Sound and Vision: And We’re Live in 5…4…3…2…1

BurnsPortrait

This post was authored by COPA Chair Chris Burns, Manuscripts Curator and University Archivist at the University of Vermont.

This is the second in a series of posts about the use of video as an archival awareness tool. Feel free to contact the editors of this blog at archivesaware@archivists.org if you have a video or topic you would like to see covered, or if you would like to contribute to this series.

In 2016, we kicked off a new series designed to focus on the use of video in archival awareness and outreach efforts. The inaugural post, Sound and Vision: Using Video to Tell the Tales of Archives and Archivists, featured a handful of videos that had been produced by repositories and some general best practice tips. To be perfectly honest, there were not a lot of examples to choose from at that point in time. The use of video by archives was simply not widespread.

However, the use of video has grown significantly since then, driven in large part by livestreaming services, particularly Facebook Live. This type of video production has a lower barrier of entry, ties in easily to existing social media channels, and consequently is becoming an important outreach tool for archives and special collections. Facebook has made a concerted effort to promote and support Facebook Live, so while there are other tools for live streaming content to your audience, Facebook Live has become the major player, in no small part because of the large potential audience that already exists on Facebook.

What is Facebook Live?

Jennifer Koerber, writing in Library Journal, gives a good overview of Facebook Live and its use in libraries. At its most basic, Koerber notes, it is “video streamed over Facebook and archived there afterwards.” Facebook Live events are live videos as opposed to an edited video. They tend to be improvised, and are often filmed on devices as simple as a phone or tablet. The technical barriers for producing and distributing this type of content are quite low, but as with a more traditional edited video, quality can vary significantly. Paying attention to sound quality and lighting, as well as using a tripod and the best available camera and microphone setup can greatly improve the quality of your video and the experience for your audience. Koerber cites two helpful articles with tips for recording video on smartphones.

Facebook Live events are just that, live events, and need to be promoted to ensure you have an audience. Promotion should target your Facebook audience, but not exclusively. Promoting these events through other channels (blog, email, Instagram, etc.) not only draws people to the event, but also lets them know you have a Facebook account that they might want to follow. Because the events take place on a social media platform, they also have the potential to be interactive. People watching can share their enthusiasm by liking, commenting, and sharing the video. The live component allows you to interact with an online audience in interesting ways, such as soliciting questions from online viewers during the stream. Koerber notes how having a staff member monitor the comments during the livestream allows that individual to respond in real-time and add additional information like links to catalog records or digitized versions of the objects being discussed.

How are Special Collections and Archives using Facebook Live?

One way to use this medium is to provide an introduction to your holdings. The video below, from the National Agriculture Library, features an introduction to their seed catalogs (my favorite is the manuscript catalog from the 1830’s featured about 10 minutes in). The 37 minute video features staff members taking turns discussing items in their collection and has been viewed over 4,500 times in the 2 months since it was posted.

Another way institutions have been using Facebook Live to share their collections is by connecting them to another event, either at their institution or externally. In October 2016, the Dibner Library at the Smithsonian used a Facebook Live event featuring their anatomy books to tie into Halloween and Page Frights. The comments section shows how Dibner staff interacted with viewers throughout the video, taking full advantage of the live aspect of the event.

 

The Houghton Library at Harvard University held a Facebook Live event in March 2017 in celebration of their 75th anniversary. During the 48 minute live stream, two Houghton staff members gave a tour of the library, showed off items from the collection, and took questions from viewers. A key aspect of this livestream is that it took place on the main Harvard University account, which allowed the Houghton to reach a much larger potential audience. As a result, the video has been viewed over 67,000 times, and has had 1,900 reactions, 239 shares, and 415 comments. Not all archives will have access to an audience as large as the Harvard community, but it is a good reminder of how partnering with a larger social media account can really boost the signal of your outreach efforts.

The University of Chicago Special Collections Research Center has taken the approach of inviting researchers to talk about items from their collections. In the video below, Dr. Mindy Schwartz talks about an 1887 surgical kit that she uses to teach medical students about the history of medicine. This approach shows viewers not only the cool stuff in the archives, but also how a researcher or instructor uses them.

In a similar way, the US National Archives held a Facebook Live that featured Janet Macreery talking about how she used a range of archival sources to write her novel, A Little Wicked. Archives and special collections libraries have held events like this for many years, but livestreaming them allows institutions to reach beyond audiences who are willing and able to attend these events in person.

 

The Getty Research Institute held a Facebook Live event in March 2017 to talk about how they put together an online exhibition, The Legacy of Ancient Palmyra. The live stream shows some of the material used in the exhibit, but is also a fascinating, behind-the-scenes look at how they put this exhibit together.

An example of an institution doing exciting things with video, on Facebook Live and elsewhere, is the University of Iowa Special Collections. Led by Outreach and Engagement Librarian Colleen Theisen, their video work is aimed at engaging with as broad a community as possible. An excellent overview of their efforts can be found in this article by Scott Smith on the Big Ten Network website. You can view their videos, including their archived live streams, on their YouTube site.

In addition to the live streams they have conducted, such as their annual livestream on Shakespeare’s birthday, their YouTube channel features a few ongoing video series they have created that are both fun and informative. Their Staxpeditions series usually focuses on exploring Library of Congress call numbers, but my favorite installment is Staxpedititions 6: Exploring Mystery Boxes : Manuscripts Edition!

The work being done in the examples above is just the tip of the iceberg in terms of what archives and special collections libraries are doing or could be doing with video. If you are doing interesting work in this area and want to be featured in this series, don’t hesitate to contact us at at archivesaware@archivists.org.

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