By Jessica Lawrence-Hurt (Chief Marketing Officer, Cadmore Media)
Against the Grain v34#6
“Boldness has genius, power, and magic in it.” — Goethe
Media content has long had a home, if a somewhat niche one, in the libraries of higher learning. Media librarians carefully curated a collection of VHS and DVD tapes, hunting down special requests from faculty, keeping track of course reserves, and helping students include video in their projects. The boom in educational streaming media really started about ten years ago, and companies like Alexander Street, Films on Demand, Kanopy, and Sage all offered curated subject collections of primary resources, complete with MARC records, COUNTER-compliant stats, and transcriptions. I remember telling streaming skeptics (in a previous role as marketing director at Alexander Street), that YouTube was the second largest search engine in the world. They have retained that spot, and two and half years from the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic, the demand for streaming media among students, faculty, and researchers alike has never been higher. This article seeks to outline some of the opportunities available to libraries and publishers and invite collaboration in proactively determining streaming’s role in higher education and research.
Note: This isn’t to say there are many valuable resources that are either not yet available for educational licensing or are only available on physical formats — that is outside the scope of this article, yet good work is being done on multiple fronts to collect, archive, convert, and make available these resources, while there is still time.
The Current Landscape of Streaming Media
While acquiring multimedia content used to be the purview of dedicated media librarians, now almost anyone in collection development or electronic acquisitions is expected to take into consideration all types of media in their collection strategy and be comfortable procuring such resources.
The number of players in the market has increased, too, to keep up with the surge in demand (and content digitization). Today, in addition to the companies noted above, libraries can license media content directly from a number of scholarly associations, including SPIE, AAOS, APA, and NEJM, and publishers such as Springer Nature and JoVE. Many published conference proceedings now include the relevant video recording alongside the papers, such as IEEE. Meeting content curated across a range of subjects can be acquired from Underline. Some associations are partnering with other organizations in a similar space and curating their own libraries of media content, such as Bone & Joint’s Orthomedia. [My current company, Cadmore Media, provides the underlying technology for some of these products, but does not license content directly.]
Library media budgets have increased very modestly over the years, even as the volume of content has dramatically increased. The Streaming Media Licensing and Purchasing Practices at Academic Libraries Survey conducted by Ithaka earlier in 2022 revealed that “Streaming media is a growing segment of the library materials budget, with its footprint projected to double over the next five years.”
Even with that increase, though, 90%+ of library acquisitions budgets are still anticipated to go to books and journals (with an overwhelming majority going to journals). Does that allotment still make sense in light of current needs and goals? Does 90%+ of library resource usage come from text-based materials? What impact will Open Access and big deal cancellations have on this allocation?
I invite you to consider these questions in light of how streaming resources are currently being discovered and used by students; faculty needs and the impact of tightening budgets on their professional development; the types of streaming content available and what it can be used for; and how the scholarly ecosystem supports (or fails to support) non-book and journal resources.
Students currently enrolled in higher education have an expectation that learning resources will be offered in a variety of formats to match their learning preferences and cognitive styles. Many used Khan Academy videos in high school to learn material in a different way than was presented in class, or to brush up on concepts prior to an exam. Video can provide insight into how science works and how research actually gets done, communicated, and refined. Students know that a vast quantity of video demonstrations, lab processes, lectures, and problem-solving techniques are all available on their phones, whether they know to try the library catalog to access these tools or not.
Unfortunately, YouTube, TikTok, and other mass communication social tools lack adequate metadata models to surface specifically relevant, scholarly content. Users are directed to the most-watched content and content that fits with previously used search terms, meaning that much of the accurate, carefully vetted content that is available goes unfound, creating whatever is the opposite of a virtuous circle. This is why when I hear “we put some videos on YouTube and no one watched them,” as a reason not to adopt a video strategy, I have to go lie down.
Many professors will identify with the example I heard recently from a lecturer who was wondering why several students provided the same odd — and incorrect — response on an exam, and was ultimately able to trace it back to a popular video on YouTube that provided incorrect information. You have to admire the students seeking out new ways to understanding a confusing concept, and yet I cringe thinking of all the high quality, vetted content that was certainly available through their library or relevant professional association. The point being: students are already using streaming content to a significant degree. Let’s make sure it’s both easily accessible and reliable.
In a similar vein, while most library media budgets prioritize resources for teaching and learning for undergraduates, researchers and early career scholars find value in streaming media as well. In a separate research report from Ithaka, the U.S. Faculty Survey 2021, faculty identified conferences and workshops as their preferred way of staying on top of research in their field by a wide margin. Of course, not all faculty can attend all of the relevant research conferences (with the opportunities even more limited for those just starting out), so the potential acquisition of content from the leading scientific meetings may well be a way to support researchers.
Of course, this varies quite a bit by subject area (my brother is a mathematician; good luck getting him or his colleagues to create a video explaining his equations); but where video does work, it’s very effective: music, theatre, and dance performance; oral history interviews and speeches; anthropological field research; surgical techniques, and more.
Elsewhere in this issue of Against the Grain are more articles delving into the abundance of “alternative” content types that present significant value in education and research and yet have historically been more challenging to locate, cite, and share. As are white papers, data sets, interviews, case studies, and so forth, some types of streaming content have intrinsic value to scholars, whether or not they have been peer reviewed. (Our recent president’s use of Twitter, as an obvious example.) There is a vast world of podcasts, webinars, interviews, and panel discussions from think tanks, professional associations, scholarly societies, working groups, and public commissions that can be used for teaching today and will be of research interest in the future. Yet because these raw, primary materials are generated from sources outside the traditional scholarly ecosystem, they are unlikely to be indexed, cataloged, discovered, cited, or preserved.
In the cases of many types of media, the way the current scholarly ecosystem is functioning is not working. By and large, it is designed to support only certain types of content. Peer review submission systems are often unable to accommodate multimedia files. Leading indexers and abstracters (cough, PubMed, cough) do not accept video journals. An entire industry where the overwhelming majority of content is generated by Western scholars. What is left out? Who is left out?
On the other hand, there are elements of the ecosystem that do work just fine for “alternative” types of content: DOIs can be assigned, creating permanent links that reduce the link rot that occurs regularly on syllabi filled with YouTube links. MARC records can be created and cataloged. COUNTER-compliant stats can be generated. Streaming media can be embedded on most learning management systems. Options exist to preserve and archive these types of materials via dark archives.
The Opportunity to Shape the Future
Thinking about the next twenty or so years in our industry, it seems clear that the overwhelming majority of scholarly content will be “open.” It will also most likely be accompanied by more than one media type, and be highly interactive, accessible, and embeddable. The line between what is considered scholarly and what is not will become further blurred. The risks are not insignificant, and the continued erosion of information literacy and distrust of authoritative sources and scientific process will certainly have a detrimental effect.
Taking a wide view of this community’s past shows that, if nothing else, despite the migration of content types to one form or another, curriculum trends, and leadership whims, the skills that librarians and publishers occasionally take for granted are more applicable than ever in this scenario. The ability to bring order to chaos through thoughtful application of a workflow. The high value placed on preserving knowledge for future generations. The discernment to tell facts from “alternative facts” and teach such skills. A genuine love for metadata management and search functionality. Passion for accessibility and equity. Information parsing. Analytical ability. Curation skills!
The future is being shaped now, with or without us. The need for our skills has never been in more demand by learners and researchers alike. Let’s not be limited by what we’ve done, or not done, in the past or wait for the system or the budget to direct us.