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Digital Media in the Mainstream at ALA
Posted On July 11, 2017
Late-June weather in Chicago can be hot or stormy, but the week of the ALA 2017 Annual Conference and Exhibition (June 22–27) was unusually mild and without a hint of rain. This worked out well for the attendees, and several vendors planned ice cream socials as a relief that turned out to be unneeded, but certainly not unappreciated.

Online Content

Kanopy ALA 2017Kanopy was a major presence at the conference. According to its website’s About page, it was founded in 2008 as a company that provided DVDs to Australian university libraries. Later, it migrated to San Francisco and began a streaming video service for academic libraries, and it developed a substantial following. In a meeting, Michael Walmsley, VP of global sales, said the company is expanding its access methods and now includes Roku, iOS, and Android, and it will soon be adding Apple TV and Google Chromecast. There are nearly 30,000 titles, with at least 100 added every month. Walmsley said that more than 50% of its titles are unique to Kanopy and that the company has a commitment to providing high-quality cinema, including documentaries, world cinema, and the Criterion Collection. The headline title as of the conference was exclusive access to I Am Not Your Negro, a documentary based on the writings of James Baldwin. In 2016, Kanopy added public libraries to its service, and it is now available to patrons of the Los Angeles Public Library, among many others. All access is provided through subscribing libraries, but asking for titles through Kanopy’s webpage or Roku will allow you to request the service to your library of choice.

Alexander Street, founded in 2000, is well-known as a provider of streaming video on academic subjects in the humanities and social sciences. It has also expanded its offerings on targeted subjects to public and K–12 libraries. It has augmented its 65,000-plus video titles with monographs, film scripts, and the complete archive of 60 Minutes. For instance, in the anthropology collection, there are more than 800,000 monographs, archival materials, and sound files, in addition to the 1,300 streaming videos. In 2016, the company was acquired by ProQuest. At each ALA Midwinter or Annual conference, it presents a breakfast featuring a distinguished speaker. At this event, the speaker was Daniel Zwerdling, an investigative reporter at NPR. He took on the topic of fake news and how a responsible journalist sifts through the good and bad information to arrive at a conclusion. Attendees learned that investigative reporters have no deadlines; they must take the time to make sure they get the facts right.

Proud of its new application for smartphones and tablets, RBdigital was gearing up for a new release that had just been beta-tested in 16 libraries. It allows seamless access to ebooks, audiobooks, and online magazines to validated library patrons. The app gives one-click access to these formats, although the company also provides access to 10 other formats, such as streaming music and video. John Shea, chief product and marketing officer, said that the company has been around for many years, but has only provided applications in the past 5 years.ALA 2017 LITA Panel

Technology Trends

The Top Technology Trends panel (see photo at right), presented by ALA’s Library and Information Technology Association (LITA) division, featured Margaret Heller (digital services librarian at Loyola University Chicago) as moderator, Emily A. Almond (director of IT at the Georgia Public Library Service), Marshall Breeding (an independent consultant and founder of Library Technology Guides), Vanessa Hannesschläger (a researcher at the Austrian Centre for Digital Humanities), Veronda Pitchford (director of membership and resource sharing at the Reaching Across Illinois Library System [RAILS]), and Tara Radniecki (engineering librarian at the University of Nevada–Reno). It turns out that libraries spend about $1.8 billion a year on technology. The most exciting new technology seems to be the 3D printer—costing from $15,000 to $30,000—because it allows patrons to create something they never could have afforded to make on their own. Distance charging (i.e., cordless charging for patrons’ cellphones) is a useful new technology, but it can be very expensive. Breeding said that open source has been around since 2006, but only 12% of public libraries and 4% of academic libraries have switched. There are at least 100 and possibly as many as 1,000 libraries that have no ILS at all. Hannesschläger urged libraries to be less formal and more open to social media. She said that Instagram is a valuable tool for sharing images. Almond replaced more than 100 PCs with Google Chromebooks that can be operated en masse and run on the cloud rather than hard drives.

After a notable absence, Google was back at this year’s conference with a large booth promoting its new products to teach children how to be internet-savvy and avoid predators. One Google representative said that children are told this constantly, but when it is done in lecture format it does not sink in, so the game approach leads to more permanent learning.

Digital Humanities

In a meeting at the Gale booth, SVP Paul Gazzolo talked about the new software platform the company is implementing. Among other things, it is partnering with Google and WorldCat for a seamless exploration of library resources. To this end, Gale has also partnered with major single-sign-on providers and Microsoft. It is increasing its presence in digital scholarship initiatives to leverage the textual data that is underlaying the display data for library subscribers. It is also beta-testing the Digital Scholar Lab with academic institutions around the world to help maximize the information found in Gale products. In addition, Gale is developing a data visualization tool for business users. It is offering a new product, Gale Small Business Builder, that is sold to libraries whose patrons want to investigate entrepreneurial options. This tool walks the prospective startup user through the steps, such as market research and funding, needed to begin a business.

Another digital humanities source of note is The HistoryMakers archive, which provides video content, searchable transcripts, and unique content from individuals whose life stories would have been otherwise lost.


There was a large uptick in the number of makerspace providers at the conference. Reading between the lines, it does not seem that 2017 will be known as the Golden Age of Integrated Library Systems. One ILS CEO mentioned that the last platform for online catalogs was created 15 years ago. Yewno, however, seems to be thriving, with a new interface that helps unify its growing universe of data. Unlike BookExpo, which was held a month before, ALA Annual is massive, with every inch of floor space seemingly taken up with eager vendors, including one selling drones.

Another very popular booth was run by NASA, whose staffers hosted a program preparing us for the Great American Solar Eclipse of 2017. The ALA conference is alive and well.

ALA 2017 Lake Michigan

Terry Ballard is a former systems librarian, retired after a 50-year library career. He is the author of three books and more than 100 articles, mostly about library automation. Further information can be found at, and he can be reached at

Email Terry Ballard

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