|Sometimes things just don't line up. From Wikimedia Commons.|
I recently gave a presentation about the music and audiovisual librarianship and I've decided to share part of my presentation here. This slightly edited section is about how the advent of electronic mediums complicates music and audiovisual librarianship.
How much does the preservation of physical media matter if "everything is going online"? You can check out e-books and now even e-movies from libraries, Netflix is moving away from physical DVDs and concentrating on streaming services, and who buys physical copies of albums anymore?
Physical media: dead or dying?
My answer to such questions is that physical media may be declining, but it is not yet dying, especially in academic libraries. Electronic scores have yet to be standardized, and even academic e-books are scarce, especially in the humanities. And some physical media is on the upswing, for example the (modest) resurgence of interest in vinyl recordings. And physical storage remains the best way to preserve and lend materials. Digital storage, although often the best way to preserve old media (or as the Library of Congress calls anything produced in the 20th century, "New Media"), digital storage takes a lot and care and feeding to keep the data from becoming lost or unreadable.
Personally, I still buy physical copies of CDs, because I like the added value of art and liner notes and as a backup for digital files. I value the added information. At the same time, though, for space and financial reasons I often don’t purchase movies that 1) I’m not going to watch more than once a year, and 2) are readily available on Netflix or another streaming service, or the library. I, however, am not an institution that needs to plan for preserving the collected media of the generations.
One of the most troubling problems of the digital revolution is release of e-only music and movies and restricting licenses that accompany them. This deployment of e-media means that libraries often cannot even own it, much less preserve it or lend it. A recent court case ruled that in order for someone to resell mp3s, they had to sell the actually hard drive on which they were downloaded. This is frankly ridiculous. First Sale, the legal idea that makes libraries possible, has not been well clarified for digital material. This e-material debate is not over and needs to be addressed in the law. We’ve seen from past experience that publishing companies have little or no incentive to store and catalog their own recordings or music. For example, Capitol records was going to throw away their archive from the 1950s and 60s, including original Frank Sinatra and Nat King Cole recordings and manuscripts, and would have done so if Brigham Young University's library had not spoken up and claimed the collection.
However, streaming is not going away, either. Sometimes, especially for small libraries, subscriptions to Naxos and Alexander Street Press are an easy way to get a lot of content. I’m sure a similar model of movie databases marketed to academic libraries will happen soon, but who knows how much it will cost? These streaming databased don’t have everything users need, either, and their catalog can change at the drop of a hat. And streaming does not solve the space issue. We may be able to move items available through streaming to offsite storage, or adjust acquisitions models so we don’t buy them, but with the flood of items produced each year, there will be plenty of resources to take their places.
Take-away: the jack of all trades
What does this mean for libraries? First, digital objects need care and feeding just like physical objects. Second, and more troubling, librarians need to plan for an digital electronic future but shouldn't abandon the physical objects. As time consuming as it sounds, we need to function in an online resource world as well as a physical resource world, shouldering the new forms while keeping up with the old. I hope these extra responsibilities comes with greater pay, but I'm not holding my breath.
Do you physical media is going to become obsolete?
Vocab: First Sale, streaming, vinyl