Thursday, November 24, 2011

Capacity Focus, 20: A digital multimedia lab for all -- the Skokie Illinois public library case study

The Digital Media Lab, Skokie Illinois Public Library
The ability to create rich multimedia content -- integrating video, sound, images, slides, animations, simulations etc -- is a key cluster of productivity and effective comunication skills for the emerging digital age. 

It is so important, that we need to find a way to implement "multimedia for all," again using the Pareto 20/80 principle: focussing on a relatively small set of core skills, techniques and content that would equip people to be effective for a majority of cases, and would also have plug-in points to allow them to extend their capacity when a non-routine case has to be dealt with.

All of this makes the Digital Media Lab that was recently implemented at the Skokie, Illinois public library a very useful model: "a space designed for patrons to have access to software and hardware to create digital media—such as videos, music, podcasts, images, ebooks, websites, animation, and more."

As The Digital Shift observes in the just linked:
By 2009, equipment had become sufficiently inexpensive, and it was possible for laypersons without much training to both film and edit, achieving quality results. Streaming video was clearly taking on the role that public access cable TV had previously filled. The socially interactive nature of the Internet as well as the new emphasis on 21st-century skills development convinced us to invite the public into the production studio.

The DML was unveiled in September 2009. SPL director Carolyn Anthony and community outreach librarian Frances Roehm met with then State Representative Elizabeth Coulson about the idea for a digital media lab in the library to produce digital media content for, and by, the public (and also about the statewide Illinois Clicks online information project). Coulson secured a Member Initiative Grant, [US]$35,000 of which the library used to start the DML. Moving forward, the library has kept the $10,000 in its operating budget for the DML for its share of the Library Production Studio costs.
So, what does US$ 25,000 get you, by way of technical equipment etc? ANS: A surprising amount:
The DML is 100 percent Mac-based, with three iMacs and one Mac Pro. Macs were chosen because of the outstanding programs available in the Mac operating system environment. (For a full list of the software currently at the DML, visit A list of hardware is at The most popular programs by far are part of the inexpensive and surprisingly robust iLife ’11 Suite: GarageBand, iMovie, iDVD, iPhoto, and iWeb.

GarageBand, with separately purchased Jam Packs (loops of music that make it simple to create complex and occasionally amazing pieces of music), is very popular with patron musicians. The many rap artists also love to use the Yeti Pro Microphone by Blue to record audio. Rockers work with one of the two M-Audio Fast Tracks interface devices to record electric guitars on top of GarageBand drumbeats. For musicians looking for more power, there is Pro Tools 9, a professional-level audio recording program—a useful tool, especially as many of them are considering music as a career path.
Video production is probably the most popular use of the DML. IMovie is the most sought after program in the DML—an extremely easy-to-learn application that allows patrons to create quality videos quickly. Patrons use it, along with a chroma key wall (a single-color wall, usually bright green, which allows for the addition of background effects), to create mock weather reports or memorial slideshows and more. For more advanced patrons, we have two copies of the professional-level Final Cut Pro Suite 3 (and the library plans to upgrade one to the latest Final Cut X soon) and two copies of Adobe Premium Pro CS5
Photoshop CS5 is also popular, as is the easier-to-learn Photoshop Elements 9, which is on each computer. Beginners use Photoshop Elements 9, and a not insignificant number of graphic design students and professional graphic designers use the “real” thing. A large amount has been spent to purchase such professional-level graphic design software, including the Adobe CS5 Master Suite, Adobe CS5 Design Premium Suite, and the Adobe CS5 Production Premium Suite. With these come many other programs, such as Illustrator and InDesign.
Hands-on classes on GarageBand (for music and podcasting), iMovie (for video production and converting VHS to digital), and Photoshop Elements 9 (for the basics, touching up old photos, and digitizing old slides) are available in support of demand.
Peripherals such as Flip Video cameras, LaCie portable hard drives, Canon PowerShot cameras, and H2 Handy MP3 recorders, available only to confirmed cardholders, may circulate for three days (or seven days for the hard drives). These are important for a robust DML—especially the portable hard drives. Patrons’ content requires lots of storage and cannot be saved to flash drives or other devices. Since these projects take a lot of time, circulating hard drives are important to provide. They circulated nearly 600 times in the last fiscal year.
 An illustrative example of the product (showing as well, a fast summary of the production process for an image rich slide or book cover etc) is this video:

Quite impressive, but how relevant is that to our needs in our region (and for our education and training focus), especially where Macs are rare, and capcity to technically support them is even rarer?

In steps of thought:

1 --> Windows-Intel ("Wintel") PCs of course have comparable software (as does the Linux world), though the user interfaces are generally not as smoothly intuitive as those for a Mac will be. 

2 --> More relevant to our cybercollege- microcampus centre focus, there is a cluster of key open source software that is capable of creating quite effective content:
a: The Open Office/Libre Office Suite has in it the Impress presentation application that is in effect Power Point for the rest of us. It also has a very useful diagramming application, Draw (which is routinely used for the diagrams prepared for the KF blog).

b: Inkscape is a more advanced drawing application, with many excellent artist-supportive features.

c: For casual manipulation of photos or images, Irfanview is quite good.

d: Gimp (and especially the Gimpshop or Gimphoto adaptations) is a good photoediting application.

e: Audacity is good for sound editing

f: Blender is a powerful 3-D modelling and animation, animation and nonlinear video editing package.

3 --> With some training and coaching, packages like the above could be used to create quite effective multimedia content for slideshow presentations, for school lessons, for audio or video podcasts or Youtube type clips, etc., etc.

4 --> To do so will however require some reasonably powerful hardware, capable of housing multi gigabyte storage for multimedia files (especially where video of any significant length is involved).

5 --> In addition, digital cameras, camcorders, good microphones and lighting will probably be needed. That points to an adaptation of the DML model from Skokie, IL.

6 --> I would also add DVD production capacity, if distribution of DVDs or CDs is in mind.

7 --> Required training will have to enfold familarisation with key software and techniques, and will require support by people who are reasonably proficient.

8 --> Some basic principles of production of effective content would also have to be inculcated, e.g. how to compose and take a photo that is worth showing to others, how to record reasonable audio, how to use stage blocking and three-point (= key + fill + back) lighting to create reasonable quality video.

9 --> A good first target would be to have trainees capable of producing a multimedia rich slide show that enfolds photos, audio and video they have themselves produces, and video clips that they know how to post to a site such as Youtube. They should know how to convert the slideshow to a kiosk style automatic flow.
All of this is within reach, and could form the focus for a good short "Multimedia for All" course based on reasonable equipment that a digitally minded church or library or school could either already have or could acquire. But, to develop a standard lab kit, training materials, user how-to guides, and an organised short course will require some significant collaborative effort.
The likely results, though, more than warrant pulling together the resources and cluster of resource people to do it. For in a digital age, to have a voice that will be heard, you must be able to produce reasonable quality, effective, attractive multimedia content.

Even, just for church services.  END

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