Friday, June 24, 2011

NEW resource: Films on Demand!

A couple of things to close out the week, just to offer you a nicely-quivering little gobbet of deliciousness to tide you over through the weekend.

First thing: The collection shift I wrote about in this post started just this past Monday, June 20. I've documented part of the process and posted the results on our Facebook page. Check them out!

I will say it is very, very interesting to see the Library change in this manner. Most of the long-timers -- we've got people who've been here for over 30 years -- don't think too much of it because they've seen a lot more than this, but I'm a relative newbie. Even this little bit -- only two or three ranges' worth of shelving and a bunch of microform cabinets so far -- is pretty weird!

I also thought I'd take the opportunity this week to introduce people to a new online resource that we've just set up: Films on Demand.

First, a caveat: It's not that easy to get to. It's pretty different from most of our other online resources (you'll see why in a minute), so we're working on figuring out a way to categorize it that makes some kind of sense. Until then, you'll have to search for it (just enter "films" in the search form that pops up after clicking on the "Find article databases" link on our home page). But don't worry; we're also seeing if we can figure out a way to get all the information about, and links to, the available films into ALADIN Discovery and the Classic Catalog. That way, you could just do a search in either catalog and watch a film straight from there if it's relevant to your needs without all that mucking about with "article databases."

Anyway, this thing is awesome.

It's a big database of online streaming educational videos on pretty much every disciplinary topic under the sun, with offerings appropriate for most age and skill levels (hence the difficulty with categorizing it). It's set up so that instructors can either show the entire video or just the segments they want that are relevant to their courses; if there's a video about mammalian biology, for instance, and you want to focus on thermoregulation and homeostasis (e.g., warm-blooded animals), you can head straight to that segment and show it to your class without playing around with glands and slider bars and the like.

We'd been sniffing after it for the past couple of years, but had always balked at one issue: captioning. Films on Demand offers captioned videos, but not all of their videos are captioned. We went back and forth for a while about whether it was cost-effective to purchase access anyway, even if it meant spending a lot of money on videos that nearly all of our students and faculty wouldn't be able to watch.

Last year, we got fairly close to the brink and set up a trial, but found that not only were our faculty frustrated by the lack of captioning on many videos, but there were also some issues when it came to limiting search results to captioned videos only. It was possible, but not as easy as it could have been, and this combination made us decide to hold off for a while.

Fast forward to ...

Aw, heck. I had the entire background story typed up: two years, one trial, three faculty requests, two representatives, six months of back-and-forth, two WRLC task forces, and one offhand remark. But you aren't interested in all that!

The upshot is that Films on Demand has made it possible for us to subscribe to only their captioned videos, with pricing that's commensurate to the relative size of the collection. This is most excellent of them.

So you can use Films on Demand all you like; all you'll ever see are captioned films (ideally, that is -- we've found one or two so far that may have either slipped into the collection or accidentally mislaid their captions somewhere else). No muss, no fuss. We've set Flash as the default format; the other options were Windows Media Player and Quicktime, which is annoying. Quicktime only really works on Apple computers, while Windows Media Player only really works on no computers.

One thing to note, though, is that at the moment, it's not too obvious how to turn on the captioning. Look for a button with a speech balloon on it along the bottom of the video. After you've hit "Play," click on that button; two white lines should appear inside the speech balloon, indicating that the captions are on. You'll have to click it again if you skip ahead in the video, though, I'm afraid; seems to be unavoidable, although I am trying to talk them into getting rid of the speech balloon in favor of something more obvious. A big "CC," for instance. We'll see how that turns out!

Ah, I see. You're all hung up on that phrase a paragraph or two ago: "the relative size of the collection." How big is it, you ask?

Well, as of April 27, there were 2,935 captioned films, encompassed by broader disciplines like:
  • Humanities & Social Science
  • Business & Economics
  • Health & Medicine
  • Science & Mathematics
  • Careers & Job Search
  • Family & Consumer Sciences
  • Guidance & Counseling
  • Technical Education
The largest subject area is Humanities & Social Sciences, followed by Science & Mathematics. These are the most recent numbers, by the way; they've said they intend to keep adding to the collection as more captioned films become available. It's been a couple months since then, and the collection has mostly grown, so we are certainly past the 3,000 mark by now. Something to think about.

We're super-excited about this! It's only one change in a frankly surprising number of them that are taking place this summer, though; I just hope I can keep pace with this blog. It's good for all of you to know what's going on with us and what you can expect in the coming months and years. We -- or at least I -- also like to have a document of all the things we've done and are doing, because it's always interesting to look back and see where we were compared to where we are now. Things have changed, are changing, will always change.

Enjoy your weekend!

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