Bibcast – broadband cinema

In 2003 Århus public libraries started a project on digital film presentation together with The Danish Film Institute, DBC Media A/S and Århus County Council for Education. The project runs until 1. May 2005 and gets financial support from the Development Pool for Public and School Libraries.

It is the first video-on-demand project in Danish public libraries and consequently quite a lot of time has been spent on persuading the rights owners to accept the concept (content, distribution, contract models and ‘safe’ technology).

As the infrastructure of the Internet is developing and it has become possible to transmit even fairly large files via the net, new cultural-political opportunities have also arisen for offering library patrons new types of media that were unthinkable just a year or two ago.

The public libraries have for many years had a ‘public service’ task which one might compare to e.g. that of the National Broadcasting company. The libraries have had to ensure citizens’ access to analogous information and cultural products in the form of printed books and journals as well as mediation of music via analogous and digital media. The latest Danish library act extends this obligation to also include access to the Internet and access to digital resources in the libraries for the public.Whatever the media, the public libraries are obliged not only to offer mainstream material – but to make sure that the more marginal publications are also available.

Project Bibcast is designed to act as such an institutional ‘public service’ distribution network for all types of moving pictures, i.e. short feature and documentary films, local-historical films, full length feature productions, educational materials and other forms of multimedia products.

Four libraries and four upper secondary schools in the county of Århus make work stations with high-speed based Internet connection available to the end-users. The reason that the number of users is so small to begin with is partly that it is easier to enter into agreements with the rights owners for a relatively small number of users, partly the possibility of testing the effect of simultaneous initiatives.

To make the films available, it is of course necessary to have reached agreements with the rights owners or the material might for various reasons be exempt of copyright restrictions.

The Danish Film Institute has a large portfolio of features and documentaries, and the core users are schools and libraries. Through many years of experience with promotion of videos, especially in relation to the public libraries, DBC Media A/S has established contacts and made agreements with the commercial film market.

There has also been a degree of outreach work going on in relation to film workshops and educational environments, and agreements have been made on films from the non-established film environment. At the moment 100 films are available, and the number is increasing.

The rights owners take a great interest in the project, and their particular angle centres round a more advanced tool for collecting statistics which may help to illustrate user-behavioural patterns.

Up till now the most common format for the storing of ‘master bands’ at the suppliers is an analogous Beta-format. This must be digitised, that is to say converted into a digital file. When the film is digitised it is also given a DRMcode (Digital Rights Management) which protects the file against illegal copying and ensures that only endorsed users can get access to using the films. After that the films are catalogued and divided into genres. At the moment the following genres are available:

  • Short features
  • Animation films
  • Documentaries
  • Information films
  • Full length features
  • Educational films.

The films are categorised in the same way as the other media in the library’s catalogues and enhanced with any information available about the film itself (summary, performers, instructors, duration etc.). Notes and search tools make it easier for the users to find exactly the information they need.

Following the cataloguing process, the films are streamed for the users to be able to access via the Internet.Windows Media Player must be used, the data are sent in a continuous stream to the PC and the film can be watched either on PC or TV.

The quality depends on the Internet connection: all films are streamed in three qualities: 256 Kbit, 512 Kbit and 1 Mbit. 1Mbit provides a quality quite on a par with a DVD.

Hopefully, the project will provide valid experience for the further development of future distribution channels for digital media in the library sector, just as it could form the basis for cooperation across knowledge institutions working with the film media (apart from libraries, for example archives, museums and educational institutions).

This will help to find out how the more marginalised films often discarded by cinemas, can be distributed to a wider public.

The discussion on how to integrate online mediation in the physical library is extremely relevant. And it applies not only to films but also to other digital media forms like for example music files and e-books.

Translated by Vibeke Cranfield

Librarian, Århus Public Libraries.