Digital Disruption in a Small-Town Library

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On Commercial street in Kincaid, Kansas, I only remember seeing one identifiable business — a somewhat decrepit restaurant and bar called Crickets. “The last census counted 93 or so people within the city limits,” I’m told by Jennifer Gum-Fowler, the librarian at Kincaid Public Library, “many of whom are living below the poverty line. We’re part of Rich Township, about 300 people, but not that rich.”

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The library is in the old high school, which now houses city hall offices and a nutritional program for older adults. Upstairs, along a hallway lined with lockers painted bright red, is a medium-sized former classroom. It’s a neat, brightly decorated, welcoming place with a 3-workstation computer bay, a play/reading area for children, and shelves bearing 2,261 items, according to a recent funding-related petition submitted to the Kansas State Library.

“That [petition] was the final step of being a stand-up, big-boy library,” Jennifer says proudly, “with actually being able to say we’re funding ourselves and moving forward now.” Up until 2014, the library was more like a “book depository,” a gift from the school’s alumnae with a collection that was untended and unsupervised. Sensing the community’s need, she and other citizens formed a board and filed the paperwork to make the library an official project, funded by taxes.

Citizen-librarian Jennifer Gum-Fowler helped found and now runs the Kincaid public library. 

Citizen-librarian Jennifer Gum-Fowler helped found and now runs the
Kincaid public library. 

As part of the library’s development, Jennifer “took on” the position of librarian. Her degree in History and Political Science from Washburn University had been intended to qualify her for law school. “Then,” she laughs, “life happened.” Jennifer and her husband, an over-the-road welder and machinist, have three children and have lived all over the state, wherever his work takes him. She also describes herself as “a big Dr. Who fan.”

How did she acquire library skills? “It’s touch-and-go,” she says, “but the Southeast Kansas Library System is awesome.” In addition to its state library, Kansas has a unique system of seven regional library organizations that each assist dozens of municipal and county libraries to improve services, qualify them for federal and state funding, and in some cases, train citizen librarians like Jennifer. “We’ve got a Share-It program through them, and a courier service through the state, so we can get books and materials from all over.”

The library serves a population of over 300 with 24/7 Wi-Fi, even though the building is only open 15 hours per week.

The library serves a population of over 300 with 24/7 Wi-Fi, even though the building is only open 15 hours per week.

The Kincaid library might not be big, but it provides a wealth of services to its patrons, including books for all ages, adult computer classes, a summer reading program, movie nights, weekly story time for children, and a Wi-Fi service that’s on 24/7. “People sit on the steps or in their cars in the parking lot, doing e-mail or downloading movies from their Netflix subscription for the weekend.” She also volunteers a lot of time all over the community as part of her library duties. Crickets runs a game night to help raise money. There’s a flyer on the wall for Zombie Day, a scavenger hunt for local teens and pre-teens, with local volunteers dressed up as undead nemeses. For all of that, their funding only allows them to be open 15 hours per week. Last year, she had over a thousand visits.

Local poverty-line citizens use the library to access Social Security and unemployment, although Jennifer says many have difficulty learning to do so. “If you’ve never done it or you’re terrified of doing it, it’s overwhelming. But if you don’t have access to the internet, you don’t have access to those services. We’ve held classes on how to sign up for the Affordable Care Act. I have one lady in her 70’s who’s selling her stuff on Etsy. It’s a really daunting task for her, but if you don’t show your wares that way, you get left behind.”

“[Digital disruption] causes a whole underclass that is lost. Coming from Topeka and having lived in Western Kansas and here, there’s a whole group of people who’re getting left behind.”
— Jennifer Gum-Fowler, Kincaid, KS Public Librarian

What does digital disruption mean to her library? “It causes a whole underclass that is lost. Coming from Topeka and having lived in Western Kansas and here, there’s a whole group of people who’re getting left behind. If they don’t have access, they don’t actually understand what’s happening around the world. And they don’t see the world the way the majority of people do.  And it’s a real tug-of-war when you talk to them, because you’re trying to discuss thoughts and ideas that they’re not exposed to.”

She talked about how her two sons are home-schooled and learn everything online. “When I’m at the grocery store, I text them to ask what they want and they’ll send me a picture of the item,” she laughs. "But there are other kids here who aren’t in that environment and they don’t even have that concept. Calling someplace to have pizza delivered to your house? These kids have never had that happen.”

The library's 20 DVDs for kids have been checked out 90 times in the past year. "You know the kids can recite them by heart."

