The week before last, I talked about how libraries use YouTube (or not), but I think it’s also worth looking at how other cultural institutions (Galleries, Libraries, Archives, and Museums – aka GLAM’s) use YouTube as well since I think libraries can draw some inspiration from them.
There are some fundamental differences between libraries and other GLAM’s, and chief among them that comes to mind (at least thinking about big powerhouse institutions like MOMA, The Field Museum, ROM, RBCM, etc…) is budget — both in terms of size and source. Whereas libraries year over year get most of their funding from taxes and sometimes donors, museums have several streams of income they might draw from: admissions, grants, private donors, corporate sponsors, and public funds. One can get a feel for this diversity of funding by looking at the Field Museum’s 2017 Annual Report, a 56 page document over half of which lists their financial backers.
I’m using the Field Museum specifically because they stand out when it comes to their presence on YouTube. The Brain Scoop, hosted by Field’s Chief Curiosity Correspondent Emily Graslie, lets viewers from around the globe experience what the Field has to offer, understand how it operates, and see a side of museums that few people even really understand exists.
What makes The Brian Scoop’s content stand out is a combination of the “oh wow I had no idea” factor combined with Emily’s consistent excitement and wonder, and that same “I could see myself being her friend” that we often see in vlogs. In the 6 years that the channel has existed, it’s covered everything from wolf skinning to insect surveys, candy taxonomies to curiosity (and tolerance) — and although some content ranks pretty high on the gross factor (and it’s always flagged as such), it’s done so in a way that makes the viewer feel like they have a place there.
I interviewed Emily 4 years ago, and I’ve run into her a few times since then in the course of YouTube stuff, and I want to assure you that it’s not an act: Emily is actually that person. As with anyone on YouTube, thanks to the magic of editing and lighting, she might be a little bit, for lack of a better term, more when you watch her on The Brain Scoop, but fundamentally she’s actually that excited about the world. I think that’s what makes the channel so great.
Bringing this all back to budgets, it’s important to understand that as awesome and well-funded as The Brain Scoop is now, that’s not how it started. The long and the short of it is that, as with many good things on YouTube, it started in Missoula, Montana. One day, Hank Green (yes, the Crash Course one) found himself at the Philip L. Wright Zoological Museum at the University of Montana, and got a bit of a tour by Emily, who at that time was a volunteer with the institution. See:
There’s nothing too fancy about the shooting (not to undersell the work that went into it, though!). Although they did use an HD camcorder and a DSLR (the fancy digital cameras where you can swap out the lenses) (thanks to Michael Aranda for answering my question; he directed & edited the channel for the first couple years), keep in mind that over the past 5 years cell phone cameras have gotten real good.
What makes the video enjoyable though are who and what are being filmed, more than the equipment used to make it. If you have someone in your institution who gets excited talking about what they do, you could make something like this. It just takes a bit of time, is all! To help you get started, I even made a start-to-finish tutorial of how to do mobile video for you.
Another low-budget option is to partner with a YouTuber who’s doing their own thing, but in a way that benefits them from working with you, while also amplifying your institution’s presence. This has been done to great effect by The Royal Society‘s Archives and their librarian, Keith Moore. Keith and the Royal Society have been featured on various works of Brady Haran, creator of several popular YouTube channels: Sixty Symbols, Periodic Videos, Computerphile, and Numberphile to name a few.
The hallmark of Brady’s channels are that they would bring the viewer to the topic, with very minimal involvement from Brady himself who mainly just filmed and interviewed folks who were excited to share knowledge about something they cared deeply about. One of the most iconic folks who he would talk to is Sir Martyn Poliakoff, PhD:
Brady would find himself at the Royal Society Archives doing research for videos, and this of course brought him to the library (woo!) where he would interface with librarian Keith Moore. After so much of that, at the tail end of 2014 apparently Brady and the RS decided to come together to make a new YouTube channel where they talk about all of the neat objects that RS has in their archives and holdings.
This channel is called, appropriately, Objectivity.
