Column Editor: Winifred Fordham Metz (Media Librarian & Head, Media Resources Center, House Undergraduate Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill; Phone: 919-962-4099) http://www.lib.unc.edu/house/mrc
Column Editor’s Note: The use of media in the classroom is ubiquitous. Visual theses are on the rise. Academic interest in and classroom use of film and global cinema is growing at an exponential rate. Resultantly, the importance of a rich and varied media resources collection is essential to academic institutions, public libraries, and K-12 media centers. It takes a lot of work, development, and research to maintain and grow a collection like this. Resources that aid in this process are invaluable… — WFM
Over the last couple of years, I have utilized this column to discuss several essential components of Media Librarianship ranging from content (documentaries, feature films, collecting resources and the festival circuit), pedagogy and copyright to nuts and bolts information on streaming media and distribution to keeping attuned to the current media delivery landscape. If I were asked to identify a foundation or common thread running through each of these discussions, it would have to be collection development. Why? Because it always comes back to the stuff. Streaming and distribution are about providing access to and (in part) preserving the stuff, copyright is about protecting the stuff, and pedagogy is about teaching, researching and ultimately producing more stuff. That will, in turn, need to be collected.
Now, do not get me wrong — I am in no way suggesting that Media Librarianship can be distilled simply and solely down to collection development, but I do believe it to be central scaffolding for core components comprising the work. I use media in almost every class I speak to and almost every instruction session or presentation I give. It is extremely rare for me to complete a consult without illustrating some point with a scene from a film or documentary or referring to a media clip online. No matter if I am in the classroom, media production lab, curating a screening or advising a project, the work ultimately always ties back to the collection.
So, collection development and careful curation remain key.
This is certainly something that has been underscored for me time and again and most recently in a myriad of interesting consults with grad students conducting summer research and with faculty prepping their syllabi for new classes. In one particular series of consults, where I was walking a couple of graduate students through the process of crafting a visual thesis for their media project and outlining how to storyboard or rough out their initial ideas, we kept returning to the collection — not only for research content but as a means for me to illustrate examples of clear theses, effective interviewing techniques, and to begin introducing ideas about good camera placement, sound quality and editing choices. A week later, when a faculty member came to me for help providing samples of media to contextualize a number of themes he will be presenting in a new class in the fall semester, we successfully mined the collection to meet a few of the themes, found some relevant docs available freely online to address a couple more, and uncovered a subject area gap needing to be explored. While each of these consults required me to actively engage a rich range of skills — their success depended on my utilizing both the collection and my collection development expertise. Happily, these consults also yielded an almost simultaneous organic review of the collection — reflecting areas of content wealth and highlighting areas needing development — allowing me to not only apply but sharpen that expertise.
It’s a Prestigious Line of Work, with a Long and Glorious Tradition.
When I heard that one of the central themes for this issue of Against the Grain surrounded Adversity in Collection Development, things like budget, access and delivery, and copyright sprang to mind — but they were each soon eclipsed by the notion of complacency.
Let’s sit with that for a minute.
By complacency, I am talking more of the sense-of-security/repose/equanimity use of the term, not so much the self-satisfaction/smugness bit. And, it is a notion I cannot help but consider when reviewing hurdles to collection development. Budget issues are really hard to ignore in that they permeate pretty much everything; collection building, staffing, access, licensing — the list seems endless. But complacency is harder to identify and it can show up in spite of some really great things like expertise, quality engagement, and substantial use stats.
Working in close proximity to the School of Information and Library Science (SILS) at UNC, I have the opportunity to guest lecture in one of the collection development classes offered each semester, something I readily do. I am also regularly approached by SILS students asking that I share my Center’s collection development policy and plan with them, something I rarely do — because Collection Development plans for media can be a bit of a moving target considering the nature of the medium and the speed at which delivery options continue to morph and change. Instead of sharing a static plan, I prefer to talk about a few of the things I see as basics for effectively nurturing and curating a media collection. Turning an eye to the process remains a good exercise for me too, to hold onto and often rediscover what’s important and crucial to collection development in the moment and hopefully avoiding complacency in the mix. Here are the five things I offer up to them:
Hello, My Name Is Inigo Montoya…
Clearly, one of the first steps in a successful collection development plan is to identify whom your collection serves and which of these groups are the primary stakeholders according to your institution’s mission. Often times this is easier said than done in that in a University environment, much of this is constantly in flux as whole groups of library users are continually matriculating each year, either from undergraduate or graduate programs, or progressing through their careers and moving to other institutions.
