Interview with Justin Wadland, Head of Media and Visual Resources, University of Washington, Tacoma Campus

SR: This is Sarah Resnick and I’m speaking today with Justin Wadland. Today is May 10th, 2011, and we’re recording this interview for the IMLS Moving Image Specialists in Libraries projects in the Moving Image Preservation program at NYU. Today we are speaking via Skype and thank you Justin, for agreeing to do this interview.

JW: Sure.

SR: First off ... I’ll just start with some basic questions, like your job title, and what kind of appointment you have, and how long you’ve been working at the library.

JW: My job title?

SR: Yes.

JW: Okay, it’s Head of Media and Visual Resources. And my appointment ... I’m a Senior Assistant Librarian. We have a promotion and tenure process that mirrors the faculty process, but it’s separate from that, so we don’t actually have faculty appointments. So, there’s a range between an Assistant Librarian, and an Associate Librarian and a Senior Assistant—kind of like an Assistant Professor [versus Associate Professor.] I’m actually under review right now and will probably find out the results of that in less than a month. Soon, I will hopefully be an Associate Librarian.

SR: Great. Good luck. And how long have you been working at the library?

JW: In August of this year, I’ll be eight years in this position.

SR: And which department within the library are you located?

JW: I’m at the University of Washington, Tacoma campus. The University of Washington Libraries serves three campuses. There’s the Seattle campus—there’s sixteen libraries and a large media center up there. There are the two smaller campuses, one in Bothell and one in Tacoma. I’m at the library at University of Washington Tacoma. And within that, I nominally have a department. It’s called the Media Collection, but it’s actually only two people, so it doesn’t really seem like a department. And I also have a number of other responsibilities, beyond my media responsibilities, because of how small we are.

SR: Okay, that’s interesting, let’s talk more about that. To start out, describe your primary job duties and responsibilities and then we can move on into some of your broader responsibilities.

JW: Primary [responsibilities] related to media or everything that I do in my job?

SR: Your primary [responsibilities] related to everything that you do in your job.

JW: Okay. I think about my position as having three different pieces to it. And one big piece of that is the media responsibilities: Managing the media collection here; supervising one library technician who handles the circulation of videos; and then also purchasing videos, setting policies related to the collection, working with my colleagues in media on the other campuses. And then, the visual resources piece of my job has more lately transformed into working with digital collections. Usually, I am working on some kind of digital collection that ranges from working with digital images, preparing the metadata that goes along with those images, to being the project manager of digital projects. And then, the third piece in my job involves more typical librarian [duties]: [for instance] reference and instruction work, where I’m on the reference desk. I have subject areas that I am a liaison for. I go into classes, do presentations—that kind of stuff.

SR: Great. Okay, to go back to something you said ... you mentioned digital projects. What kind of projects does your department undertake?

JW: Well, I’ve done one phase of a project that I see as ongoing called “Tacoma Then and Again.” It’s a photography project where we’re taking older photographs and working with a photographer to reshoot those photographs and then put them into the database. A lot of the images are of the downtown Tacoma urban core. So, that’s one of the digital projects that I worked on. And then more recently, I’m working on another project that’s digitizing oral histories. And we have a collection of about fifty or so oral histories that have been collected over the past twenty in association with a class that’s taught here on campus. And so, I’m working on digitizing those projects—creating the metadata and getting the rights cleared. The oral histories were recorded on a wide variety of formats from miniature tape to regular magnetic tapes, CDs, DVDs, VHS tapes—so it’s an interesting project.

SR: And are you doing the transfers on-site?

JW: Yes. I realize that to do preservation quality transfers would require some pretty expensive equipment that we don’t have, so we’re essentially making copies as best we can for access.

SR: All right, my next question is ... what percentage of time [do] you estimate you spend working with moving images? Because you’ve already mentioned that you don’t work with moving images exclusively ... do you have a sense?

JW: You know, it really depends on what’s going on in the quarter. But I would say it’s sort of a third between all of those things—probably about 30 percent of the time. And that last ten perecent is taken up with meetings and committees that I’m on. So I would say about a little less than a third. But you know, again, it really depends. I mean, sometimes I can be devoting much more than that during the week to media stuff, or it could be much less. It just depends on what’s going on.