The library's 20 DVDs for kids have been checked out 90 times in the past year. "You know the kids can recite them by heart."

Misconceptions about internet access by outsiders have disrupted the library’s funding. “We’re losing our E-rate [a federal program] grant for our landline phone, because they think everyone has cellular, but you can’t do that in rural America, because we don’t have good service here.” The Kincaid Library budget is now just under $15,000 per year. Jennifer’s applying for a $1,200 collection-development grant through the State Library with which she hopes to augment her DVD collection for kids, which currently numbers 20. “They’ve been checked out 90 times in the past year, so you know the kids can recite them by heart.”

 

Media Literacy and Critical Thinking in the age of Digital Disruption (Part Two)

The fascinating conversation continues among three librarians about media literacy and critical thinking: what are the extent of library responsibilities in the real world, what's the best way to serve, and what's the future of libraries?

Participants:
Scott Spicer, University of Minnesota
Andy Horbal, University of Maryland
Monique Threatt, University of Indiana Bloomington

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Media Literacy and Critical Thinking in the age of Digital Disruption (Part One)

Join 3 distinguished podcast participants in a thought-provoking discussion of library ideas and responsibilities for media literacy in today's media-dominated environment. 

Featuring:
Scott Spicer - Media Outreach and Learning Spaces Librarian, University of Minnesota
Andy Horbal - Head of Learning Commons, University of Maryland (Incoming head of ALA Video Roundtable
Monique Threatt - Head of Media and Reserve Services, University of Indiana Bloomington

Literature and media referenced in this podcast:
Tamblyn, Jeff. "Kansas vs. Darwin" Kino Lorber, Inc., Kanopy (2008)

W. James Potter. "Media Literacy" Sage Publishing (2016)

farrelly, deg, and Jane Hutchison. "Academic Library Streaming Video: Key Findings from the National Survey." Against the Grain 26.5 (November 2014).

Otto, Jane. "University Faculty Describe Their Use of Moving Images in Teaching and Learning and Their Perceptions of the Library’s Role in That Use." College & Research Libraries, Vol 75, No 2 (2014)

Podcast: Preservation Challenges in the Age of Digital Disruption

In part 2 of a podcast we started in April, NYU Professor Howard Besser and Grad Student Manon Gray share thoughts and experiences about preserving media, as well as some speculations about the challenges libraries may face in the near future. 

The study referred to in the podcast is "Video at Risk" 

Libraries vs. Big Streaming - an unfinished tale of copyright and disruption

A desperate call appeared on the VideoLib listerv.   "13th," a much-lauded social-issue documentary, nominated for an Oscar, could not be shown in class, to groups, or placed in an archive of important 2016 films.  It was showing only on Netflix, where no such rights are usually available. How, the post asked, can it be obtained?

In this case, a reprieve came when Ava DuVernay, the filmmaker, intervened with Netflix and tweeted it out. Public showings would be allowed (although so far, the archiving problem remains).  Such is the Age of Streaming, where most born-digital programming on Netflix, Amazon Prime and other direct-to-consumer platforms comes only via stream, encumbered by highly restricted terms of use.

John Vallier, University of Washington

John Vallier, University of Washington

It was fitting that the librarian who first sounded the alarm about "13th" should be John Vallier, Head of Distributed Media at the University of Washington.   Vallier comes from an ethnomusicology background -- he also plays drums -- and finding, preserving and distributing music is one of his life's missions.   With music having been the first-wave of media disruption, Vallier has been in the thick of the issue for a bit longer than video-only counterparts.

It started for Vallier back in 2009.  "Two things prompted my involvement," Vallier reflects in a recent email interview with Media This Month.  "D.J. Hoek's 2009 article on the topic in American Libraries, "The Download Dilemma: The demise of the compact disc signals an uncertain future for library sound recording collection," and my own realization that more and more of our audio and video content was only being accessible via portals cloaked in library-hostile terms of use (I'm thinking here of iTunes and Amazon, for example)."

Vallier went beyond the worried and concerned stage and took concrete steps.  In 2010, he and colleagues from UW -- backed by an NEH Digital Humanities Start-Up grant -- tried to negotiate library-friendly end user license agreements (EULA) with Amazon and Apple.   They were rebuffed (the single exception Vallier and his team were able to negotiate: a deal with Universal Music Group for 25 percent of a single recording of a Berlioz symphony, and the account is suggested reading [http://blogs.library.duke.edu/scholcomm/2014/07/28/planning-for-musical-obsolescence/]).

