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Benefits and Challenges for Streaming Media in Libraries

Computers in Libraries [May 2022] The Systems Librarian

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Streaming media is well-established as an everyday technology. We experience content of all types through some form of streaming digital service. At home, streaming video services have largely displaced physical DVDs. Cable television has begun to diminish, as more households cut the cord and switch to an assortment of streaming services. On the audio front, streaming services (such as Spotify) have largely replaced CDs for listening to music. Podcasts are more popular than ever, but are often delivered through popular apps and streaming services.

In tandem with this obvious trend in the consumer sphere, libraries are also adapting to the benefits and complications of digital services as part of their collections and services. Libraries have generally seen a shift from physical collections for audio and video content to streaming services. They can take advantage of digital video with low thresholds of technical complexities, although the costs can be a challenge. Most will add streaming content to their collections, while others may be involved in producing or digitizing content. Both avenues entail a complex set of considerations that differ from those of streaming media within social media networks or commercial services.

Streaming Media for Library Collections

Streaming video and audio content has a routine place in library collections. As with any type of collection format, libraries must make difficult decisions regarding what providers and titles to invest their limited collection funds in. Library users love streaming video services, but few libraries can afford to acquire enough content to meet that demand.

Libraries have potential access to an incredible amount of streaming video content, delivered through many different services. Documentaries, movies, educational videos, and training videos reasonably fall within library collections. However, the costs for library-oriented streaming content services present considerable challenges. These business models continue to evolve, hopefully working toward more affordable terms that will enable libraries to continually expand access to streaming services for their patrons.

For libraries, the transition from digital content to streaming services means a change in the supporting legal framework. Libraries purchase and lend books according to the first sale doctrine or its international equivalents. Once purchased, the library can use and lend a book without any restrictions from the seller. The same basic scenario applies to CDs and DVDs, aside from some exceptions (such as the purchase of additional rights for public performance). Downloadable ebook services have a different set of rules for libraries, governed by license contracts in which many publishers set higher prices for libraries than for retail consumers and impose restrictions on lending. The same goes for library-oriented streaming services that must pass along pricing and viewing restrictions set by content owners.

One of the biggest challenges for the organizations that create streaming video collections for libraries lies in developing business models for services that deliver as much content as possible within the limitations of library budgets. Commercial streaming services set high expectations and enable unlimited content viewing for a monthly fee. Streaming services offered by libraries are based on a business model in which authenticated patrons access content for free, with the library supporting the costs. Each platform has its own cost models, including fees for each user view, demand-driven acquisition of viewed titles, and other arrangements.

Liberal or unlimited access to video content would be possible, but that would take a disproportionate bite out of the library's collection budget. Given fixed collection budgets, more streaming content means fewer acquisitions of print materials. Budgeting for streaming services seems much more complex than in earlier times, when libraries could purchase video or audio content on physical media at retail pricing. The circulation of physical media collections has its own problems (such as loss and damage to discs), but fits well into routine lending operations. While physical media collections continue in libraries, involvement with these materials wanes as library-oriented streaming services gain broader adoption.

In general terms, the era of digital content means less content owned by libraries and more costs related to providing access to content for limited periods and with specified restrictions. The difference between owned content and licensed access has massive implications for library collection budgets.

Libraries as Content Creators

In addition to acquiring digital content for their users, many libraries are actively involved in developing digital collections or in producing original video content. It's common for libraries to create promotional videos as part of their marketing and outreach activities or to create original educational or training productions. Producing digital content has never been easier and cheaper. Today's smartphones offer video-capture capabilities that rival those of professional equipment. Videoediting tools have become more affordable and less complex to use. Social media now thrives on videos created by all sorts of individuals. It has become an outlet for creativity that does not require great technical expertise. Costs are practically negligible, with social media sites and content platforms publishing content for free.

Two decades ago, when I was involved in a few large-scale digital video projects, the technology options were limited, and the costs were onerous. One project entailed digitizing the collection of the Vanderbilt Television News Archive, transferring the recorded programs from the near-obsolete UMatic videotape cartridges to digital files. In that project, we digitized more than 40,000 hours of videotape into MPEG-2 digital files, which required more than 120TB of storage. It was considered one of the largest digital projects at that time in terms of the quantity of content produced. Back then, the digital storage costs were prohibitive, and we initially held the programs on DVD-R discs. We created downscaled versions of each program that were adequate for low-bandwidth streaming and that would fit within more affordable digital storage. Once digital storage costs dropped to more affordable levels, all of the content on the DVD-R discs was transferred to online storage.

Times have certainly changed. Today, a 10TB drive sells for around $200. The equivalent of the 40,000 hours of video we created is uploaded to YouTube every 2 hours. Projects that may have not been previously feasible are now much more likely to be in reach of libraries.

Projects creating or digitizing important cultural content have quite different considerations compared to the informal content shared on social media. They must ensure long-term preservation of the content involved, creation of detailed descriptive and administrative metadata, and use of technologies consistent with the information ecosystem of libraries and cultural institutions. In other words, most digital projects in libraries- whether they entail digitizing existing content or creating or capturing new material-should adhere to applicable standards and best practices.

As libraries invest time and resources into digital collections (including unique cultural content), it's vital to ensure their availability for generations to come. This objective stands in distinct contrast to video posted to social networks or commercial platforms, which do not guarantee permanent access or preservation. The content on these sites may be vulnerable if the platform changes ownership or in the event of other types of business transitions. Libraries might upload copies of content to commercial platforms (such as YouTube or Vimeo), but they should also ensure that primary copies of content assets are maintained in more trustworthy repositories.

Another concern with using social networks or commercial video plat- forms for library content is privacy. These sites are thoroughly integrated into the commercial advertising ecosystem and aggressively capture and disseminate personal details of visitors. The business model underlying free hosting and access to user-created content depends on the revenues generated through the advertising networks. Libraries should ensure that the practices of sites where they deposit digital content are consistent with their stated privacy policies.

Adjusting to the Current Digital Reality

Despite the costs and complications, libraries have many opportunities to benefit from streaming media. Library collections have continually evolved to embrace the formats and technologies of each period of society. Including digital content offerings in library collection services provides access to important and interesting resources for those who are not able to subscribe to commercial services. Part of the core mission of libraries involves delivering free access to materials that otherwise might only be available to those with the means to purchase them. This mission applies in the digital realm as much as it does to physical materials. As with any other new format, the library community must work with publishers and content providers to figure out the best business models and technologies to provide equitable access to their communities.

Marshall Breeding is an independent consultant, writer, and frequent library conference speaker and is the founder of Library Technology Guides (librarytechnology ,org|. His email address is marshall

View Citation
Publication Year:2022
Type of Material:Article
Language English
Published in: Computers in Libraries
Publication Info:Volume 42 Number 04
Issue:May 2022
Publisher:Information Today
Series: Systems Librarian
Place of Publication:Medford, NJ
Notes:Systems Librarian Column
Record Number:27270
Last Update:2024-07-15 11:00:48
Date Created:2022-05-04 09:50:13