SR: And can you describe your collections and the types of moving image media that can be found [therein]?

JW: We have a relatively small collection. This campus is relatively young. It was founded in 1990 and the collection has been built since then. So we have around 8000 items in our collection. There are maybe 2000 VHS tapes, probably about three to four thousand DVDs ... I guess maybe there’s more than that, I said 8000. It’s hard for me to get a firm number on it, because there’s also ... When books come to the library that have accompanying media material, it ends up in the media collection. So we have this grab-bag part of the collection that [includes] all kinds of stuff, and that adds easily another one or two thousand. We do have a very small number of laser discs. We phased those out. The last ones left are really the only ones where we couldn’t find copies on DVD or anything like that. I’m probably going to work with my colleague in Seattle just to make sure that he holds onto them. But we’re a circulating collection and our mission is to support instruction here on campus.

SR: And are there other collections in the library where one might find moving images? Like in special collections [or] archives?

JW: Well the Community History Project—those oral history projects I was telling you about—there are some moving images in those that are VHS tapes. And even now we’ve found odd things in there, like little documentaries that were made by these community organizations that somehow end up in the project. Another thing to keep in mind is that the Seattle campus also has a number of collections—there’s a much larger media center up there. At the Odegaard Undergraduate Library—John Vallier is the person who manages that. And then the [department of] Special Collections in Seattle has its own collection of moving images. I know those exist, I don’t know as much detail about those collections other than that [they exist] and the general idea of what they do.

SR: Is there a centralized conservation or preservation department at your institution? (Even if it’s at the Seattle campus.)

JW: Yes, there is. And it’s in Seattle. That’s headed up by Gary Menges, and it’s a preservation program. It’s responsible for all the libraries in the system.

SR: Right. And do they oversee moving image preservation as well?

JW: Yes. I mean they oversee it ... Oversee is maybe a strong word. They provide recommendations in terms of handling and things like that. They establish policies. Provide training materials.

SR: Okay. Well this might be more difficult for you to answer because you’re working with commercial collections, but if there was a film reel that was damaged, would they send that out for repair ...?

JW: Well, probably ... I mean we don’t have any film reels, so ....

SR: Right, but I meant ...

JW: But if it was a VHS tape, or something like that, probably the first thing I would do would be to talk to John Vallier in Seattle at the Media Center up there; I know he has equipment for repairing that kind of stuff. So I would probably work with him first [and] see what he has. And if he [was unable to help], then the next person I would talk to might be Nicolette Bromburg, who is the Visual Materials Curator at Special Collections. I’ve seen her shop and she has been doing preservation and restoration of film in Special Collections. I don’t think she really works with VHS tapes, but I might check with her on that. But yes, because most of what we have is commercially available, I would usually try to find a DVD copy of it.

SR: And have you had instances where you’ve tried to replace something and it’s been impossible to find?

JW: I’ve been fortunate to not have encountered that yet.

SR: Okay.

JW: One thing for which we’re fortunate: In a lot of cases there are multiple copies in the system because we’re all part of one system. So, Seattle might have a copy. Again I think if I ran into that situation I might try to make a copy or something like that, and look at the copyright issues with it. But, yeah, I haven’t encountered that yet.

SR: Earlier you said that there is only of you in your department. Who is the other staff member and what is his or her role?

JW: I supervise a library technician who handles circulation of media. Primarily that [means] scheduling videos for classroom showings. We schedule between 100-200 videos per quarter for professors. Then we also have around 100 videos that end up on course reserve in a quarter, and he handles all that stuff. He responds to those requests; schedules the videos; processes the course reserves; responds to questions that come up; and then also handles a lot of the more basic media circulation, which is just holds and checking in the videos. It seems that the circulation stuff can get pretty complicated with videos, because we’re a circulating collection. Students can check out [videos], and [in fact] anybody on the three campuses can check out [videos]. There’s potentially—and I don’t know exactly how many people there are on all three campuses—around 60,000 people who can check out videos or request them. And then we’re also part of a consortium called Summit. It’s a consortial agreement between college and university libraries in Oregon and Washington. Our videos go out in that as well, so there are a lot of complications that can come up. And so he deals with that stuff. And then if [anything] gets really complicated or contentious, it rises up to me and I’ll deal with it.

SR: Great, thank you. Also earlier you mentioned that you are involved in committees in the library. Can you just talk a little bit more about that?

JW: Committees in general?

SR: Yeah, you’re additional roles in the library beyond your primary job responsibilities .... So what kind of committees are you on and ...

JW: It can really range from things that are directly related to my job [to those that are not]. For example, right now we have an informal committee of the people who work with media on the three campuses, and we talk about issues that come up, and [try to] coordinate our efforts. One of the things we’re working on is getting public performance rights into our catalog so that patrons can tell which videos have public performance rights and which videos don’t. There’s just not a clear way to know that right now ... so we work on that kind of stuff. But I’ve been on everything from review committees for promotion of tenure to chairing a mission statement committee to campus committees ... kind of across-the-board committees. Serving on committees seems to be in the nature of working in academia, especially in libraries. Actually one last thing that I’ll say about the committees is that because we’re on a campus that’s part of a three campus system, it’s important that I get to up to Seattle and work with my colleagues there, because we are really one library system. So, quite of a few of the committees I’ve served on have been up in Seattle on things that affect the whole library system.

SR: To switch gears a little bit ... let’s talk about your training and what prepared you to work with moving image collections. Did you go to library school?

JW: Yes.

SR: Was there any sort of specialization for moving images or is that something that you acquired through on-the-job experience?

JW: I acquired it through on-the-job experience. I wasn’t even aware of this as an area to get training in or even work in. I mean, I went to the Information School at the University of Washington in Seattle. I was aware of the media center up there—I think I checked videos out of there. But I didn’t really quite know that ... I guess if I really thought about it I would have known that there was somebody that managed it and made decisions about it, but I really didn’t think about it very much. And most of my experience while working as a student was in public service jobs in the libraries. Doing reference, for instance, and I also worked in government documents. And so when I started applying for jobs toward the end of graduate school, I was just basically applying to what was out there. And so I applied to some government document jobs and then this position came up in Tacoma. And the position title was Reference Librarian and not what I currently have as a job title. And therefore I was qualified for it. And one of the responsibilities was managing the media collection, which was a little bit smaller then. And another thing about the media collection at that time was that it had just been transferred from another unit—Media Services—to the library. So, I applied for the job and I was lucky enough to get it. And that first year or two was a crash course in media librarianship. Because while the collection had moved into the library adminstratively, there was a lot of stuff that still needed to be worked out, like circulation policies, collection development policy, etc. And since it wasn’t an existing collection in the library, there wasn’t a lot of stuff to go from. It forced me to look at the professional literature, to read up on it, to find the professional organizations where I might get more information about it. And then I also [needed to] learn how to do collection development with media. I probably spent the first year or two just learning all that. And then also ... I was fortunate to have the media center in Seattle. A different person was the head of it [then], and soon after I got started, I met with him and got recommendations about what to do and where I might learn and asked him about what he did. So I had people that I could draw on for experience.

SR: And are you still actively continuing your professional development?

JW: Well I served as the chair of the Video Round Table (VRT) a couple years ago. And I was very actively involved in VRT. I’m still a member, but I’m mostly kind of monitoring what’s going on and participating on a few committees. I wouldn’t say I’m as active as I was in the past. I’m interested in finding other venues for professional development related to media that I haven’t done previously. One of the challenges for professional development in the area of media is that it seems a little fragmented to me. There’s the American Library Association’s (ALA) VRT. And then the other places that librarians tend to go for professional development are the National Media Market (NMM) and also the Consortium of College and University Media Centers (CCUMC). So there are three potential places to go for professional development and because of limitations of travel funding and time, I decided to focus on ALA and the VRT.

SR: So are you thinking of getting more involved with other organizations?

JW: Yeah, I’d like to go to National Media Market. That’s one area that I’d like to check out.

SR: How have things changed over the past few years in the field of media librarianship? You can speak specifically about your own job or the field in general.

