Libraries. I’m a librarian and as Media Outreach Librarian, [I work] at Library and Media Services.

SR: And is this a full-time position?

SS: Yes, it’s a continuous appointment—a tenure-equivalent rank of assistant librarian. We call it a professional academic continuous appointment track.

SR: And when did you start working at the library?

SS: I started working at the library about three-and-a-half years ago. The first year-and-a-half, I was as a multimedia consultant, which was a staff position. The last two years I’ve been working as an academic librarian—so, since 2008.

SR: Which department within the library do you work?

SS: Currently, I fall under the Physical Sciences and Engineering Department within the Academic Programs unit of the libraries. And that’s because I’m in the Walter Library building, and that’s a [Department of] Science & Engineering building. We’re headquartered where we have our Walter Smart Learning Commons, which is one of our media-enhanced learning commons … we’re kind of a media center space. And so, I recently moved into that department. My original department was Coordinated Educational Services, [which] provided a number of services to the university library—so we were system-wide. But that department is no longer in existence, [and] I moved over to Science & Engineering.

SR: Actually, this may be a good way to segue into the types of collections you work with, because I assume that they’re not just science and engineering collections.

SS: No, I don’t really work with science and engineering collections. Those are in different parts of the building. In the Walter Smart Learning Commons, we have what was formerly known as the Resources Collection. In terms of collections, I oversee the library’s primary film collection, which consists of 16,000 VHS and DVD videos. Plus in our storage in the building, we have 16mm [film], LPs, cassettes, as well as many other kinds of audiovisual materials.

SR: Right—and are these materials commercial materials?

SS: Yes, this was [once] an instructional collection, and it does have some localized content and some special content. But for the most part, it’s commercial material that grew out of an instructional collection that had been curated over a number of years.


SR: You work exclusively then, with moving image materials? Or do you have other …?

SS: My position is unique as media specialists go. I’m the first media librarian that I’m aware of at Minnesota, certainly the first with this kind of designation. I was brought in primarily as a learning technologist. It’s a different approach than some other types of traditional media librarianship. Ostensibly, my responsibility is to help faculty integrate media into their classes, whether it is through audio, images, or video, or student produced media projects. In addition to that, I also look at … there’s a whole range of services that I look at to support media, from access, to recommendations on acquisitions, to discovery, [i.e.] the ability to find audiovisual materials. I don’t just look at the collections—[and by that I mean] our physical collections—but at the whole wide world of audiovisual information. And I try to match that up with faculty needs or student needs to the best of my ability [and provide them with] whatever they need. So, it’s a little bit of a different philosophy.

SR: Right, so, what would that look like? Would a faculty member come to you? Or are you overseeing the different departments?

SS: Right. That’s a good question. The Learning Resources Center was on an island before I arrived. My responsibility was to build bridges between the Learning Resources Center and the subject liaison librarians, who [are responsible for] acquisitions, and are assigned to different departments on campus. It depends. So again, there are three parts of our portfolio: we have media production support; we have support for audiovisual resources; we have support for media literacy. With respect to media production most of my referrals—that is, my relationships with faculty—come from educational technologists and other types of media production support units on campus outside of the libraries. So again: the outreach piece … it’s very external looking.

In terms of media resources, I’m developing that strategy now, but we do provide a number of different services. I meet with subject liaison librarians to figure out the best way to interact with them and their faculty. In some cases we might develop a guide to different resources; at another level I might help them create links; at another level I might—I’ve already started doing this—develop a bibliography of recommended resources for the content [of a particular course]. So it’s very contextual: it depends on the discipline, it depends on the faculty member, it depends on the relationships liaisons have with the faculty. Basically, I’m trying to establish greater awareness and advocacy for media resources and [gain] as much support as possible where necessary, where I think I can get the most return on my time [and] my energy in terms of raising resources to a higher level. So, that’s what I do.

SR: Can you describe a typical day at work?

SS: That’s why I love my job. [Laughter] I’ve got the best job in the world … because there isn’t [a typical day.] It really depends. And I also have a media specialist who oversees our daily operations. She’s pretty new, she’s only been here since November 2010, so for a few months. We’re always checking in on what’s going on. As soon as I get in I check to make sure the videos are coordinated [and] everything is running fine there. So, there’s a lot of dialogue between her and I. Obviously, I check my email …. Just yesterday [for instance]—and I’ve got three classes I’m supporting next week on student produced media—[a professor from a course on] Landscape Architecture [had written], “Hey, we had a discussion on how to lay out this video assignment. Here’s what I’m thinking, here’s the actual timeline…what do you think of this? Is this a good timeline? Is this a good idea?” So [faculty are] coming to me for expertise on media production.