Presumably the Royal Society have a bit of money to help fund this, but as with many YouTube channels there’s also a Patreon (that brings in USD$337 per month) to help offset costs.
Side note: It occurs to me, having now mentioned Emily who got picked up by Field, and Brady who works a lot with RS, that one might think I’m suggesting libraries find and assimilate YouTubers. I mean, if your institution has the money then by all means, take and assimilate YouTubers because they are people too who have mouths and bills. But I do maybe want to plant the seed that, hey, maybe these institutions saw the potential of bringing YouTubers into the fold after working with them! It’s just an idea.
Okay, so let’s pretend that after reading all of that, I have you sold on the idea of getting started with pre-existing YouTubers, but you definitely are not ready to commit. What do?
One possibility is to do what Sarah Urist Green has done on her show The Art Assignment, where in a series called “Art Trip,” she and some of her crew go to different places around the world and show off the art scene. I’m particularly partial to the one in Chicago, partly because I am unreasonably in love with Chicago, and partly because they visit a number of galleries, and get to view/show off exhibitions that aren’t yet open to the public:
While it would take some planning, I see this as a great way to showcase things like VPL’s new Exhibition Space and its inaugural exhibition, morph. Spoilers: I’ve been talking with Toronto Public Library about going out there and doing an episode on my channel about Special Collections, featuring the Merrill Collection of Science Fiction, Speculation, and Fantasy. I’ll be out there from October 31st to Nov 5th for OpenCon, so it makes sense for me to make the most of my trip while I’m there: it’s “on brand” for my channel, and I don’t normally travel, so I’ll go out of my way to fit it in. (if you’re in the area, lmk!)
Important to disclaim here that libraries are not galleries, museums, or archives, and so of course what works for them won’t necessarily work for us. GAM’s have an advantage in that their people have curatorial expertise to a degree that most libraries probably don’t, along with fancy unique materials to show off that they own the copyright over. But that doesn’t mean that libraries can’t try some of the same things!
Rather than thinking of it in terms of “stay in your lane,” consider that the lane is wider than you might realize:
- Libraries have rare books & special collections of their own
- Thousands of works enter the public domain every year
- Fair Use/Fair Dealing provides allowances for transformative, educational, critical, and non-commercial uses of works otherwise under copyright
- Librarians are just as interesting to watch as scientists if you get them talking about something they care about
- ¡¡¡LIBRARY ARCHITECTURE!!!
- Gardens, green spaces, community events, local town stories!
It’s also worth keeping in mind that libraries do not exist in a vacuum within their communities, which is something that many libraries are already leveraging. Vancouver Public Library and New York Public Library both offer passes to museums in their communities; why not see if there’s a relationship there that can be expanded digitally? If VPL and Vancouver Art Gallery collaborated on two videos where they referred their own audiences to each other for “the rest of the story,” I would watch both of those videos, and I would share them with my friends, because that would be really cool to see– and it would be relatable to me, a resident of Vancouver.
Have fun with things: maybe bring a cataloger from VPL and a taxonomist from UBC’s Museum of Anthropology together at the Vancouver Art Gallery and have them categorize different works according to their respective field’s practices. Take someone from all three institutions and have them “swap places” for a light-hearted exploration of similarities and differences between jobs. Pick a theme (say, a seven-day period dedicated to large predatory fish) and have folks from each institution design an exhibit for the others with their own materials. Wouldn’t that be… just… the coolest?
What draws people to YouTube is the sense of connection: not necessarily between the viewer and the creator, but between any two people, or between people and ideas. This is something that libraries exist to do, and that they excel at doing. By sitting in the interstitial space between people, ideas, and disciplines, libraries are the connections. This makes them, along with GAM’s, perfectly suited for YouTube. So, what connections will you build?
That’s it for now — until next time, don’t forget to ask questions.
- Hossaini, A., Blankenberg, N., & ProQuest (Firm). (2017). Manual of digital museum planning. Lanham, Maryland: Rowman & Littlefield. WorldCat Link