So, I underscore the importance of moving beyond identifying a static list to engagement. Knowing staff, faculty, undergraduate and graduate students and what their areas of research and instruction interests are is crucial. Just as important is their knowing who you are and what your Media Center has to offer.
You also need to extend the stakeholder list to include colleagues beyond your campus who play an essential role in helping you deliver your Center’s collections and services — area consortia, vendors, distributors, filmmakers, and media colleagues at other academic institutions.
Anybody Want a Peanut?
After introductions have been made, you have to cultivate relationships with your on-campus and off-campus stakeholders. At this moment, I feel the need to give a shout out to Dr. Barbara Moran and my fellow students in the two Management classes I took at SILS years ago; Dr. Moran’s instruction and feedback from my fellow students highlighted all of this for me so very well. Those classes underscored the importance of engagement and partnership. Knowing your community, its strengths, needs and interests better prepares you to function effectively as a partner in the field. All of the following are essential:
- Providing consults to faculty, students and staff regularly
- Asking for syllabi, crafting filmographies, creating focused resource guides
- Teaching or speaking in classes, assisting with assignment design, providing feedback
- Working sporadically at the public service desk, volunteering at new student and faculty orientations
- Participating in faculty searches, giving tours to prospective grad students, speaking at Library Friends events
- Co-curating campus programming with campus partners
- Attending departmental and student-run campus events
- Serving on Departmental Advisory Boards, Faculty Council and other campus groups
- Participating as an active member in professional Media groups, at conferences, writing or editing for journals, and serving on professional advisory boards
I Mean, If We Only Had a Wheelbarrow, That Would Be Something.
Now that you have begun to more closely define your current key stakeholders and have identified some of their immediate research and instruction needs, it is time to take careful stock of your collection. Taking both a proactive planned approach and being open to organic discoveries are equally important. Either way, you can uncover collection gaps, dispel misunderstandings surrounding media pedagogy with your patrons, and better educate yourself and patrons to the pretty endless potential / academic application of the collection. These are some useful examples:
- Conduct comprehensive annual inventories
- Conduct quarterly inventories based on pre-assigned content areas
- Match catalog to curricula for existing classes served through reserves and/or semester bookings
- Review subject holdings and any existing collecting agreements across local consortium (for us, that is the Triangle Research Library Network) noting areas of strength and need
- Conduct reviews of collections and resources available freely online
- Match catalog to curricula based on consults (this can yield unexpected gaps and forecast emerging areas of interest and identify areas needing more publicity)
- Match catalog to curricular and general need based on engagement at the service desk
- Co-create and/or test-drive assignments that utilize the collection
- Curate campus programming for events across the curriculum
You Rush a Miracle Man, You Get Rotten Miracles
When you feel like you have made good progress getting a handle on what is in the collection and have uncovered areas of potential growth, it is time to survey the media landscape and begin to keep current with new and emerging resources. This is comprised almost entirely by reading and trials:
- Read the professional literature internal to librarianship, media centers, communication, digital collections, film & cinema studies, documentary studies, etc.
- Participate, negotiate or craft trials of emerging media and platforms
° Some of these will lead to successful additions to the collection, while others might grandly fail or find no purchase with the curricula
- Actively engage with the content by programming, presenting, writing and research
All of this can be somewhat overwhelming at the best of times, which leads to the final suggestion I usually pose to the SILS students.
You Keep Using That Word… I Do Not Think it Means What You Think it Means.
Ask for help when you need it and do not be afraid of failure. Knowing your current limits, learning from them and how to overcome them is integral to establishing expertise. And really, everything I have suggested thus far ultimately dovetails here. In asking for help when needed; you are typically addressing a research or instruction need, you are utilizing and often strengthening the relationship building process, you may be acting on things uncovered from taking stock of your collection, or you may be responding to questions that have resulted from trials or your review of the media landscape. Either way, if you are not sure about something ask. Look to listservs, local or external colleagues, professional literature, etc.
You Told Me to Go Back to the Beginning…So I Have
After I have outlined my five suggestions to the SILS students, I take care to emphasize that this is an iterative process that must be observed continually to find any real success. Reflecting on this now, it is apparent to me that this process really needs to be on loop to successfully avoid complacency too.
- Know your stakeholders — and areas of research or instruction interests
- Relationship building all around
- Take Stock / know your collection
- Survey the landscape; trials, trials and more trials
- Ask for help, do not be afraid of failure, learn from error
After the student or class has time to mull over everything I have presented, I ask if anyone still wants a copy of the collection development plan/policy. Most times, I get a resounding “no” in answer. I also receive a barrage of other questions like: specific resources to use, how to negotiate a trial, and best ways of building relationships or forming partnerships with faculty. But that is the stuff of future column entries.