Monday, November 14, 2011


The actual process of selecting audiovisual materials is often a group rather than an individual activity. This is particulary true of films and expensive video sets. To some degree, the cost of the material under consideration, rather than the usual collection development factors, drives the issue. In essence, making a mistake about a 20-minute sound, colour, 16mm film or educational video has more serious economic consequences for the library budget than most single mistakes with a book, transparency or sound recording. Educational videos cost $200 to $500 per cassette, in a multiple-cassette package, the total cost is substantial. Having multiple opinions about a prospective purchase helps avoid costly mistakes. In public libraries and school media centers, an audiovisual selection committee is the typical mechanism employed for securing multiple points of view. In academic libraries, often a single faculty member makes the recommendation, assuming that the purchase will be made with departmental funds, or the head of the library’s media program selects titles on the basis of reviews and a knowledge of instructional needs.

How does the audiovisual selection committee differ from the book selection committee? Audiovisual selection committees usually function as a true group decision-making body. Normally, the group previews audiovisual materials under consideration, as a group. They view the material from beginning to end. (With book selection, the typical approach is for committee members to divide the items among group members and have individuals give oral reports about each item. Thus, only one member of the committee reviews the item completely.) A group discussion usually takes place after each screening, and each person expresses a reaction to and evaluation of the item. Everyone sees the same material, and group interaction ends in a decision to buy or not to buy. Sometimes the product is rerun several times, when there are strong differences in opinion.

An important difference in the two formats affects the selection process. This is the sequential nature of films and video formats. It is not possible to effectively skim a film as one does a book. One must view films and videos at their normal speed to get the proper impression. A 20-minute running time means 20 minutes of previewing time. Simple arithmetic indicates that a group previewing 20-minute films could view only 24 films in a 8-hour work day. A book selection committee meeting would be a disaster if only 24 titles were discussed in 8 hours. Realistically, no group can preview 24 titles in 8 hours, as the figure does not provide for discussion time or breaks. Finally, it is not feasible to expert people to view materials for four hours straight; they need a break. All of this means, more realistically, that the group could preview 10 to 12 items per day.

Not only do audiovisual formats cost more to buy, they also cost more to select. Combined, these two cost factors can be significant. Thus, one cannot conclude that, because a library does not have a collection of films or videos, it is reluctant to accept new formats. A significant difference exists between reluctance and a lack of money and qualified staff to select the newer formats. The only question is whether the library is using the monetary factor as an excuse to avoid trying out nonprint formats.

Additional selection aids
Despite the desirability of previewing audiovisual materials, published evaluations (especially when combined with previewing) are important in this field. Each year, there is a little more progress toward bibliographic control of the field, including reviews of most formats. Perhaps when multiple published reviews of a majority of formats are available, therer will be less and less need for hundreds of audiovisual librarians to spend hours and hours in preview screening rooms.

At this time, no comprehensive source for audiovisual materials similar to Book Review Digest or Book Review Index exists. Media Digest (National Film and Video Center) has developed into the best source for locating reviews in all formats.

Identifying potentially useful audiovisual materials also presents a problem. The National Information Center for Educational Media (NICEM) focuses on educational material; however, because NICEM employs a rather broad definition of education, the publications are useful to all types of libraries. NICEM Net ( allows one to search the entire database by subject, age level, and media type. The 1999 subscription was $900 for a single-user license for a year. (One can also get online access to the database through DIALOG, SilverPlatter, and EBSCOHost. CD-ROM, tape load, and print versions are available.) The database contains almost 500,000 records in English and 60 other languages. Its primary strengths lie in the video, film, audio recording, filmstrip, and CD-ROM formats, although there are records for almost every format discussed in this chapter. NICEM also has a 300-page thesaurus of terms used to index the database, which is a great help inn formulating accurate searches. This database is as close as one can come to an audiovisual equivalent of Books in Print.

Although the preceding list of sources provides a general overview, there is a slight emphasis on films. One reason for this is historical. After microforms and phonograph records, motion picture films and videos are the most commonly held audiovisual forms in libraries. Also, 16 mm films and educational videos cost significantly more than either of the other two formats, making previewing all the more important. Because of film’s popularity, cost, and longer history of use, film review and evaluation have had more time to become established. Increased popularity of other formats will, in time, make it economically feasible to publish journals covering other audiovisual formats.

Some of the most active nonprint discussion lists are:,, and MEDIA-L@BINGVMB.CC.BINGHAMTON.EDU. These provide information on how to handle various media issues as well as information about sources.

