Monday, November 7, 2011

General evaluation criteria

To a degree, the same factors that determine inclusion or exclusion of books apply to other formats. Obviously, one omits factually incorrect items unless there is a sound reason to buy them. Poorly organized and badly presented material seldom becomes part of the collection. If the quality of a book is difficult to assess, assessing the quality of other media is even more difficult. All of us have seen a film we enjoyed only to hear a friend claim that is is “absolutely the worst film” ever made. Thus, subjectivity is a major concern. Though bias is also a problem with literature, we receive more training or exposure to good literature through formal schooling. Few of us receive formal training in evaluating nonprint materials. Basically, the issues of authority, accuracy, effectiveness of presentation or style, and value and usefulness to the community are as valid for all other formats as they are for books.
Before embarking on a program to develop a media collection, one should carefully evaluate each format in terms of its unique utility to the service community. Each format has its strong and weak points, and similar information may be available in a variety of formats. The following paragraphs offer general guidelines for assessing the strengths and weaknesses of various forms.

Formats that involve motion (such as 8mm, 16mm, and 35mm films, videotapes, and video discs) are among the more expensive formats to purchase. Therefore, an important question to ask is whether motion really adds information. There are films in which there is no motion at all, or, if there is motion, it may not be relevant to the content. For example, many educational films and videotapes simply alternate shots of one or two persons talking to one another or to the viewers (so-called “talking heads”); there are no other graphics (or, at least, no graphics that require this expensive mode of presentation). In contrast, one can read hundreds of pages and look at dozens of still photographs of cell brision and still not fully understand how it occurs. A short, clearly photographed film combined with a good audio track can sometimes produce a more accurate understanding than one can achieve through hours of reading.

Detailed study is sometimes most effectively carried out with the use of still pictures, charts, or graphs. Another advantage is that the cost of producing and acquiring these formats is much lower than for those that involve motion.

With both motion and still graphic formats, color is an important consideration. Full-color reproduction is more costly than black-and-white reproduction; the question is whether the color is necessary or merely pleasing. In some instances, color is necessary. Certainly, anything that attempts to represent the work of a great artist must have excellent color quality, as is also the case with medical and biological materials.

Audio formats can also provide greater understanding and appreciation of printed materials. One’s own reading of a poem is never the same as hearing the poet’s recitation of the work. Tone, emphasis, inflection, and so forth can change the meaning of a printed text dramatically. On a different level, there are literally millions of people in the world who cannot read music scores and yet get enormous enjoyment from listening to music. Audio recordings are a must in any collection serving the visually impaired. Spoken-word recordings can be an important service for such persons as well as for commuters who want to listen to a book as they travel.

Other general selection factors include cost, flexibility and manipulation, and patron preference. Audiovisual factors frequently require expensive equipment in addition to rather costly equipment. When thinking about cost factors, one needs to know what types of equipment patrons own (for example, slide projectors, videotape players, CD or tape players, or even record players). If patrons do not own the necessary equipment, can the library supply it free of charge or on a rental basis? Should the library buy the equipment and allow its use only in the library? The librarian also must consider what patrons like and use. Libraries ought not to get into the position of attempting to change patron format preference. Thus, both cost and patron preference become significant in deciding what to buy or not to buy.

Flexibility and manipulation are inseparable. How and where can one use the format and equipment? With some equipment, the library can produce local programs as well as play back commercial software. Videocassette recorders (VCRs) allow people to perform a variety of recording and playback functions, most of which (like freeze frame) no one uses. Knowing community needs and use patterns may save the library money. Special VCR features may be necessary, nice, or merely gimmicks, depending on the local situation. Ease of operation is very important: Can a person quickly learn to operate the equipment, or does it take extensive training to use it properly?

Once one’s library decides to develop a media collection, how does one select appropriate items? There are four sets of factors to consider – programming, content, technical aspects, and format – with criteria related to each factor. The following paragraphs highlight major selection criteria.

Programming factors
Programming (that is, use of material) is important in deciding what to acquire. Many articles and books about this topic are available (see the bibliography at the end of this chapter). Programming questions include:
  • Will the medium be used in formal instructional situations?
  • Is it only for recreational use?
  • Who is the primary audience: adults, children, or all ages?
  • Will the item circulate, or will it be available only for in-house use? If used in-house, will it be available to individuals or only to groups? Will group use involve a library staff member or an expert in the field to guide group discussion before or after the item’s use?
  • Will the library be a member of a resource-sharing network? If so, will the item become part of the shared material pool?

Answers to these questions will affect the type of media purchased and the prices paid. For example, many videos for home use are less expensive than videos for instructional use, even when both packages are the same title.