JW: Number one: I don’t order VHS tapes anymore. When I started in 2003, I would still order VHS tapes occasionally because distributors hadn’t converted the videos to DVD. It seems kind of funny to say that it’s a big change ... but it’s just something that I thought of. Another thing that’s changed is getting into the area of streaming video. That is really complicated and it was something that people were talking about when I started in 2003 and people were just moving into that area. And it still seems open in terms of what the model will be for purchasing/licensing streaming video. And we’ve made efforts to license streaming video here at University of Washington, and it’s just a different ballgame than buying a DVD. When I want licensed content, I can’t just call up a vendor and say, “Hey, I’d like to license your documentary.” For one I don’t really have the responsibilities or the capabilities to say that I’m able to license for the entire UW system. I have to work with other units in Seattle. And then once we start talking about licensing, they ask how many students are on the campus. And I’m on a small campus that has 3000 students, but there are the Seattle campus that has tens of thousands of students, and there’s the Bothell campus that has thousands of students. And we don’t license material for just one campus; we really try to avoid that. We recently licensed a number of videos from New Day for example, and it involved meeting with my colleagues from Bothell and Seattle and then working with the department that does the licensing to put together this package. And you know, that’s just for one vendor. And we licensed 21 titles—really not that much, relatively speaking. So to think about doing that with a lot of different vendors and having to negotiate that ... And then it was a five-year agreement.

SR: Hold on you cut out for a second.

JW: My general attitude about the licensing and streaming of video is that if we have the financial resources, we should try to figure it out as [the industry] takes shape so that we can participate in the discussions of the different models that are out there. It’s been interesting to think about the different experiences I’ve had with different vendors and whether I’ve had a [previous] relationship with the vendor or not. [So streaming is a] big change and I think that will continue to change. Well I think getting down to the nitty gritty of a collection that circulates, and with all this talk and excitement about streaming video, our DVDs still circulate a lot. I don’t have specific numbers, but if you look at the circulation statistics for media versus books, these videos are just going in and out. Some of the popular titles can have as many as 20 holds. And that’s changed. When I started in my position eight years ago our videos could only be checked out by faculty. And I basically oversaw the transition from only faculty being able to check the videos out to anybody in the university system being able to check them out, and then beyond that, [anyone within] the Summit system. For our kind of collection, it’s better to have more people using it than fewer—because if [the videos are] just sitting on the shelves not being used, it’s not a good use of our resources.

SR: Actually, I forgot to clarify earlier ... Do you have viewing systems on site for student or faculty use?

JW: We have some TVs in the library and the videos can be checked out to watch them but it’s not ... I think what you’re talking about where you put the DVD in and it plays to a TV that’s a distance away ...

SR: I just meant is there a means to watch DVDs and VHS [in the library]?

JW: Yes, we have two TVs with DVD players. And I think pretty much most or all of the classrooms here on campus are outfitted with DVD/VHS ... well, I know they have DVD players and some of them have DVD/VHS players. And actually there’s a student technology fee, and various departments on campus put in proposals for how they’d like to use the funds that are collected from that fee. And there’s a committee of students that decide which proposals to fund. I just put in a proposal to improve our media viewing capabilities in the library, and to allow students to get clips from our media to incorporate into presentations. So I’m hoping that our media viewing capabilities and even a little bit of light editing will be improved if that proposal is funded.

SR: This might be a more difficult question to answer, but in terms of thinking about how media librarianship has changed over the past few years, can you speak to any sort of broader trends? Do you feel like it’s a growing field? Do you think it needs to be more of a growing field? Should it be addressed in library school now?

JW: Well the idea of media librarianship is growing, but not in terms of there being more media librarian positions. I mean, I don’t know if there are or not. But it does seem like media is being used by more and more librarians. And the media librarian is brought in to help out with or collaborate on that [use] and offer expertise in purchasing videos or recommend videos that could be used. So, I think it’s growing in the sense that media fills our lives on the Internet, and out in public spaces. And [more and more people] are starting to be aware of how the media shapes our lives. And I guess I’m kind of wandering here ...

SR: That’s okay.

JW: It does seem that it’s growing in terms of people’s interest in libraries. It seems like [libraries] are integrating videos into their websites ... I mean it’s not the traditional sort of manage-a-media-collection-of-DVDs [type librarianship] but often the people in the library who have the expertise or interest in that area are the ones who manage the media collections as well, so ....

SR: To follow up on that question: In your opinion, what leads to the creation of positions like yours. Or conversely, what are the obstacles to positions like yours being created?