[Other times], we might be working on a long-term report developing strategy. We just finished a first draft of where we want to be in the next five, ten years. And the kinds of initiatives that we need to do in order to get there and the types of metrics we’re going to use. So there’s just a wide-range of different kinds of services. And, it is pretty well organized. But the same day never, ever repeats itself. And frankly, I don’t know that I’d want a job where that was the case. I’m just blessed to have one where there’s so much diversity.

SR: So, if you were to go into a classroom, what kind of responsibilities would you have?

SS: When I do a class visit, generally it’s in relation to student produced media. Most of the time I meet with the faculty in advance, and with my expertise in learning technologies, break down what they’re trying to accomplish. Why are they having students produce video or images or podcasting audio? Because there are different genres of student-produced media. And we look at laying out [or] scaffolding the assignment, and determine what resources the students [will] need in order to be successful in their project.

Then I come to the class and we discuss. We also talk about research and I bring a lot of the librarianship values to this. Depending on the assignment— if it’s an original production like digital storytelling or a documentary or a vodcast—I might come to a class and we’ll talk about what resources are available for good quality production. I’ll mention that we have librarians in their discipline, because we are trying to integrate quality scholarly research and/or popular media resources, as much as possible. Sometimes I’ll help students find third party content for a mixed media project for example. And then we’ll also talk about copyright, fair use and we’ll talk about attribution as well. So all of the kinds of values that one would want to see in a paper, we would also want to see in an original student produced video. This can’t be a novelty—it has to be a decent work.

And the really great thing is, [media production] is happening across disciplines. This is why I think we’re on the cusp of something important here. Just this semester, I’m working [with the following classes]: Introduction to Landscape Architecture, Senior Seminar on Ecological Sustainability of Landscape Architecture; Lawn Care, which is Horticulture, and again that has a very big sustainability component; Introduction to Zoology, [with] 110 students producing vodcasts on a facet of recent research in Zoology (which is in the Biology Department); and last but not least, Human Resource Development. These departments are not traditional media production departments, and what the faculty are telling me is that these students need to understand the role of video in their respective fields. Because it’s important that, when they graduate and go out into the workforce, they understand how to communicate in these new formats, [that] they know how to research in these new formats. And that’s kind of what the media librarian is evolving into today. And I represent both this new, emerging librarian, as well as of the more traditional media librarian who is preservation-, cataloging- and collection-oriented (which is, of course, a very, very dynamic expertise).

SR: You really see this as an evolving trend. Or, not even a trend…the future of media librarianship.

SS: Oh, I do. And as I mentioned earlier, media literacy is another component of this, but it’s sort of sprinkled in. [Douglas] Kellner and [Jeff] Share, two well-known faculty members at UCLA, wrote a wonderful article called, “Critical Media Literacy is not an Option,” [in which they analyze various approaches to teaching media literacy] and advocate for critical media literacy. There’s media arts education, which is the production of media. There is mainstream media literacy, which is a lot like information literacy in libraries—in other words, being able to evaluate, access, and analyze audiovisual materials. This approach doesn’t dig quite as deep, though, into questions like, Who produced it? Why are they producing this media? What are the socio-economics? What are the discourses? What are the different factors of the powers behind media? What audiences are they going after, why are they producing media in certain ways? Critical media literacy [however,] does speak to a lot of those things. And we really [integrate into our practice] the critical piece, most of the mainstream piece, and even more so, the media arts piece. More and more faculty are telling me that students need to understand the role of video and they need to know how to produce video—that it’s really important students are media literate today. I see [media literacy instruction and advocacy] as the role of media librarians, as well as instructional technologists and librarians going forward into this new information ecosystem that we have right now.

SR: That’s really fascinating. Since there’s such an emphasis—at least within your university—on production within all different disciplines, does the library actually collect any of the student-made videos?

