Library Media Servers

Several months ago a friend and I were enjoying the Blu-Ray vs. HD debate until that mess sorted itself out. I remember saying at the time that I thought either format was just a stopgap measure until better/faster broadband and home media servers combine to allow us to purchase our high-definition movies online and download them directly to our own servers for storing and playing in a variety of ways.

This (kind of) reminded me of the way our music library worked when I started college. Students could search the catalog, but we were not allowed to browse the LPs. When the library started adding CDs it was under the same restriction. Students also could not handle these media items themselves: all of the items and equipment were managed in a sound room that output to numbered listening stations. If students needed to listen to the same track – or even worse, to a few measures of a track – over and over, they had to constantly ask the librarian to restart the section.

Of course that changed with time. But with so many bits and pieces of technology now in place, I want to achieve a similar end for different reasons. I want to take that old notion of students not being allowed to handle the media items and change that into students not having to handle the media items. We have a couple of online music databases that in some ways obviate the need for a media server. However, most libraries will have a collection of media items that are not available through subscription services. Whether it’s a video of a lecture held on campus or that one particular Mendelssohn recording that brings out the nuance a professor wants to highlight, online subscriptions can’t be all things to all people.

So when will media servers come into their own as a library tool? From a number of comments on Engadget, it sounds like a lot of people are taking a do-it-yourself approach for home servers.

What would this service look like in a library setting? (I’ll set aside copyright discussions and leave those to others since I have little experience in that area.) There should be an intuitive yet flexible librarian interface for importing data. The system should be able to read import media from many sources: ideally, if the library can play it and the player has an output jack, the media server should be able to import it. The media server should integrate easily with the library’s patron authentication system. The media server should be robust enough to serve many simultaneous streams to in-building, on-campus, and off-site locations with no performance degradation. Oh, and the user interface should be both slick and powerful. That’s not asking too much, now is it?  😉

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