JW: Well the obstacle would be funding or lack thereof. I guess I’ll talk about the obstacles first ... Most state institutions are looking at budget cuts and Washington State is in that category. And so it’s hard to imagine [a library] would just create a position that that’s specialized in the midst of this environment. On the other hand, I think that as these unique materials are being created and integrated into libraries it creates a need, and that’s really when the position can be created. But it takes somebody who is higher than the media librarian, somebody at the leadership level of the organization, to recognize that need and then articulate it to the people who have funding. Whether that be the state or ... sometimes there are grant opportunities and that can also be a source of funding devoted to a specific project. Essentially, you need somebody who can make the argument for that kind of position.

SR: And how would you make the argument for that position?

JW: Well, I could talk generally, and then maybe about the specifics of my situation. First—If I were trying to make the argument generally—I would look at the mission of the university, then the mission of the library, and tie the argument specifically into these missions and how the materials are supporting these missions. And then [I would] also come up with examples of how—because usually at the university there’s that really strong teaching mission—the faculty and students are using these media materials as part of the learning experience. And then provide examples of essentially what they’re doing and how they could do it better if there was somebody to support them in that effort. In my circumstance, one of the important parts of the mission of the university and then the library is the connection to the community. So when I’ve tried to get funding for something like the Tacoma Community History Project—which is that oral history collection I was talking about earlier; the digitization was done by grant funding—I tied it to that community mission and [argued] that making these materials more widely available benefits the local community. So, that’s one example. And with that [funding] I was able to hire people to work on the project, one of whom is a student at the information school who is interested in becoming a media librarian.

SR: Okay, great. And one last final question, which touches on the themes we’ve just been discussing: What needs to be changed about the status of moving image specialists in libraries and what is working well?

JW: What needs to be changed? And what is working well?

SR: Yes.

JW: Well, I think what’s working well is that it’s still a relatively small community. When someone becomes a media librarian, it’s relatively easy to get to know people in the community through conferences and participating in VideoLib. And it’s a relatively welcoming community because I think a lot of us are used to being ... ‘outsiders’ seems like a strong word. But there still seems to be a really strong bias toward printed material in the library. Even if you’re talking about printed or printed-digital, it’s all text-based. So, we’re used to dealing with complicated issues related to media. So I think that’s working well. And I’ve really enjoyed getting to know colleagues throughout the country and participating in conferences.

What can be improved? I really think that the education of media librarians is one area that can be improved. The standard idea would be offering a class on media librarianship, which would be one way of educating people about this area. But I also think that many librarians or people leaving an MLIS program could—even if they don’t become media librarians—benefit from more awareness of the issues that media librarians face, like collection development, and that there’s this whole world of media librarianship that they may know little about. So I think it could be better integrated into the education of librarians.

SR: Thanks. Okay, I just had one final question come up while you were talking and now I may have forgotten it. You were saying ... and I guess you were sort of addressing this at the very end [of your last response] … but you were saying that you felt like there wasn’t a lot of recognition from, say, traditional print librarians or that there was a gap between print librarianship and media librarianship. And you just suggested one way that gap could be bridged. But do you have any other suggestions or ideas?

JW: I don’t know. It’s a complicated issue because, for example, a lot of the tools that are used to find materials are catalogs. And they’re based primarily on printed materials. [In many catalogs] if you [were to perform a] search for a director, for example, you have to do an author search. That’s just an example of the kind of bias [built in]. I don’t think it’s a conscious thing ... I don’t think people have it out for [media]. It’s just something that’s not thought of. And I know there are efforts being made to make cataloging with video better, but I don’t know ... I think from my view it would be better to somehow have media be integrated into the collection as the universe of information, rather than it being one separate thing. But I’m not quite sure how to do that, because the physical requirements are different than books. And right now the collection that I manage is a separate collection—it’s behind the circulation desk. I think it would be cool to have some of the videos in the stacks with the books. You know, somebody is looking up the biography of Nelson Mandela and s/he sees that we’ve got a documentary about Nelson Mandela. But the logistics of that are complicated. I guess I’m sort of veering from ... I guess you’re sort of talking about the divisions in how librarians view things and then how it ends up in the collection.

SR: No, I think you answered my question well. And I think that’s all of my questions actually. Thanks so much, I really appreciate it.

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