Video In The Library, or, How I Learned to Love My Unconventional Skill Set

20/12/2011 § 8 Comments

Today’s Guest post comes from Amy Frazier, who just finished her first term with Emporia State University’s School of Library and Information Management in Portland, Oregon. Before entering library school, Amy studied film in London and taught film making skills to community members here in Portland. You can read more of her writing on her blog:  Sidelong Citation and be sure to follow her on twitter: SidelongCite.

Photo Credit: flashbacks.com on flickr

I came to library school by way of film and video work.  Prior to enrolling at Emporia State University SLIM-Oregon, the main thrust of my career was in documentary film making and education, teaching people how to make their own films and videos. It wasn’t the most obvious path to the stacks, even though to me the progression seemed natural. But it can be a challenge to find ways to make my existing skill set relevant to librarianship, so I spend a lot of time looking at the intersection between moving pictures and the library.

During my first term in library school, I got an opportunity to start digging into this a little bit by way of a class called “Theoretical Foundations of Service.” We got a group assignment to develop an information seeking behavior model related to a specific kind of library — visual libraries in the case of my group, which we narrowed down further to film and video archives and libraries. (There were two ex-film students in the group, which might explain the choice.)

A review of the literature didn’t provide a great deal of information – there were some good pieces about related fields like art libraries, but for moving pictures specifically there was very little. So as a next plan of attack, we decided to go straight to the authorities. We were very graciously granted interviews by two amazing librarians, Liz Coffey of the Harvard Film Archive and Mark Quigley of the UCLA Film and Television Archive . Based on those conversations, we gradually built up a picture of what an effective search would look like.

In a nutshell, it was… complicated. There were a number of factors that, while certainly not exclusive to film and video, represented unusually large obstacles. Collections tend to be quite isolated from each other and inaccessible from the world outside their home institutions; searches require pretty intensive mediation by a librarian who knows their collection well; and even under the best of circumstances, a search for motion picture items can be a long and uncertain endeavor. While the project gave me a new level of respect for the librarians and archivists doing this work, it was eye-opening to see how complex the process can be. Even with some idea of how to go about a search like this effectively, the prospect remains intimidating.

So that was my first brush with film and video in the library. Outside of school I work as a circulation assistant in the library of a large medical school/research hospital, and was lucky enough to be given a role on an existing video project developed by our User Experience librarian. It’s a relatively simple piece, a profile of the staff at our library and their philosophies of service and librarianship, but it’s an opportunity to demonstrate what video can do in the library. Now I’m looking around and seeing potential projects everywhere — some of the article databases are so confusing, what if we put together a video tutorial to help guide patrons through a simple search? We have students and researchers using library resources 24 hours a day, wouldn’t it be great to have that sort of resource available even when there isn’t a reference librarian in the house? Could video make these resources more accessible to that group of patrons that’s reluctant to come in and ask for help? It’s not a replacement for real reference instruction, but I think it could be a great supplement.

Film and video are of huge significance in our culture. They saturate society on every level, and as part of a collection they represent a visceral and engrossing link to both the past and the present. Used well, video can also constitute a useful and powerful tool to engage with patrons in an accessible and familiar medium. The point is that even a skill set as seemingly unrelated to the library as video production can turn out to have real and valuable applications. In fact, in a field where the educational foundation is pretty similar from institution to institution (at least among the ALA-accredited programs), it’s the skills that you don’t learn in library school that can set you apart.

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