Video and the Library (1977)

Publication TypeMiscellaneous
Source (1977)
Full Text: 

Excerpt from "Video and New York State Libraries" Videoscope 1977

"Public access programming is just another kind of information retrieval system. Although the information is not stored in the library, it comes from the library and it's the library's job to make information available whether it be interviewing a congressman or doing a story hour, it's the same sort of stuff that's already in libraries. It's a way of hitting a mass audience. "
          Bob Katz, Media Librarian, Albany

The Albany Public Library is the central library of the Upper Hudson Library Federation System of 25 libraries. APL may be one of the first in New York State to house and be the delivery point for a live public access studio facility. By the time you read this they should be cablecasting from their new library to the 25,000 cable subscribers in Albany and nearby counties.

When I spoke with APL's Media Librarian Bob Katz last August, there were still many administrative details to be worked out and potential problems anticipated. Katz doesn't want total administrative control of the channel in the library, but he does want authority over who uses the library's equipment. He still sees the very active Albany Community Video Project (ACVP), a local access group that has beers running the channel, producing 90 percent of the programming, but using the library's facilities.

The library's video equipment has been acquired gradually since 1970 when their first portapak, purchased through LSCA, was used for summer film/ video workshops to bring "disadvantaged" kids into the library. They have continued to receive support for year-round workshops from NYSCA, but the library has yet to build up its own budget to take over video/access maintenance and/or programming costs, except for salaries. In order to have some money to fall back on, Katz is thinking of charging a token sum for the use of the library studio. It's a novel idea, but does threaten to make access prohibitive to some people if the rates increase. Katz wouldn't mind if he could get "rid of some of the bad programming" and the "all night people who come on and just play records." This poses the problem of whether (and how) a librarian should decide what programming is cabled, if the library is responsible for operating the public access channel. Right now, the library itself is not programming too much on cable. Occasionally they will produce a children's drama workshop, tape a holiday parade or do a roving camera report on current events for immediate playback on the channel. They would like to tape visiting artists and writers at the library, do more children's programs, and get the nearby senior citizen home involved in programming. "It would be a natural place for them to come-depending on their needs-maybe some just need to keep occupied for an hour, maybe some would like to learn a skill or a hobby . . ." The ideas are there-all they need is money to implement them. There's enough good programming around for the channel right now without the library producing, especially with video artists like Tom DeWitt working with the ACVP and encouraging people to use the medium.

Other problems include staffing the library after normal hours. Right now the regular staff doesn't like or understand much of what it has seen on public access. "There is some junk, but there's a lot of good stuff too . . . There's a need to keep the channel lit up so that people will turn it on and see something there." Another more serious problem is what happens when "questionable" programming comes out of the library. "How do you deal with someone who wants to donate money to the library when they see something they think is obscene or they don't like and we say, ´That's our obligation to the public to put that on, . . . The FCC law says you have to do it and we're the only access point . . ." The library is definitely in a politically sensitive position here because its economic base can be threatened.

The LSCA-funded Adult Independent Learner Project is also widening the library's videosphere; two 3/4-inch U cassette playback/record units will be available in carrels for screening of preproduced purchased programming. Two more units will be available for programming these tapes over the cable. Katz does not want to get too involved with the "traditional" library service approach for fear the Library will take over. "The Library should be there to facilitate the community's needs and desires, not its own." However, he would be interested in developing a video-reference component to program specific times when people could call up for visual information such as maps. This might be especially good for senior citizens unable to get to the Library. They've loaned equipment periodically to community groups but need money for more portapaks to do it regularly. Katz does not think the Library should be the only community access facility.

How will the library know what the public access viewers want/need/desire? The Library has hired two CETA workers through the Albany Department of Human Development to specifically research cable and public access. A telephone survey will help to assess what programming viewers like, dislike or don't want, and what level of professionalism is expected. They are also researching funding sources and canvassing other libraries with cable projects to decide how APL can further its existence as a community information center and meet people's needs by using public access.

Group Name: 
Albany Public Library
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Group Location: 
Albany, New York