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


Newsletter editors: Jeff Tamblyn and Peter Cohn