But rather than deliver a EULA-ogy for library music collections, Vallier pressed on, securing a grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS).   Vallier joined in with the UW Libraries and the Music Library Association (MLA) in this venture -- a two-year project that involved one round of community input at the MLA annual meeting in 2014, a meeting with consultants at the ALA meeting the same year, and a concluding summit in late 2014.   The summit was held at the Library of Congress, and took the form of a discussion with the board of the National Recording Preservation Board (NRPB), which includes representatives from scholarly associations, libraries and the music industry.

A raft of recommendations emerged from the summit:

  • Legislative reform, focusing on revision of copyright law.
  • Pursuing a test case via fair use doctrine and best practices.
  • Developing new EULA's with willing partners.
  • Developing new methods for long-term preservation of digitally licensed music.
  • Initiating a campaign of public relations and publish pressure.

Looking back two years later, Vallier professes to still have some hope.  "While the overall topic can seem daunting, irreversible, dire, I have been inspired by working with so many esteemed colleagues on [this] topic," Vallier writes.  "While we didn't 'solve' the issue, I think we are better poised for confronting this issue because of such collaborative work."

Yet as disruption proliferates, the challenge has also grown.  "It's getting worse and spreading rapidly to video, as many have predicted," Vallier notes.  "Just today I had to let some faculty know that we wouldn't be able to purchase the HBO streaming title they wanted because it was only available online from HBO. And yesterday I had to cancel a long list of purchases I wanted to make on Bandcamp as it looks like their terms of use have become more draconian in recent years and in-line with the Apples, Amazons, and Netflixs out there."

"The user-base for library music collections is fairly small when compared to those who check out and use library video collections," he continues. "Because of this, the impact is more noticeable with video. A library not being able to provide access to the latest Netflix-only documentary has a far more disruptive impact than a library not being able to provide access to the latest Deutsche Grammophon release on iTunes. Now when this issue will really become disruptive to librarians, and actually garner more recognition, is when more and more e-book content only becomes available via Amazons, etc."

Reflecting on the recommendations developed at the 2014 summit and refined afterwards, Vallier sees progress on some fronts.   He sees a "glimmer of hope" in the appointment of Carla Hayden as Librarian of Congress, but other staffing questions at the Library, and the partisan climate in Congress, make copyright law reform uncertain. As to fair use, Vallier writes: "It’s really going to take an institution brave enough to volunteer for a lawsuit in order to get clarity on the role of fair use with this issue. Any takers out there?"

In his UW day job, Vallier has become less involved in overall media collection development.  He now spends his time supporting a media maker space ("Media Arcade"), and also attends "to the stewardship and digitization of various audio/video/film archives."

"Being involved with the online-only issue on the one hand, and analog archives on the other, has given me a greater appreciation for the latter," Vallier concludes.  "While it may be dusty and deteriorating, there’s something implicitly reassuring about working with a tangible object, such as reel-to-reel tape."

Further reading:

Hoek, D.J.  "The Download Dilemma: The demise of the compact disc signals an uncertain future for library sound recording collection."  American Libraries.  July 2009. https://americanlibrariesmagazine.org/2009/07/27/the-download-dilemma/

Sound Recording in Crisis (University of  Washington portal)

http://guides.lib.uw.edu/friendly.php?s=research/imls2014

Tsou, Judy, and John Vallier.  "Ether Today, Gone Tomorrow: 21st Century Sound Recording in Crisis."  Notes, Music Library Assoc. Journal.  March, 2016.

 

Digital Disruption Part 2: How well do we understand licensing? (A podcast)

Although the responses are still undergoing analysis, Manon Gray's master's thesis contains a survey to probe the understanding of licensing terms between media librarians and distributors. She and Professor Howard Besser (both at NYU) talk about how they put it together, and what they hope to learn and contribute to the academy knowledge base. 

Literature referred to in the podcast includes the following: 

Cross, William. "More than a House of Cards: Developing a Firm Foundation for Streaming Media and Consumer-Licensed Content in the Library." Journal of Copyright in Education & Librarianship 1.1 (2016).

Duncan, Cheryl J., and Erika Day Peterson. Creating a Streaming Video Collection for Your Library. Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield, 2014. 

farrelly, deg, and Jane Hutchison. "Academic Library Streaming Video: Key Findings from the National Survey." Against the Grain 26.5 (November 2014).

farrelly, deg. "Issues in academic library streaming video." Journal of Digital Media Management, 5.2 (Winter 2016-2017).

