March 28, 2008

Tune in at the Library

Filed under: precat — tsladmin @ 5:49 am

Recently Sarah Houghton-Jan highlighted an issue that I’ve been thinking a lot about myself lately as I’ve noticed changes in my own tv-watching behavior. She highlighted a software program called AnyTV for watching television shows (and other multimedia) on your computer and wondered what opportunities programs like these might provide for libraries. While it’s not the first such application, this type of service has really taken off during the last year, and there are now more ways and places to watch television than ever before. On websites, on cell phones, on portable players – they’re multiplying like rabbits. Watching tv shows in real-time on an actual television may be down, but my sense is that it has shifted to other mediums and become a niche market. To name just a few ways I watch tv:

All of these services require you to be connected to the internet in order to stream the video, but there’s also BitTorrent, NetFlix, iTunes, Tivo to Go, and libraries for taking shows with you on the go. I worry a lot less these days about recording shows I’m interested in since I can usually catch up with them at some point, often on the web. Some of these sites require a download (Joost), others don’t (Fancast). Amazon, iTunes, NetFlix, and MovieLink all offer movies-on-demand services that let you purchase and watch a film immediately on your computer. They generally require a separate software program to view them, but how long will it really be before there’s a Hulu-like movie site that plays in your browser?
All of which is to point out that viewing habits are changing, and that the current debate about bandwidth issues and filtering of social networking sites is just a prelude to the coming controversy about watching longer-form video on library computers. Expect to see this soon, as more and more people start using our computers to watch whole shows, movies (Hulu offers several free ones), and live events.
It’s also going to re-ignite the debate about judging content consumed by our patrons. It’s easy enough to say we don’t have the bandwidth (sadly, that’s usually true in the U.S.), but it’s more difficult when you base policy on judgment calls that some uses of a format are okay while others are not. Kind of like when we impose our personal preferences that Literature is better than trashy romance novels. Is it really the librarian’s call that I should not be using my library’s computers to watch that episode of “Lost” I missed last week? What if I’m watching PBS’ “The War” – is it okay then?
watching the KU game on the internet And what about someone like me who is a huge Kansas Jayhawks fan, who just wants to watch her team in the big dance? CBS didn’t show my game last weekend, but I was able to log in to the free NCAA Sports site on my laptop, hook it up to the TV, and still watch it. I usually miss Big 12 games because I live in Big 10 country, but now the internet is finally leveling that playing field. I still had to watch the ads, but I’m more willing to do that during a live event online. If I didn’t have broadband internet at home, though, would it have been acceptable for me to bring my own headphones and watch it at my library? Heading into a possible recession when it’s quite possible that people will be cutting costs by canceling cable subscriptions, it’s an interesting question to ponder.
If you think the YouTube, social networking, and web-based gaming debate is growing now, just wait until the general public realizes they can watch television online, too. As Sarah says at the end of her post, “I know I am opening a can of huge worms…[but] this seems like a very cool addition to me.” I’ll agree with her and hope this country gets its act together and starts installing fiber connections the way it should be. In the meantime, though, it’s helpful to recognize that this is something that is going to start happening at your library, and your staff should probably talk about it in a “here’s a heads-up” kind of way so that you’re prepared.


  1. […] The Shifted Librarian placed an interesting blog post on Tune in at the LibraryHere’s a brief overview […]

    Pingback by Movies and Film Blog » Tune in at the Library — March 28, 2008 @ 8:58 am

  2. Heading into a possible recession when it’s quite possible that people will be cutting costs by canceling cable subscriptions….hope this country gets its act together and starts installing fiber connections the way it should be.
    If we go into a recession, where is the country/government going to get the money to install these fiber connections? I can’t see that taxpayers are going to vote for higher taxes to do so when they’re having to cancel their personal cable subscriptions.

    Comment by Amanda — March 28, 2008 @ 9:33 am

  3. We don’t monitor or restrict what people do or do not do on our public computers (well – unless you’re doing something illegal like child porn or are ‘disturbing’ the people around you with your regular porn). So while you may do anything you want (facebook to your hearts content), we have 30min timeouts (that can extend to sixty with no one waitng – but that’s the limit). Which means you can watch a sitcom, but not a whole basketball game or a movie or something. We simply do not have enough space to install enough computers for everybody to have unlimited access all the time and I think this is going to represent more of what the issue is going to be as most libraries don’t have enough computers for everybody. Monitoring people’s computer use to comply with ‘acceptable research use’ is a slippery slope to government censorship. Everybody is equal and no gets any extended time. Blog away.

