Diversity & Outreach Columns ALA's Office for Diversity, Literacy and Outreach Services


Videomaking Tips for Libraries

Submitted by John J. Roe, Bookmobile Staff Member Bookmobile and Outreach Services Department Montgomery County-Norristown Public Library

“Show, don’t tell” is advice from which any writer can profit, and in the age of digital video and YouTube, that advice can be applied to showing off your library’s programs with ease. With the right software, you can add polish to your productions with minimal impact to your library’s budget.

The following highlights, from start to finish, the lessons we learned while making our first YouTube video, which featured our children’s bookmobile program.

Step One: You’ll Feel a Slight Pinch...

There is one unavoidable expense when it comes to making amateur video: Barring a grant or a gift, you have to buy the camera. The Flip Ultra Camcorder, a popular choice that features a USB port for direct connection to a computer, a tripod mount point, and its own onboard video editing software, has a listed price of about US$149.00. For our own YouTube project, we went with its cousin, the Flip UltraHD, which records in high-resolution format and retails at about US$199.00.

Most modern cell phones also record video, and the frugally-minded might find that to be a “two birds with one stone” solution. Be advised that you might also need to buy a special cable in order to transfer your video files from your phone to your computer in order to work with them. They usually also require that extra memory be purchased in order to match the storage capacity of comparably-priced camcorders. Picture quality in jack-of-all-trades phones tends to suffer in comparison to the specialized camcorders as well, but again, the phone is considered something of a compromise solution.

If you’re having trouble deciding which camera is the one for you, Consumer Reports has a full breakdown of camcorder features on its website, http://consumerreports.org, though they require you to subscribe for product ratings. Of course, you could always take a mosey on down to your Periodicals section...

Another sound investment is a tripod. This will keep the camera steady and avoid unnecessary movements (and thus a seasick viewer) that come with holding the device in your hand. If there’s one thing the experience of making our first video has taught me, it’s this: No matter how steadily you think you’re holding the camera in your hand, the slightest motion will be seen onscreen. If you went the cell phone route, there are in fact tripod mounts available for them as well, and Lifehacker has posted a do-it-yourself mounting solution on their website (see Addendum).

So that’s the hardware acquired. Now on to the fun part...

Step Two: I’m Ready for My Close-Up, Mister DeMille.

Before we start rolling, a few words about the law: While an argument can be made for not needing permission to film someone in a public place where he or she would have no reasonable expectation of privacy, nothing keeps your proverbial bacon out of the fire quite like a signed release form. A stack of these forms, a pen, and a clipboard can go a long way toward helping you avoid potential hassles when you go out on your “shoots.”

Permission to film is especially important to bear in mind when it comes to filming minors, who must have a parent or guardian sign for them. When we made our video, which required visits to a couple of the preschools taking part in the Books-Go-Round program, we relied upon that old stand-by, the parental permission slip.

When it comes to filming, it pays to follow another old adage: “It’s better to have and not need, than to need and not have.” Whether following your bookmobile around on its day, or recording a book talk in the common room, the luxury of having a variety of shots from which to pick and choose will be a great asset. A later viewing of what you’ve shot will often suggest new ways to present your point.

Or to put it another way: YouTube videos have a maximum length of about ten minutes. A Flip has the storage capacity for about two hours of footage. Don’t be afraid to shoot more than you need to fill that ten minutes.

Speaking of that ten minutes, it’s time to pick and choose...

Step Three: The Cutting Room Floor

When it comes to no-cost video editing software, there is a wide range of possibilities. Microsoft Movie Maker comes free with Windows Vista and later operating systems. The same goes with Apple’s iMovie, which is bundled with the free iLife suite of applications for the Macintosh. As mentioned before, the Flip comes with its own simple editing software (FlipShare) that can be installed to any PC. On the open source front, there are applications such as VirtualDub (available for Windows) and Kino (an application for the Linux operating system). Each has their own particular advantages and disadvantages, and the prospective videographer is encouraged to try a wide variety of software to see what makes for the best fit for your taste.

There is one software combination that I would like to recommend, regardless of your final choice for your main editor, and that’s the effective one-two punch of Avidemux and Audacity. Early on in the production of our debut YouTube video, it was decided that we would include voiceovers and background music, both of which were incorporated thanks to the applied combination of these two programs.

Avidemux is a video processing application. While it is capable of editing video, that is not where the program’s strong points lie. Where Avidemux shines is in its ability to copy out the audio track of a video and then mix it back in from a file, saving the results in a variety of formats.

Once you’ve pulled the audio track, that’s where the sound editor Audacity comes in. With it, you can add music tracks and dub in dialogue. Audacity also has a number of built-in features, such as the ability to remove the hiss of a microphone via audio sampling. Another feature is the ability to “split cut” or “split delete,” both of which insert blank space into where portions of a track have been removed, preserving synchronization with the video.

Of course, whenever you add music or splice other footage into your production, always be mindful of proper copyright protocol. Your slick new video won’t seem like such a feather in your cap if it brings a letter from Time Warner's legal department to your director’s “in" box.

After the final audio file is created, it can be mixed back into Avidemux to create your production.

Step Four: Show the World What You’ve Got

You’re done and ready to show off your video to the world, which in this day and age means you’re ready to upload it to YouTube. As of this writing the service is still free and there’s little I can say to illuminate the process, as YouTube guides you through it quite effectively themselves.

That said, the only thing that I can add is that the video isn’t immediately available to the whole wide world upon upload. YouTube needs a certain amount of time to “process” a video, so your best bet would be to give it about a day before sending out links.

But after that, you're done! Go ahead and send links far and wide to show off your new video!

We had a lot of fun making ours, but more importantly, we felt we had found a tool that would let us continue to promote the importance of our Outreach and Bookmobile services through today's relevant media.

Happy film making!

Addendum: I’d Like to Thank the Academy...

Some additional resources:

Avidemux - available at http://avidemux.sourceforge.net

Audacity - available at http://audacity.sourceforge.net VirtualDub - available at http://www.virtualdub.org

Lifehacker’s Do-It-Yourself Cameraphone Tripod Mount - http://lifehacker.com/5346020/diy-cameraphone-tripod-mount

Sample video/photo release form, courtesy of the American Library Association - http://www.ala.org/ala/mgrps/divs/aasl/aaslissues/Video-Photo_release_form2.pdf.

Our video, “Getting Started: A Children’s Travelling Library and the Love of Books” - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6o3OQjbLIzk

YouTube’s own YouTube channel, including the useful and often entertaining “YouTube 101“ series - http://www.youtube.com/user/YouTube

Dan-O, a talented musician who makes his work publicly available through a Creative Commons license and provider of our video’s background music - http://danosongs.com

The Internet Archive Moving Images Archive, an excellent source for stock footage and public domain movies - http://www.archive.org/details/movies

130 Projects to Get You Into Film Making by Elliot Grove,2009, Quarto Publishing - A title I wish I’d found closer to the beginning of the project rather than at the end.

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