SS: Yes—I’m currently in the process of gathering materials, getting permissions. We’re working through the copyright ramifications. We need to [determine] the intake of this material, the preservation process, the publishing distribution, and figure out who’s going to do what. But yes, long-term we would love to capture as much of this material as possible. We have a new media archive in the libraries called the UMedia Archive. It’s currently in beta version, and we would love to develop a mechanism for students to upload their materials into the media archive, and then access them and share them with other educators, other librarians, folks across the board. [We’re asking,] “Who can be inspired and see the different facets of how media is being used today?” We have the collections, but now the collections are becoming this organic, moving thing. You need to see that in practice to be able to envision it. Great question.

SR: Where does the role of preservation fit in your library? Is that something that you oversee, or is there a separate department?

SS: I’m not exactly sure. I don’t play that role exclusively. Again, we’re two years into library media services, so we’re still beginning to have a dialogue with our archives unit, which has thousands and thousands of films that are now in a temperature controlled [location]. And, I’m trying to see what, if any, role I can play in supporting that [effort], because I want to get those materials preserved. But again, we’re very much user-centric, so [I want to see those materials] in the hands of [teachers] and [students and] researchers or ... wherever I think learning can take place through the use of those resources.

SR: Do you have any instances where lack of preservation has been a hindrance to your job?

SS: Well, there are a couple of different instances, [for example] material on VHS that was never released on DVD. We have one case in the [School of] Nursing, where all students that want a certification in radiology [are required to] watch a video made in 1976. It’s not an easy video to purchase. [Although] it may be in the public domain, because it was a government-produced video. And meanwhile we have three hundred students … it’s the most circulated video on our entire campus because of this requirement. And so we’re trying to figure out if we can digitize it.

SR: Do you still have a working copy?

SS: Yes, we still have a working copy. But I don’t know exactly how many copies they have or what. Certainly, [in] instances where you have material that’s central to a curriculum, or central to a licensing program, and the producers aren’t incorporated anymore, and the rights holders are [unknown], that material becomes very central—it becomes mission critical. [And finding a replacement is a concern.] It’s very important that [as librarians] we develop standards and take a stance to [ensure] access to these materials long-term.

In addition, we also [have] issues with third-party content, where stuff was released on VHS in late-80s, early 90s, you can’t find the rights holders. These materials need to be preserved. I had a faculty member [come to me] recently [regarding] a title that was only on VHS. [This video addressed] the impact of the IMF and World Bank on third world nations [using] a balanced perspective, [which was crucial to the course objectives]. So, the video that he was using wasn’t necessarily his favorite, but it was one of the few that were balanced. After searching for hours, I was finally able to find a replacement copy, but I also spent quite a bit of time looking at other [potential] content for the faculty member.

SR: Right.

SS: It’s critical to understand that when we’re talking about preservation within a teaching and learning context ... you never know how a faculty member is going to use materials. And some faculty [members] have been teaching courses for twenty years, fifteen years. And they have their own philosophies and what not. And they’re looking for that right perspective, that right nuance. So when they find that sweet spot, it’s our responsibility to preserve that material. We don’t expect that [distributors] selling ten copies a year—dwindling down to two copies with all the mergers and everything—will [continue] making that material available. And on top of that, universities have a lot of primary source content that they may or may not have rights to, and we have a responsibility— because in a lot of cases, [we may have] the only copy. It’s important that we advocate strongly for preservation of these materials and make sure that the various stakeholders and [users] understand the value of preserving this material so it is available long-term. But certainly, over the years, I’ve had a handful of instances, where a class needs [a particular video], and we can’t get it, and we’re talking a hundred students, three hundred students [that are missing out as a result]. When a book is lost, that’s a big deal. But usually when somebody checks out a book it’s one person at a time. When a video is lost at a large university, it’s thirty, fifty, one hundred, three hundred [students at a time]. Compounded over [several] semesters, it could literally be thousands of people who are impacted by the loss of that content.

SR: Okay, to switch gears a little bit, what training prepared you to work with moving image collections, if any?

SS: I did get some of my experience working with the collection for about a year and a half. But it was more in an operational capacity, not as much in a programmatic capacity. So I’ve been playing catch up over the last two and a half years. And fortunately, I’m blessed to have mentorship through the American Library Association’s Video Roundtable as well as the Consortium of College & University Media Centers, and [from] other media librarians who have been doing this for quite a while. So, I’ve been like a sponge soaking in all this information, trying to talk to as many preservation people [as possible], and frankly, learning on the job. So the long and short of it is, no, I didn’t have a lot of formal training in media preservation. And in talking to my colleagues, I haven’t gotten the sense that they have either. It’s mostly been a kind of organic learning experience for a lot of us.

