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How accessible are our media collections?

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by Jonathan Manton | Wednesday, January 15, 2014
Open tape reel from Gerhard Samuel Collection, ARS.0049

During the fall of 2013, Stanford University Libraries (SUL) convened a working group to investigate the current state of access to audio and moving image materials held within its various collections, notably rare materials within its different special collections departments, along with those held at the Hoover Institution Library and Archives.

Following many weeks of investigation, the Media Access Working Group (MAWG) produced a report in December 2013 outlining its findings, along with various recommendations to help tackle the issues discovered. The group considered issues relating to use cases, copyright status, available technologies – including media streaming, and content usage.

MAWG discovered that SUL's ability to deliver archival media content to its patrons is falling short of current demand. It was estimated that less than 5% of Special Collections' (SPEC) holdings and less than 1% of Archive of Recorded Sound (ARS) items are online. Additionally, the systems and infrastructure currently employed for content discovery and delivery of the few media items that are available online were found to be fractured and out of date. 

Current systems at SUL were notably found to lack the the ability to effectively apply different levels of access rights for each stream in order to control which groups had access to any given item e.g public vs Stanford only access. Without the ability to provide restricted online access, the vast majority of digital / digitized media content is only available for access within the holding library's premises, or via a third party service, which may introduce risk.

MAWG's findings also reveal that an increasing amount of published, in-copyright material in SUL’s Media and Microtext department is rare, difficult to replace, and requires reformatting from video tape to digital formats for preservation and continued access. A streaming system with rigorous access controls is necessary in order for students, faculty and others to use this part of Stanford's collections in order to comply with copyright law.

Additionally, MAWG also established that the current system, coupled with constrained staffing levels, has led to a growing backlog of digital / digitized media items waiting to be accessioned into Stanford's digital library system, including the Stanford Digital Repository (SDR).

Following these findings, MAWG's primary recommendation is that SUL establish a robust, centrally managed system for its digital audio and video content, which needs to include rigorous access controls, strong workflows and reporting, and a successful mechanism for inputting descriptive metadata. Such a system, coupled with clear policies to aid SUL staff and patrons, would help to increase access and use of existing media by researchers both near and far. It will also help SUL attract new collections, better align content use with copyright law and donor agreements, and assemble a central corpus of content with unprecedented research potential.  

Other MAWG recommendations include conducting a survey of the Media and Microtext collection to determine the extent of at-risk items and improving SUL's ability to quantify and better understand the use by researchers of audiovisual content in our collections

The MAWG report will be used to inform planning for collection preservation and access in the coming months.

The Media Access Working Group members are: Michael Angeletti, Brandon Burke, Nathan Coy, Liisi Elgit, Anna Fishaut, Hannah Frost, Daniel Hartwig, Henry Lowood, Jonathan Manton, Bill O’Hanlon, and Geoff Willard. 

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