Crystal Visions of the Audio Visual Department 2015

By Michael Stephens |

"Now here I go again... I see the Crystal Vision."

Sunday, January 8th, the South Bend Tribune, my local newspaper, ran a local-section front-page story on SJCPL's decision to discontinue purchasing videocassettes. In the article, “VHS Bites the Dust: DVDs Reign at Local Public Libraries," writer Yashekia Smalls covers changes in the library's collection:
    The St. Joseph County Library owned almost 16,000 copies of DVDs in December 2004, while offering a little more than 24,000 video cassettes. But the tables turned last December, with the library dropping down to almost 18,000 video cassettes in stock and increasing its number of DVDs by 10,000. When [Joe] Sipocz, former manager of collection development at the county's main library, looked at recent statistics, he saw that video cassette circulation actually peaked in 2002. "I was worried that maybe we had stopped too soon, but we didn't stop soon enough," Sipocz said.
(I'd link to it but our paper only leaves articles up for seven days.)

Michael Stephens, Librarian and Music Fan Here's the interesting part for me: while this is happening locally, we are also on the edge of a bigger change. A lot is happening at once in the realm of home enterntainment, media, and delivery. Jenny wrote about it here. And more is to come—today even... if certain rumors hold true.

For example these notes, articles, and little events found their way into my aggregator in the last few days, and they get me wondering about what the future incarnation of the tried-and-true Audio Visual Department will look like in 2015:

Microsoft Launches a Music Download Service
And Bill Gates says, "We've talked about this as decade of digital lifestyle, work style," he said. "What that means is all these tools become mainstream. Software will come in and make things both simpler and more effective. Not having to think about disks, entertainment, having a digital jukebox anywhere in the house so you can call up the movies you want and see anything you want to."

This makes me wonder: If, in the next few years, we have "a digital jukebox" in our homes for music, photos, movies, TV show, etc., what role might the library play?

Music Album Sales Hit Eight-Year Low in 2005
"After enjoying a rare 'up' year in 2004, prompting predictions the worst was over, sales flagged during 2005, hurt by competition from illegal downloads, rival forms of entertainment such as video games, and a lack of breakout musical acts."

This makes me wonder: Will the "Long Tail" replace the blockbuster—with niche entertainment programming, games, and the like being the norm as digital-media consumers can select whatever their hearts desire?

NPR Covers Video Programming Wherever, Whenever
"Over the holidays, millions of Americans received video gadgets as gifts, from pocket-sized video iPods to flat-screen, high-definition TVs. Both technologies are the first signs of a sweeping television revolution—undoing nearly sixty years of viewing habits, and forming new ones."

This makes me wonder: In 2015, if I can buy select episodes or season runs of my favorite programs, why would I need a subscription-based 400 channel service? Will we be choosing our programming à la carte?

From the Consumer Electronics Show
Sandisk unveils 'nano killer' music player and Playlist reports: Every participant in the flash-memory music-player market is looking up at the iPod. Apple has come to dominate the market for handheld music players over the past few years, but Sandisk, Creative Technology Ltd., and other companies are jockeying for position behind Apple and hoping to win over new music-player users or disaffected iPod owners.

This makes me wonder: How soon will the leap to integrated media-rich devices/phones make the iPod and others obsolete? Once the phones have all the capabilities of the most popular consumer devices, everyone will want one. When prices fall drastically as the technology becomes commonplace, everyone will have one.

'The Long Tail' Asks: “How Can You Tell When an Industry Is on the Rocks?”
First comment on linked post above: The short answer: when they fail to recognize change.
Longer answer: they not only fail to recognize change, but ignore it, than deny it exists, than resists change, and ultimately fights to hang on to the old ways until their dying breath.

And then 'The Long Tail' points to: "The Decade the Blockbuster Died."

Macworld in San Francisco
Finally, today kicks off MacWorld, and the Mac rumor boards are buzzing with what Apple might roll out next.

The most intriguing bit in my book? This: "Think Secret claims that Apple is set to unveil a new media content delivery system, which will include feature-length content, expanded television offerings, and more. According to their source, the new system will rely on .Mac's iDisk for storage, keeping media files from ever being held locally on the purchaser's hard drive…."

This makes me wonder about: "feature-length content"; it could be BIG. It could be the first step on the road to all-digital entertainment available on demand to folks' media devices at home, on their phones, wherever they might be.

Apple may also be unveiling plasma screens with built-in digital video recorders. Whatever Apple rolls out today, as well as what Google Video is offering, likely means that our audio visual departments are going to be much different in a few years. Will CD production slow so much that some titles are only available online? What will be the first blockbuster online-only album? Will there even be blockbusters?

This will be a slow change. Early adopters will pave the way, just as it took years for the VHS cassette to come and be on the way out. Collections will remain, for those folks who keep their players, probably as long as there is demand. Will the product be available on CD or DVD? Doubtful.

So, what's the "Crystal Vision?" The Audio Visual Department of 2015 may be two spaces: 1) a vibrant space for digital creation and mashing up all of our content and room to gather and pursue our hearts' interests and 2) a space with a bunch of servers that serve out library-licensed content to library users, wherever they happen to be.

There are many hurdles, many discussions and many avenues to explore to get to this point, and I certainly hope it plays out this way.

Rock On.

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