    Comment by The Eeyore Librarian — March 28, 2008 @ 9:35 am

  4. This post has got my mind cooking — thanks for being such a great trend spotter. The social nature of television or film viewing is also fodder for libraries debate. In addition to judgements about the format of content consumption, the way in which patrons consume it can be scrutinized by librarians as well. Grouping up at computer terminals, having conversations or in generally patrons getting “too loud” — and I can see these kinds of behaviors heightened by increasing access to tv/movies online. I believe that instead of being a negative point for librarians to hrumpf about “disruptive patrons,” this can offer libraries even more opportunities to explore their role as a social, communal space. How can libraries look at use of their space to encourage community and collaboration in ways that apply to other social media as well? Rather than stifling something that patrons are excited about, let’s look at ways to make this happen that also respect the needs of researcher who does need that peace and quiet? Multi-modal space planning is going to become even more important. Thansk for a great post!

    Comment by Margaret Ostrander — March 28, 2008 @ 9:54 am

  5. […] is growing now, just wait until the general public realizes they can watch television online, too. The Shifted Librarian » Tune in at the Library   « In the ultimate irony, the Italian journalist Carlo Petrini has created a global […]

    Pingback by BlogBites. Like sound bites. But without the sound. » Blog Archive » If you think the YouTube, social networking, and web-based gaming debate is growing now, just wait until the general public realizes they can watch television online, too. — March 28, 2008 @ 11:09 am

  6. Can you explain to me how all of this is different than just going to the television network’s site and watching the show? Perhaps it is being able to watch it in real time but I never watch shows in real time. I haven’t for years since I have used that ancient technology, the vcr, to record shows and watch them in my time. Yes, I have multiple vcrs. I have watched shows on my computer at the network sites but I have not used any of these tools.

    Comment by Diedre — March 28, 2008 @ 12:29 pm

  7. […] Alex Schlotzer […]

    Pingback by Tv Game Shows » Blog Archive » Tune in at the Library — March 28, 2008 @ 3:16 pm

  8. Great job writing this blog, keep up the good work.

    Comment by Joe — March 30, 2008 @ 5:02 pm

  9. Our central library – very well funded indeed – is sharing one T-1 line among 12 public access computers. Because the OPACs require access to IP addresses to fetch item records for patrons, searching the catalog bogs down when any load is placed on the node.
    Sadly, stress to the node is due to streaming audio and video. I don’t care what people view during their assigned times at their computers (except for the reasons stated earlier). What bothers me is when one or two people sit down and grab all of the bandwidth for themselves to the detriment of everyone else.
    I know how AT&T works (I think) – the company just UNblocks speed to your location, because the copper pair or fiber currently available can perform at speeds much greater than 1.5 mbps. Our facility doesn’t need to double our speed – we need four or ten times the speed in order to meet the needs of our patrons who are losing cable internet as well as those who have laptops and want to take advantage of the WiFi service we are pleased and proud to provide.
    The problem is in convincing people, and enough people aren’t complaining yet.

    Comment by James — April 1, 2008 @ 9:51 am

  10. We’ve run into this a lot in our public library. Patrons want to catch up on a show or watch a live online feed of an event and they can’t. It makes it really difficult knowing that the staff computers could easily handle it. A lot of the networks require plug-in’s for their shows and we don’t allow people to download the software. To me, it seems like the best way to promote the service to our patrons is to provide them with service that brings them back. If it’s a disappointment, why would they ever return to use our computers.

    Comment by lee — April 1, 2008 @ 12:49 pm

  11. In defense of the library overall policy about plug-ins – IT people generally have a very strong interest in keeping public access computers as trouble-free as possible. Ours do a disk restore on every on-off-on cycle (I think), taking a disk image and replacing any damage people may have done to the desktop or the proxy server or other hacks they might have achieved.
    IT has well over 40 Wintel computers in several locations, all with the same hardware, to maintain. If one disk image is changed, it has to be for a Very Good Reason and they need significant persuasion. Patron complaints are one avenue, of course. Sometimes they’re the best avenue because they usually are more heeded by management and trustees than when staff members point out the obvious.
    Still, I can see IT’s point. It might be a good idea to schedule one major disk image rebuild per year, booking the hours of an employee so that the employee can go out, wipe and recreate a drive, and move on to the next one. Patrons are happy because they can pick and choose plug-ins, staff become happy because they see more smiles and hear fewer complaints, and overall satisfaction and service increase.

    Comment by James — April 1, 2008 @ 3:25 pm

  12. It really is interesting to see the different perspectives people discuss online video. This is the first time I’ve read it from the librarians’ viewpoint. But just to be clear on the comment about – not just a hulu clone. Fancast certainly has plenty of NBC and Fox TV content – but a LOT more, such as full-length feature films (I just watched “Sideways” which I never saw in the theater) as well as classic sitcoms that your readers may enjoy accessing – “MARY TYLER MOORE”! (What a great show that was.) All of it totally free – and the majority of it (except for the feature films, I suppose) within that one-hour limit many may have on your computers.

    Comment by fancastfan — April 15, 2008 @ 10:06 pm

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