Ordering media
For all practical purposes, the process of ordering materials in the formats discussed in this chapter is the same as for ordering books and serials, with a few exceptions. One difference is that libraries place most of the orders directly with the producer, because there are no general jobbers as there are for books and serials. Some book jobbers, such as Baker & Taylor, handle some of the most widely collected formats (for example, videos and audiotapes), but they do not handle the full range of audiovisual materials. Another difference is the need to secure preview copies.

There is a major difference between review copies of books and preview copies of other media. With books, if the purchasing librarian likes what he or she sees, the library keeps it, pays the invoice, and perhaps orders multiple copies at the same time. With audiovisual materials, for a number of reasons (risk of loss, damage, and so forth), the library usually requests a preview copy from the supplier, views the copy, and then returns the item. (Some producers now send a new copy – especially for videos – and expect the library to keep the copy if it decides to buy the item. Other producers charge for previewing, but deduct the charge from the purchase price. A few film vendors ship an approval copy with a 10 percent discount if the library buys the film.) One must request the preview copy well in advance of the preview date. Normally, a librarian writes to the producer or supplier asking for preview copies of certain titles and listing a number of alternative dates. This becomes an issue when previewing with a group, because of scheduling problems. One also must know when specific items will be available for previewing. A preview file thus becomes a very important aid in the selection process; it contains a listing of each title requested, the dates requested, scheduled preview dates, and the result of the preview.

One should keep in mind several othehr factors for previewing as well. A preview copy may have had some prior use; therefore, the quality may not be as high as that of a new copy. If one can determine from the supplier how often the item went out for previewing, it is possible to gain insight into the durability of the product. In assessing this information (assuming one can get it), thetl ibrarian must remember that the preview copy’s use was by individuals who know how to properly handle the material (unlike many library users).

Upon receiving the purchased copy, a staff member should view the item to be certain it is (1) a new print, (2) the item the library ordered, and (3) technically sound (checking for breaks, sound quality, and quality of processing). Checking for technical soundness upon receipt should be standard procedure for all audiovisual items, not just for previewed items. Generally, other media are not mass-produced in the same manner as are books. Many are produced on demand, that is, in response to orders. The producer has several preview copies and a master copy; when an order arrives, the producer uses the master copy to produce a new print.

One issue to decide before ordering is that of performance rights. Does the library pay an additional fee for public performance rights, or are they part of the quoted price? (This is a typical issue for videos.) There may be some justification for paying a somewhat higher price for performance rights in an educational setting, but therer is hardly any when the videos are for circulating home use. The classic example of the confusion between “the home market” and “the library market” was Public Broadcasting System’s release of its series The Civil War in 1990. Initially it was available to libraries for $450; only a few months later, PBS released it to the “home market” for just under $200. Another example, from 1995, was Malcolm X: Make it Plain: $99.95 from PBS Video (with public performance rights) and $29.95 from MPI Home Video (with home video rights). Failure to have public performance rights and using a film or video in a “public performance” setting could lead to a very costly lawsuit. Knowing how the item is most likely be used, acquiring the appropriate rights, and maintaining a record of what was purchased can be important in building media collections.

With some formats, there may still be another decision: to buy or rent. Normally, the rental fee is 10 percent of the list price. If there are doubts about the level of demand, it may be best to rent a copy. (Ten uses in five years would be more than enough to justify buying the item.) Remember, when calculating the cost, that it will be necessary to include staff time for preparing rental forms, as well as time for mailing and handling activities. In many cases, with film, video, and software, the library is not buying an item in the same sense that it purchases books and serials. Often the library must sign an agreement that outlines what the library may or may not do with the item. These agreements cover duplication and resale and, in some cases, place restrictions on where performances are possible. Vendors do enforce these agreements, which are legal contracts, so the librarian must understand what he or she is signing. If something is not clear, or if a clause should be modified, the librarian should discuss it with the vendor and the library’s legal counsel before signing.

Building a media collection for the library is a time-consuming and expensive undertaking, but it is important and worthwhile for both the library and its service population. Each new format is capable of doing certain things that no other format can do, but each also has its limitations; as a result, they supplement rather than replace each other. It is clear that patrons have various preferences in seeking, using, and enjoying information. If the library is to responsive to the community, it must build a collection of materials that reflects that community’s various interests and tastes.

Evans, G. Edward, with the assistance of Zarnowsky, Margaret R. Developing Library and Information Center Collections, 4th ed. Englewood, Colorado: Libraries Unlimited, 2000, pp. 304-306.

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