Discussion Forum | Topic 1: The Changing Face of Media Librarianship

As the digital humanities continue to expand and affirm digitally enabled forms of research, publication, and pedagogy, less orthodox scholarly pursuits—scholarship that is more than text and papers, including interactive, immersive, and multimodal formats—are finding increased legitimacy within the academy. With this in mind, how is the role of the media librarian and/or preservationist shifting, and what might these positions look like in the future?

For instance, Scott Spicer, Media Outreach and Learning Spaces Librarian at the University of Minnesota’s Twin City Campus, describes his responsibilities as a threefold system of support for audiovisual resources, media literacy, and perhaps less conventionally, media production.

"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. [...] When I do a class visit, generally it’s in relation to student produced media. [...] 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. [...] 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)."

Carleton Jackson, the Reference and Collection Management Librarian of Nonprint Media Services at the University of Maryland, suggests that librarians need to be familiar with the facets of media production in the same way that they are with the content and subject matter of the items in their collections.

"Of course, the next realm I think I need training in—because more and more people are asking questions about it—is [hands-on filmmaking]. In the same way that to know whether a book is good, it doesn’t hurt to know how to write, to understand if a film is good, it doesn’t hurt to know how to make one. So, that’s my next realm of learning—how to [make a film] start to finish ... Matter of fact, I think everybody should learn how to make a film."

What should we do now to prepare the next generation of librarians?

Comments (6)


I have to strongly agree with the point about needing to learn filmmaking steps. Discussions about learning film production or oranizing some kind of film production workshop has come up several times in the last year among my classmates in the Moving Image Archiving and Preservation program. It would better help those of us without any filmmaking experience to understand the elements we're dealing with in an audiovisual archive.

Crystal Sanchez:

With our society's increased reliance on media and the visual to make arguments, persuade, and entertain, I believe it is important to not only learn to interrogate these forms but also to utilize them in teaching across disciplines. Bringing media forms into scholarly environments can help enhance the learning environment for a new generation that is used to a process of learning that involves a great dependence on the technology that is available to us.

It also means that technology and media access is becoming more widespread across all aspects of our daily lives. In this way, technology and increased access to information is often taken for granted. For the librarian and preservation specialist, this can often translate into a blurring between preservation and access. Digitizing and providing access to an asset is not the same as preservation. I think that one of the greater challenges in the near future will be making this apparent to a society that is increasingly prioritizing increased access.

This is going to sound like blasphemy, but here goes: as I round the bend toward the end of a 34-year career as a librarian--28 of those as director of an academic library media center and collection--I am not particularly sanguine about the future of professional specialization of any type. My career in media began at the dawn of video home recording; it's wrapping up in a period of tremendous flux and uncertainty regarding the future of media delivery formats and modes, and regarding the media economic and marketplaces. Despite the exponentially increasing importance of media in teaching, learning, and research, and despite the increasingly urgent need to preserve older media resources, my sense is that libraries are becoming less and less willing or financially able to to support these endeavors and enterprises. Even in this era of media ubiquity, film and video, which have never been a high priority in academic libraries, seem to have actually lost ground--a fact that is easily confirmed by the surveying the paucity of robust media collections and full-time media librarians in the US.

The unwillingness to stand behind library media services and collections is often rationalized with a number of fairly disingenuous arguments: library administrators wishing to consolidate or limit professional staff frequently point to depressingly apocryphal scenarios--"everything digital and available for online streaming within 5 years!" "All media available through one platform, everywhere, all the time!" "All librarians are media librarians!" Long-term preservation and access of collections are often overshadowed by immediate and/or narrow curricular need, rather than longer term research needs.

I would love to be proved wrong, but it's hard not to draw the conclusion that future of video librarianship--the field that I've sunk my professional life's blood into for three decades--seems perilous at best. The specialized expertise required to effectively select and teach media content and to organize and preserve these collections, is becoming another casualty of straited economic times, administrative short-sightedness, and a commercial media landscape that seems increasingly inhospitable to these traditional library functions.

Marwa EL SAHN:

Due to the high need of accessing moving images collections via the libraries, I strongly recommend to add specialized courses in the curriculum of the graduated studies of LIS. Until the future librarian learn more about the moving images collections starting from the acquisition (with respect of copyright law of each country) to the preservation & the conservation and the access to this collection.

It is noticed that the usage of standards for AVM collections is limited, and based on national or internal organization policy. I mean no international standards applied on the moving images collections as what is applied on print documents (books, periodicals, etc.), Thus its important to invest more in this field on the coming years.

In my opinion there are lots of new competences to be included: We need practical solutions for capturing, storing, finding and using of audiovisual materials. This includes automatic content analysis, visual search and retrieval tools / interfaces. We also have to work on Metadata Standards as Marwa suggested in the above comment and also set up persistant identifier like DOI Registration for audiovisual content to make AV-objects citeable as publications.

Scott Spicer:

I think Gary may be correct IF one chooses to look at the future of academic video librarianship through the lens solely of library video (media) collections-related services, and audiovisual preservation. Specifically, I agree that though multimedia sources represent significant forms of communication in our society and increasingly, the academy, they will never come close to parity with its print counterparts in the library for the reasons Gary cited. That said, I disagree with his outlook regarding the future of professional specialization in the field, related to media or otherwise.

In fact, if anything, I think going forward we will need to be at once even more specialized in a few core domains, while simultaneously taking on additional responsibilities at a more superficial expertise level to compensate for lower head counts. The reason I think more specialization will become increasingly important is because I believe the nature of our work will need to change, and the [perhaps naive] optimist in me believes the outcomes of these new services will garner greater respect by the library administration, campus community, and field of librarianship. So no, we may not see as many specialized video librarians with significant film knowledge acting as the primary selector for their institutions -a tremendous loss to be certain- but instead library supported media programs that require subject librarians to be more media resource aware and inclusive in their selections (I know first hand it is very hard work to build such a culture one librarian at a time, but I do think it is possible).

Beyond facilitating this environment while continuing to provide some greater level of media selection, I believe adding depth of expertise in emerging movements such as media/visual literacy, student media production and the Digital Arts and Humanities for faculty member research, will serve to make the future media librarian more visible in the eyes of core constituencies. Particularly, if these media program leaders are adept at better assessing and communicating LOUDLY their media programs impact on the bottom line (teaching/learning, research, preservation), through the use of more accessible metrics that help people appreciate what it is we do. With this improved respect for media in general, appreciation for audiovisual preservation will hopefully, improve as well (to the extent that preservation investment is respected at any institution). That's my game plan at least.

Adding further expertise to non-media specific, but related areas of teaching/learning, library assessment, and faculty research support should also work to improve the profile of this individual within the organization. Acknowledged, my perspective is progressive, maybe even a little boisterous, but challenging times call for bold measures.

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