An Oddball Notion

Submitted by StephenK on Tue, 08/25/2009 - 14:19
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Left-wing pressure group Color of Change has had a boycott campaign running against right-wing talk personality Glenn Beck. So far it is claimed that multiple advertisers have yanked their ads from Beck's television on Fox News Channel although reportedly no ads have been pulled from the syndicated radio show, the magazine Fusion, or the website. While Beck's ratings remain high, the prices for ads are likely becoming depressed. Already seen on LISNews today was a link to a blog post concerning an ad by legal materials publisher West. In that ad, West stated that if you know your librarian on a first name basis you are spending too much time at your library. Between that ad campaign and the situation at Fox News Channel, a golden opportunity exists. What would it take for the American Library Association to break from past ad campaigns to do something new? What would it take to get the President of the ALA in a 30 second television ad to make a quick statement? Such an ad script could simply state: “Hello Glenn Beck viewers. Color of Change is running an advertising boycott against Glenn over his release of what they term racist disinformation. In today's stormy seas of competing viewpoints, libraries remain your safe harbor for finding truth. I'm Jim Rettig, president of the American Library Association, reminding you that libraries still serve you since time immemorial.” A bad thing is that the name of the ALA President did not come to mind immediately for me. The latest incarnation of the ALA website makes it quite the safari to actually determine who the President is. Getting actual face time in a commercial break of a national cable show with high ratings would presumably have some benefit. Having President Rettig say that in a library setting at the University of Richmond where he is University Librarian would personalize the point nicely. This would not have to be a complicated affair to produce and should not be any flashier than your average used car lot ad on local television. As a way to reach the great unwashed, this might actually have more effect than yanking all advertisers. Recently the boycott effort has started to backfire on Color of Change as some of the companies in the boycott have decided to not only pull their ads on Beck's program but to pull their ads off any political program regardless of whether it leans left or right. This may be the time for independent ALA action that could lead to positive results for libraries especially when publishers undercut the status of law libraries through ads by those same publishers. If anybody in the ALA sees this and wants to run with it, you have my blessing.

Pondering The Viewing Glass

Submitted by StephenK on Wed, 07/15/2009 - 00:04

An Essay of the LISNews Summer Series

One of the issues coming out of ALA Annual 2009 this year is the matter of transparency. Librarians like technology. Librarians like to use to technology. Price tags are a little daunting, though, when presented for things that seem to be so cheap as to be almost free as in beer.

Norman Oder has a report in Library Journal that outlines the costs of various options in promoting transparency. Oder's report does not explain too much in depth as to how the particular figures are derived. The annual cost of posting audio files of Council proceedings seems to be a bit high on the processing/posting end unless such has included the eventual costs of bandwidth in serving up such files. In some respects the cost of bandwidth in serving up content can be far greater than the cost of producing it.

Accessibility is also a tremendous concern. Simply put, the process of securing transcripts is not cheap. The work of a court reporter is not easy, requires specialized training, and they are quite well compensated for their troubles. The Council's lawyer also quite rightly pointed out that having transcripts of Council discussions could result in lawsuits over remarks by councilors.

Is it really practical to broadcast every waking moment of every panel, session, and hustings at ALA Annual? Is it really necessary? With hundreds of panels and multiple situations where you have concurrent panels, attention is easily divided. A vast army of observers would be required to have coverage at every single panel. Having videographers accompany the observers would only increase the manpower requirements. Post-production would be a situation more like the investigation by the Columbia Accident Investigation Board relative to the sheer volume of materials to digest. There is a reason why tech news outlets like CNET have a couple weeks of vacation prior to the Consumer Electronics Show as they leave a skeleton crew behind at the office as their army converges on Las Vegas. The only known group that would even attempt this with volunteers is PixelCorps and they have not attempted anything on this sort of scale.

Is all hope lost on covering ALA? No! The technology does not yet exist for proper tele-presence structures so that civilians not attending ALA in person could still be there virtually. The funds to outfit an army to cover the event, let alone cover the attendant logistical nightmares, are non-existent. For the cost of hardware to pull this off, one could presumably fully fund the operation of a rural library for several years. In this case one must look outside the walls of librarianship and step away from comfortable paradigms. Television networks like Universal Sports and ESPN do show ways this could be better handled.

A paradigm used as of late by Universal Sports is not to provide full coverage. Logistically they cannot wage the same level of effort all the time that is required for covering an Olympics. This is where the matter of editorial judgment comes into play. Only highlights of events are recorded for air. Not everything is broadcast in real-time as some events are shown on tape delay. The FIVB World Cup series for beach volleyball was one example of select matches being shown on a delay. Coverage of triathalon competitions, rowing, swimming & diving, and more fall under similar presentation rubrics.

Television networks already exist that could carry this programming. One would be ResearchChannel which has coverage via terrestrial broadcasting, cable television, video on-demand, webcast, satellite, and more. Northern Arizona University's UniversityHouse channel, University of Washington Television, and University of California Television are all also available by way of satellite within North America. There are somewhat traditional television-based distribution channels available for pushing conference coverage outward.

In covering only highlights, much of the nightmare of logistics goes away. If you have a smaller team picking and choosing among panels, you can provide a representative sample to viewers at home. The question of deciding what to cover is a matter of editorial control that has no simple solutions, though. In an organization that can seem to outsiders like a confederation of interest groups, the decision-making authority of what to cover is best held not by a committee but by a single editorial official. It could take years for an editorial committee to make a decision in creating a highlights reel like this while a single individual might take action more quickly.

For all the costs of bandwidth, streaming, captioning, and more involved in Internet-based distribution, DVD fulfillment through a publishing arm like what ALA already has may conservatively allow for a start to such. With online video downloads already quite large and quite costly to transfer in some cases, the use of physical media may allow for easier dissemination. Linux distributions like Ubuntu and OpenSolaris do this already through physical media distribution for this who lack the bandwidth to either download their operating systems or download them in a timely fashion. This physical alternative to virtual distribution could become a new stream of revenue for ALA, too. Selling sets of DVDs of proceedings could potentially take events to members who could not be there. As Andrew Tannenbaum wrote in Computer Networks: “Never underestimate the bandwidth of a station wagon full of tapes hurtling down the highway.

All of this discussion may be great but it points out a separate issue. Is ALA Annual becoming unwieldy in its size and growth? Could more be accomplished if it was broken down into a set of separate events spread across the entire year? If that were to happen, keeping a court reporter in-house would be more cost effective and would mean an ALA film team could be utilized perhaps.

The matter now stands at a question point. What is it the membership wants? What is your ALA?


Stephen Michael Kellat received his Master of Science in Library Science from Clarion University of Pennsylvania in 2004. He presently is a librarian in private practice in southern Nevada after having worked in academic cataloging, private sector retail, and alpaca husbandry.

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