SR: So when you were in library school, were there any classes that focused on media librarianship?

SS: No. We had a school librarian media specialist program, an SMLS, and that had facets of media, but it was really much teacher-oriented, K-12, and I didn’t work in that area as much. I was at Dominican University, St. Catherine’s campus, and [I followed] an academic librarianship track, so it was more foundational. There was a preservation course I didn’t take, but that was on print [materials]. It’s really kind of sad to be honest with you, seeing as the role of media is rising, and we have all of this material ....

SR: How long ago were you in library school?

SS: I started school in 2005; I graduated in 2007.

SR: Okay.

SS: During that time, we didn’t [work with] a lot of media.

SR: My next question is about professional development and if you could just speak to that a little bit. How do you keep up with changing media ...? You mentioned mentorship, and the Video Roundtable. So if you could just speak about those things more specifically ....

SS: I think that we have to go back to breaking down the portfolio of media services. I won’t speak too much to the production component of our portfolio. I’m finishing up my MA in Learning Technologies Curriculum and Instruction. And actually that deals with all kinds of technology integration. I see my job [as being] at the intersection of media, library science, technology and curriculum and instruction. I lean a little bit more toward media, but not that much. I can’t have one without the other three. In terms of production, it’s a lot of social networking, looking at the people in the field. Looking at what my colleagues are doing, what media librarians are doing in terms of production, or at other universities, through presentations at national conferences, or local conferences. And also for my studies, I do research on different types of media production.

In terms of media literacy, a lot of that comes from the research and theorists in that field, as well as the great work that goes on, like at the Center for Social Media at American University, as well as Renee Hobbs at Temple [University]. There’s a lot of leading scholars for media literacy.

In terms of media resources, frankly I look at the research that I can find ... there’s a recent series of articles that came out. I can’t recall how much they dealt with preservation. So I do try to follow whatever research comes out from colleagues in the field.

SR: Right.

SS: With respect to media [preservation], the bulk of my education has come from my colleagues and from organizations like the Consortium of College & University Media Centers and Video Roundtable, as well as talking in discussion groups about the kinds of challenges my colleagues are facing. To be honest, I’m not an expert on media preservation .... In fact, I would imagine that there are parallel audiovisual interest groups within ALA and IFLA that really look at the issue and develop standards and guidelines for preserving audiovisual materials. And I would imagine [they offer] programmatic guidance as well, in terms of how to catalog this material [for instance.] At this point I’m not as familiar as I should be with the kinds of initiatives [they’re undertaking] and where they’re at, and I think they would probably have a lot to add to the conversation. [However, in my recent experience] meeting [and talking] with instructional media librarians, the conversation tends to bend a lot towards instructional use […] There hasn’t necessarily been a lot of dialogue between the audiovisual interest groups [looking at preservation best practices] and that of the instructional media librarianship interest groups.

SR: Right, and do you have any sense of why that might be?

SS: It’s really difficult for me to say after just a couple of years. [Partly, I think it’s] that so much of the conversation inevitably leads back to copyright/fair use. It’s [an] absolutely essential [conversation]—we can’t move forward without it—but I think that’s part of it. A lot of [people in] our community also are the distributors, the producers, the filmmakers, the rights holders, so [copyright is] a really important aspect. So I think one reason is copyright.

SR: So, if you’re not responsible for preservation, then who is?

SS: That’s a fantastic question. Who is the champion? And you know, I hate to say it, [but] even within my own institutional context, I haven’t had the dialogue yet (albeit it’s only two years into the program) ... not only who curates and maintains the collections, but what kind of expertise we have.

[I do know that] we [recently] undertook an initiative to develop a strategy for preserving materials and moving forward. And some of the recommendations that came out of the report looked at both the Walter Media collection that I oversee, as well as the University Archives, which has a lot of promotional video from the ‘60s and ‘70s, a lot of athletic films, all kinds of different events that have happened on campus, as well as some materials that belong to special collections. And from those recommendations, [the library is] starting to look at digitizing some of the archival content, possibly with the use of a vendor, or [in] partnership with other programs. With respect to the instructional media collection, the strategy also identified certain materials that we might want to take a look at. Much of the content is readily available and so it’s not quite certain what approach we’ll be taking going forward, or to what extent we will be doing preservation. And when I say preservation, I’m really saying digitization, from analog to digital ....