Content factors
Content is the next concern in the selection of any format. In the past, audiovisual selection was a group process rather than the sole responsibility of one selector. This was especially true in the case of expensive formats. Today, with the prices of videos dropping and increasing numbers of titles needed for the collection, the selection process is more like book selection, that is, an individual process. School media centers still emphasize the group process, in part because of limited funds but also because the possibility of someone objecting to an item’s presence in the collection is higher than in other types of libraries. Whether selection is a group or individual process, housing an evaluation form is useful. Keeping the forms for several years, for titles rejected as well as those purchased, can save selectors’ time in the long run. Unlike print material, most media are sequential in nature; this means that it takes 50 minutes to review a 50-minute program. An evaluation form indicating that the library reviewed and rejected an item three years ago should help selectors decide whether the item is worth reconsidering. No matter what questions are on the form – and not all items listed in this chapter will be on any one form – one ought to consider all of the following points:
  1. What is the primary purpose of the item? If there is a user’s guide, does it provide a specific answer to the question?
  2. Given the purpose(s) of the item, is the length of the program appropriate? Items can be too short, but more often than not, they are too long.
  3. Is the topic a fad, or is it likely to have long-term interest? Long-term interest and lasting value are not always the same.
  4. Is the material well organized?
  5. Is the storyline easy to follow?
  6. If the item is of relatively short duration and is an attempt to popularize a subject, does it do this with sufficient accuracy? (That is, does the simplification cause misunderstandings or, worse, create a misrepresentation?)
  7. When was the material copyrighted? Copyright information can be difficult to find for some formats. Films usually provide this information somewhere in the credits, often in roman numerals. There is no national bibliographic standard for this information. Sales catalogs may or may not provide the date of production. Unfortunately, a large number of dated products are, or have been, sold as if they were current.
  8. Will the visuals or audio date quickly? In many educational films, the subject matter is important but the actors’ dress makes the film appear old-fashioned. If one does not present the material as historical, many viewers may miss its true purpose. Audience attention is easily drawn away from the real subject. Needless to say, this ties into the need for accurate copyright information.
  9. Are there multiple uses for the item, in addition to those identified by the producer? If there are a number of ways to use the format (with various types of programs or audiences), it is easier to justify spending money on the item.
Technical factors
Technical issues vary in importance from format to format, but some general considerations apply to several formats. In most instances, judging technical matters is less subjective than judging many other selection criteria. Nevertheless, it will take time and guidance from experienced selectors to develop a critical sense of these factors. Most individuals entering the field of library and information work are more attuned to good literature, well-manufactured books, and the various methods of literary review and criticism than the average person. Though our exposure to television, film, and video recordings may be greater than to books, few of us have the background to assess the technical aspect of these formats. The fact is evident during film and television awards ceremonies – the public interest is in the best film or program and performance categories. It is the rare individual who can name the winners in the technical areas (directions, production, special effects, cinematography, and so forth). Following are some questions regarding technical features:
  1. Are the visuals, assuming that there are visuals, necessary?
  2. Are the visuals in proper focus, the composite effective, the shots appropriate? (These questions must be asked because out-of-focus shots, strange angles, and jarring composition may be used to create various moods and feelings).
  3. Is the material edited with skill?
  4. Does the background audio material contribute to the overall factor?
  5. Is there good synchronization of visuals and audio?
  6. How may the format be used – can it be viewed by small or large groups or by both? Can it be viewed in a darkened, semi-lighted, or fully lighted room?
Format factors
Questions to ask about format are:
  1. Is the format the best one for the stated purpose of the producer?
  2. Is the format the least expensive of those that are appropriate for the content?
  3. Will the carrier medium (the base material that supports the image or sound layer) stand up to the amount and type of use that library patrons would give it?
  4. If damage occurs, can it be repaired (locally or by the producer), or must one buy a replacement copy?
  5. What equipment is needed to use the medium? How portable is the equipment and how heavy?

Additional considerations
It is possible to group all audiovisual materials into six broad categories: still images (filmstrips, slides, microformats, transparencies); moving images (film and video); audio recordings; graphic materials (maps, charts, posters, etc.); three-dimensional materials (models, relia, dioramas); and other formats (games, software, etc.). Each type has some equipment or storage implications that one needs to take into consideration. For example, microform storage cabinets are heavy when empty and become even heavier when filled. Until one knows that the floor was designed to carry such weight, which is greater than book stacks, one should be cautious about starting a major collecting program in that format.
Evans, G. Edward, with the assistance of Zarnosky, Margaret R. Developing Library and Information Collections, 4th ed. Englewood, Colorado: Libraries Unlimited, 2000.

No comments: