Start-Up Process Management for Library Media Production Services

Presenter: Sean Cordes, Coordinator of Instruction Services, Malpass Library, Western Illinois University Libraries
October 6, 2007, LITA National Forum

Sean Cordes was previously Instructional Technology Library at Parks Library, Iowa State University of Science and Technology. He holds masters degrees in educational technology, and in library and information science from the University of Missouri. His responsibilities at Western Illinois include academic web designer, technology librarian and instruction coordinator.

This presentation describes the rationale and practical considerations that went into creating the Iowa State library’s Media Production Services (MPS), a video editing studio that allows students to digitize, manipulate and create media, DVDs, slide shows, etc., over a one to one and a quarter year time period, including how the library and IT came together as a group to define roles and policies. The slides include visuals and photographs of the area, equipment, and signage.

Why provide media production services for students? Why is it important?

  • We talk about Web 2.0 – this is the frontier for students to build it.
  • Students need skills for the job market: collaborative skills, applied technology skills, problem solving in general, ability to work in groups.
  • It is important for students to not only access library materials but also to actually create materials: “Learn – create – participate”.
  • Studies such as ECAR’s annual Students and Information Technology Survey (available on the Educause website) and Jill Casner-Lotto in her 2006 “Are they really ready to work?” indicate that students know the content of their fields but not how to apply it in work situations using collaborative skills, problem solving, etc.
  • Student familiarity with tools is miles wide but not very deep.

So what do students need to be ready for productivity in jobs, and what are they getting?

  • Some disciplines are more strongly associated with specific technologies (e.g., design).
  • Some disciplines are more proficient in coursework with advanced software features – but all students need it in the workplace.
  • Students use a wide variety of communication tools, but they are more comfortable with “communitainment” tools than academic tools – it’s not about work, it’s about communicating and entertainment and sharing photos, etc.
  • Students think instructors need better technology training themselves, and that instructors should provide better training to them as students.
  • Academic institutions have silos of technology training, not brought together as part of general education curriculum or graduation requirements.


  • Between 2005 and 2006, student use of higher order software, audio/video, and web development jumped about 11% – so students need access to these tools.
  • Second and extended career workers (non-traditional students) may require additional training support alternatives- so we need to take a different approach with these students.
  • Students possess discipline knowledge but lack collaboration and technology skills.

MPS moved to the library from Central IT in August 2006 where it was inconsistent and had no support process built in. IT gave it to the library, who had never used or taught these tools before. It was a collaborative effort to relocate everything (hardware, software, network connections, reorienting students, orienting library staff to video service production).

What did it require?

  • Expansion of IT and librarian roles and knowledge (power issues, food issues).
  • Operational signs – it was stuck in middle of reference area, nobody could tell where it was. Signs in both old and new location, sign/map at library front door to show exact location in library. The color scheme of the signs became the theme for manuals and other MPS literature so it would be easily recognized.
  • Revision of transaction log to accommodate library culture and practice.
  • Adjustment in service – Changed from sitting at the desk and waiting for students to come for help (they won’t) to just-in-time, just-in-need service, going to the students and asking questions. Students don’t want the information given to them, they want to build it themselves (whether for class work or social), and they want the tools and support to do that.

Equipment needed:

  • PC and Mac
  • SVHS/Mini DVD – takes VHS and converts it to digital system (large or small tapes)
  • Fire Wire (iLink) – standard for transmitting digital signals rapidly, much faster than USB. You can’t have too many – be sure you have plenty for maximum number of input devices.
  • Storage – Projects are huge, 40GB hard drives weren’t big enough and neither were campus network shares. Symantec Ghost favored by IT wipes out files and downloaded programs and remains an issue that IT and Reference can’t agree on how to deal with. MPS started by recommending that students bring their own portable 200GB hard drives for videos longer than 1 hour and now have 4 portable hard drives that students can check out for use in the lab.
  • Software – MPS changed from what was originally on the machines that had a beginning, middle and high end package for each process to having a low end and high end on Mac and PC (some were bundled, e.g., Adobe Elements and Adobe Premier; iMovie, iDVD and Garage Band all come with iLife now and have a common tutorial format makes it easier to transition from one to another.

Who is using it?

  • Beginning communications classes (former English 104/105), foreign language, engineering and design (e.g., engineering students had to track how high a ball would bounce with varying degrees of moisture and had to capture very precise moments in time on video).
  • Scheduling problems can arise with many classes using it.
  • Sororities and fraternities showcase events, personal projects.
  • Faculty use it to evaluate student projects and for personal projects. This became a policy issue – MPS will help and allow faculty to convert family VHS to DVD because they want faculty to use it, be familiar with it, know what their students went through.
  • Popular DVD projects include weddings, fishing trips and vacations, kid’s baseball game and activities – yes, this is an educational institution but we want to create lifelong learners, and these projects get them in and get them learning – this can get faculty thinking about how to incorporate these activities into their classroom.

What types of projects can be done in the MPS?

  • Capture/edit audio or video
  • Author DVD
  • Edit images
  • Web publishing (CS 3 suite)

What are the key parts of a project?

1. Data import, e.g., movie files into video editor, PPT images into video editor, audio file or CD into video editor, movie files into PPT or DVD creation. Copyright issues can arise with this (solution – play CD into video and then create at DVD?).
2. Data edit – trim and arrange digital and audio clips, add titles and credits, add scene transitions and effects, created animated DVD menus.
3. Data conversion and export, e.g., rip DVD into MPEG and then edit in video editor, or record into VHS and import it that way, convert PPT into JPEG images or movie files, export to hardware (bootable DVD) or to file to mount.

Not everything is compatible with everything else. This was one of the most difficult parts, because the software doesn’t always tell you (had to learn by experimentation, had to know which editing programs will take various file types, and with what degree of ease/quality). For example, YouTube is all Flash, but FLV files aren’t compatible with some of the video editing software, so you have to convert to AVI (I’m not sure about the technicality here!).

Recommendations for converting from one format to another? Go to downloads.com on Cnet and find shareware that would do this. MPS doesn’t have purchased converter software on their system – things change so quickly and there is intermittent use, so why purchase something if it may not work later. HandBrake rips DVD to many other formats (suggested by participant), also see videodownloader.com for converting FLV files to other formats.

Training and support

  • Primarily use OEM tutorials and manuals so that when updated, they don’t have to adapt.
  • Basic training workshops where they walk groups through the basic steps.
  • Manuals from the old IT lab were modified to reflect changes in equipment, made less technical in some areas to be better for library patrons. These manuals just give the basic steps and then refer patron to the OEM manual for the details at each step.
  • Each machine has a folder with links to tutorials, guides, online resources.
  • “infocational” moments helping students
  • Students often come multiple times over a period of time (even full semester), so you get to establish an ongoing relationship with people and can ask how it’s going.
  • Guidelines to help users choose what manual and software to choose (modified from old IT lab).
  • There is a sign up log, drop boxes, daily operational routines, online form for administrative support.

You have to have vigilant support and people who are aware of what’s going on (e.g., some users spent 3 hours trying to do something when only had a loose cord connection).

Who handles what?

  • Roles were an issue (instructional technologist, librarian, information technologist). There was lots of negotiation of where boundaries of support were – this actually applies to any type of library service (e.g., virtual reference) in determining where the lines fall with IT and library.
  • Future proof – talk about what happened during the day, cross train.
  • Put together activity diagrams (form of business process management to decide who does what role at what time), sort of like a flow chart

What were some of the problems and issues?

  • Everything worked last night, but in the morning students have moved wires around (you can’t lock them down because then they can’t do their work – but certain amount of security is needed so certain things are locked down – they are still trying to decide how Ghost will be used).
  • Storage options – ended up with portable hard drives as the best storage option.
  • Cross platform – people bring in VHS-C tapes and older media.
  • Resource attrition – hardware must keep up with software as it changes (Macs were taking an hour or two to digitize until put in CoreDuo processors) – you have to continually update.
  • Policy issues with students almost living in the lab – food, can they sleep there, can they take their stinky shoes off and put them on the tables?
  • Is there a time limit? They have an unofficial rule that you can’t sign up for more than two 3-hour blocks at a time – but people work around this, different times of semester are heavier, so far hasn’t been an issue.
  • Open environment requires extra vigilance in monitoring. MPS used to be in the middle of the reference area, now they have built walls around the area (after a grant to remodel).

Usage statistics from the sign in log indicate more use the Mac than PC (even PC users gravitated to Mac because faster).

MPS has also added duplicating equipment, wider monitors, an additional digital converter box (if one person was editing in one place, both couldn’t use the box so had to buy another because not enough Fire Wire ports).

Goals for future:

  • Integrate literacy standards into project outcomes
  • Extend support to classroom pre-project training
  • Establish requirements and best practice standards

Environmental conditions – emergency backup power is critical.

Cost for 4 PCs, 2 Macs, peripherals and software was $35K

Total weekly support time helping people is about 15 hours/week.

Librarian, student assistant and technology specialist now sit at same desk (used to be in separate locations, so they can help and inform each other as well as support user needs)

Student workers balance project support.

All you need is computer, SVHS, and DVD deck – you can use free software.

The simpler the system, the better – but you still have to have hardware.

Sean ended the presentation by sharing user comments and showing a project created entirely with open source software – still images about Web 2.0 with Beware of the Blob as background music in Windows Media Player.

It’s all just a big blob, perhaps we can capture just a bit of it.

Questions from the audience:

Where do you begin if you don’t know anything about this? Go to the about.com video section, set it up at home to see what you can do (use your own camcorder). Look through Educause. There are not a lot of libraries that do this (usually more of IT function). Most information you will find deals with setting it up for home use rather than as a service. Or call Iowa State or Sean – mostly it’s a matter of getting the equipment.

How deeply trained are rhw librarians? All go through basic session on turning VHS into DVD, but other than that, they just learn as they go. They are getting better at narrowing things down and troubleshooting.

What did communications department use? English department had a new media lab but you had to petition to belong and it’s a small area with fewer stations – they used the original IT lab stuff and upgraded it. Right now the library has the most powerful media processing on campus, but not the only one, just most accessible.

Do you teach group introductory sessions for the English classes who use it? No, they were just piling in as we hear about assignments. It was Sean’s intention to offer sessions, but then he left Iowa State. This would be a good place for a video on how to do things. – but it is still important to pull faculty into the library.