 

Howard Besser is Director of the Moving Image Archiving and Preservation masters degree program at New York University.  He also teaches a regular Cinema Studies course on New Media, Installation Art, and the Future of Cinema.  His current research projects involve preserving digital public television, preserving and providing digital access to dance performance, preserving difficult electronic works, issues around copyright and fair use, Do-It-Yourself media, and the changing nature of media with the advent of digital delivery systems. Manon Gray  is an MA student in Moving Image Archiving and Preservation and has a bachelor of arts in comparative literature from Princeton. She’s interned at the San Francisco Cinemateque, the Whitney, and the Smithsonian, and served as an AV consultant at the Dominican Studies Institute at City University in New York.

Howard Besser is Director of the Moving Image Archiving and Preservation masters degree program at New York University.  He also teaches a regular Cinema Studies course on New Media, Installation Art, and the Future of Cinema.  His current research projects involve preserving digital public television, preserving and providing digital access to dance performance, preserving difficult electronic works, issues around copyright and fair use, Do-It-Yourself media, and the changing nature of media with the advent of digital delivery systems.

Manon Gray  is an MA student in Moving Image Archiving and Preservation and has a bachelor of arts in comparative literature from Princeton. She’s interned at the San Francisco Cinemateque, the Whitney, and the Smithsonian, and served as an AV consultant at the Dominican Studies Institute at City University in
New York.

Digital Disruption Disrupts Media Decision-Making

Of all the formats libraries collect, media has migrated most quickly and frequently. The professional universe has been populated with a dizzying array: 16 mm, Umatic, VHS, Betamax, LaserDisc … Libraries have collected all these formats (and more) and continue to acquire physical media. User demand for streaming content, however, has completely changed how librarians think about acquiring and preserving media.

A few years ago, obtaining streaming rights was a novelty - now streaming is quickly replacing the DVD or any other ‘tactile’ receptacle for data. The tipping point has tipped. The idea of a library as a place where you go to get stuff has not changed, only the relative meanings of the terms ‘go,’ ‘get,’ and ‘stuff.’

Digital Disruption in your library reflects not only technological advance, but evolving business approaches - suppliers disrupt not only with their differing capabilities to deliver a robust stream of bits, but also with the price, duration and exclusivity of the rights they purvey, along with digital tools that add value to their offering. And it turns out there’s no standard template for the mix of providers and systems that makes up the best options to for your patrons.

Debra Mandel - Director, Digital Media Commons Studios, Northeastern University

Debra Mandel - Director, Digital Media Commons Studios, Northeastern University

We recently spoke with Debra Mandel at Northeastern University, Chair of the Streaming Media Community of Interest at the Boston Library Consortium, which includes 18 academic and research libraries in New England. The community was created with the expectation of discovering best practices for collecting and hosting streaming media. “We met with one media hosting vendor whose platform provides a viable option for consortial members and liaised with a video collection vendor to provide resource sharing proposals,” says Mandel, “but it soon became clear that each academic institution’s library and IT department have unique media landscapes. Thus, sharing a centralized media platform or developing shared collections are very challenging undertakings.’ (The COI continues its work in many other areas, despite that realization.)

Video images are created, shared, and watched so often in the course of an average day that it is a challenge for librarians to identify relevant content, acquire it, and make it accessible. The number of professional librarians whose jobs are devoted exclusively to media is shrinking, reflecting both the current reality of diminishing funding, evolving professional responsibilities, and the quite justifiable notion that media is part of every librarian’s job. As Mandel and the COI learned, individual libraries have unique approaches to collecting audiovisual content based on budgets, institutional size, mission, priorities, and numerous other considerations. These practices and others demand greater investigation. 

Welcome to the monthly newsletter of the National Media Market. This column will explore Digital Disruption in partnership with you. NMM wants to know about your experiences, ideas and questions, whether you’re a librarian or other professional who acquires media, or a distributor or filmmaker with an interest in the world of libraries.

Expect a monthly article in this blog and our newsletter that explores an aspect of Digital Disruption. We hope this series will increase your knowledge, but also your curiosity. We also hope it will make more accessible a larger community of interest with the vision to understand that media is a powerful communication tool that can be harnessed to achieve specific and important ends.

Please feel free to contact us directly with comments or suggestions. Also, please find NMM on Facebook, Twitter, and on our conference website at www.nmm.net.

 

Newsletter editors: Jeff Tamblyn and Peter Cohn