With the online launch in October of The Legacy Project, an educational video series that features original interviews with Stephen Sondheim, Edward Albee, and eight other legends of American theater, the series' publisher, Alexander Street Press, contributed a substantial amount of new, firsthand documentation of the creative processes of these cultural icons to the historical record. But the fact that the collection is fully accessible through an online streaming platform is substantial in and of itself, and it says something significant about the current state of academic publishing and the direction in which the industry is headed.
"Professors will be able to assign The Legacy Project interviews to students to watch as easily as they assign texts for reading," says Linda Gottesman, the co-president of Filmakers Library, the imprint of Alexander Street Press that is publishing the collection.
"Delivering video using this new medium means that the series will reach a much wider audience and be that much more useful for teaching and research," Gottesman continues. It is that drive for wider audiences and more useful content that is increasingly pushing academic publishers such as Alexander Street toward the most current forms of content delivery, including streaming video.
Alexander Street Press was founded in 2000 in Alexandria, Va., as a publisher of digitized collections of primary-source written materials-such as collections of letters and personal diaries-in the fields of the humanities and the social sciences. From an initial focus on American and women's history, the company broadened the scope of its digitized collections into the performing arts, black history, Latin American literature, and other related disciplines. In 2004, Alexander Street began publishing audio collections, which included oral histories, speeches, and interviews in addition to musical recordings.
In 2006, the publisher launched its first video collection, called Theatre in Video. The aim of the collection-which today includes more than 200 videos and more than 200 hours of programming and will ultimately contain more than 350 full-length plays and documentaries-was to give educators, researchers, and students direct access to the most important primary sources in the study of the performing arts: the performances themselves.
According to Jessica Kemp, Alexander Street's director of marketing and customer service, when it came to studying performing arts in the classroom, "students wanted to see rather than read."
Feedback from Alexander Street's streaming video customers has borne this out. Writing in the Library News, the newsletter of the university library of Brock University in St. Catharines, Ontario, David Fancy, the chair of the dramatic arts program, describes his use in his teaching of the Theatre in Video collection, the antecedent to The Legacy Project in Alexander Street Press' catalog of video collections.
"Understanding the dynamics of performance is very much about becoming a sophisticated spectator," Fancy says, "one who can differentiate between various aspects of a given actor's process as it unfolds on stage (or in this case, on screen). ... [T]he ability to pause and rewind the work makes Theatre in Video useful to capture and repeat relevant moments of the work," he writes.
Being able to summon a streaming video that is germane to the academic subject matter at hand with just a few clicks has resolved one of Fancy's longtime frustrations. "Before the existence of this resource," he writes in Library News, "I often found myself wishing for a deck of 50 DVDs by my side to be able to make a point. Now, many of these examples are readily available for my teaching and for students completing assignments."
In the case of The Legacy Project, professors who purchase a streaming subscription will be able to play for their students extended, in-depth, one-on-one interviews between legends of the theater and rising stars of the American stage. Sondheim, for instance, is interviewed by Adam Guettel, the composer and lyricist of 2005 Tony Award-winning musical The Light in the Piazza. Giving aspiring playwrights and composers access to firsthand accounts from the masters is a significant offering from an academic publisher both in terms of its content and the technology being used to deliver that content.
While The Legacy Project serves as a showpiece for the kind of dynamic content that academic publishers can produce and distribute with the use of streaming video, it is just one component of Alexander Street Press' overall streaming video publishing plan. In April 2011, the company announced the release of three separate-and massive-video collections. The Filmakers Library Online, of which The Legacy Project is just the newest small piece, is a multidisciplinary collection of documentaries and independent films and currently contains more than 900 titles; The Education in Video collection contains more than 1,000 videos on the topic of K-12 teacher training and professional development; and the Counseling and Therapy in Video collection, which is billed as the most comprehensive repository of training videos on the subject of clinical psychotherapy, will ultimately include more than 350 titles. These three collections served to augment Alexander Street Press' already vast catalog, bringing its total number of titles to 8,000.
In August 2011, the company launched its Academic Video Online Store, the delivery platform for educational video titles. The store allows educators and libraries to purchase 3-year subscriptions to titles in the online collection and stream them using Adobe Flash Player 9 or higher.
Kemp says that Alexander Street's video collections are among the most rapidly growing segments of its catalog and that the publisher plans to continue its expansion of its streaming video products. By 2013, the publisher expects to expand its individual video offerings to 20,000.
Streaming videos are a significant technological leap forward from the dusty tomes and cardboard manuscript boxes that used to be the primary tools of the academic publisher's trade. But if Alexander Street's positive feedback from its customers and its grand ambitions to expand its video offerings are any indication, the academic publishing industry may well be in the midst of a paradigm shift that even librarians can get excited about.