SR: Okay, great. So what, in your opinion, leads to the creation of positions such as yours in libraries? And what are the associated obstacles as well?

SS: Now are you referring specifically to preservation or to media librarianship in general?

SR: I’m referring to media librarianship in general, but if you want to address preservation specifically ….

SS: I think you’ve got to address both separately. I think that the creation of media librarianship positions will have to come from a groundswell of education, advocacy, and awareness of what we do, [and] the emerging role and potential role of audiovisual materials in higher education. And, you’re starting to see, for example, production spaces popping up more and more. At some point, these initiatives have to come from an administrative perspective. But to get there, there also has to be a grassroots effort. Now, again: communicating what we do is really important. We need to be very clear that, video is all around us, that there’s information in audio all around us. Faculty use these materials for teaching and learning more and more, and students need to understand the role of this media as they go on … both in support [of] their learning, but also as they go through life in the media saturated environment that we live in. So, that’s number one: we have to be very vocal.

And we have to target different audiences and be very thoughtful in the way we target [them]. And we need to partner with different interest groups. And within our own organizations we can no longer be islands. We need to build bridges; we need to be part of everything that goes on in the library to the [greatest] extent possible. To the extent that we can make media more ubiquitous across the system, we need to work to do that. We have to communicate with our subject liaisons, we have to communicate with ... nationally, obviously. We need to publish. There’s to me at least, a dearth of research about what it is that we do. We need to have more presentations; we need to be at LITA [Library and Information Technology Association]. And there’s only so much that we can do, but even beyond the library, at other kinds of higher education platforms. We also need to make known the value of media—the New Media Consortium is an example of this.

So there are a number of organizations that can get administrators’ attention even beyond the libraries. And you know what, if the media librarian isn’t going to take it on, who is? I mean, you have a lot of folks in social sciences, and arts and humanities primarily, and some professional programs that are also interested in this, but we need to be our best champions. And we need to be very thoughtful about how we do that.

Now, in terms of preservation ... I mentioned earlier that Minnesota is developing a strategy. So we need to promote planning and evaluation. Preservation itself, as an idea, needs to rise in the lexicon of administrators against the backdrop of everything else. There’s a lot of noise out there. Specifically with respect to audiovisual materials, we need to be very vocal about the different types of analog materials, and literally the fact that ... it depends on your perspective, but ten to twenty years, the state of those materials, the value, the value of those audiovisual materials ... that’s a history. I mean, in an archival perspective, that’s a history.

You know, I just recently got a video of Martin Luther King’s lost speech at the University of Minnesota, [April 27, 1967]. And we don’t distribute it—there’s a lot of copyright issues—but at least we have it available for people to see. And if you’re not thoughtful .... They found that [more than four] decades later. If we’re not thoughtful about that right now, then we do risk losing that material. There won’t be those interesting finds. “Oh, by the way Martin Luther King stopped by in 1967.” You won’t just come across that. What kind of serendipitous discovery are you going to have in the future if the footage, if there isn’t somebody who is championing that material. And so I think we’ve been proactive at that. You have to communicate the value of this audiovisual content to beyond the university, to the public, to researchers, to government, to anybody who is willing to listen to us. We’ve got to be active, we’ve got to be our own advocates. Nobody is going to do it for us. If we’re not going to do it ... Oh, and in getting to your question....

SR: Wait ....

SS: Sorry. As advocacy continues and as we raise the profile of audiovisual materials, media librarianship and preservation positions, will follow. But there needs to be a movement, there needs to be a .... But before that you need to put forth evidence-based needs, looking at both qualitative and quantitative aspects of the value of audiovisual media. And you need to be able to specify how that impacts the bottom line of that institution, whether it’s research, or it’s teaching and learning, or it’s cultural preservation. You have to be able to tie these up. So you can’t just say, “Hey, we checked out 15, 000 videos, therefore you have to preserve them because we’re checking out videos non-stop.” No—you need to be able to show how that’s fundamental to the value of the mission of the libraries, fundamental to the mission of higher education.

SR: Great, thank you. I think we’ve covered all of my questions, and thank you for agreeing to participate in this interview.

SS: Thank you for having me.

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