08 October 2018 Blogs, Academic, Community College, K-12, Public, Librarian

Sarah Brennan: The Librarian Behind the Scenes at Academic Video Online

What’s it like to work on the largest video subscription available to libraries? Sarah Brennan, a “bad-ass” librarian and product manager at ProQuest, shares the story of her non-traditional career – and why she loves her job

By Alison Roth

For an academic library, acquiring video isn’t easy. There are multiple vendors and multiple acquisition models to choose from. Video is expensive, and budgets don’t ever seem to grow.

Sarah Brennan, a Senior Associate Product Manager at ProQuest, comes to work every day with the mission of creating a solution to these challenges. She’s responsible for the Alexander Street streaming video products, including Academic Video Online – and her role is to translate the video needs of ProQuest customers (and potential ones) into features, functionality and content that improve their outcomes.

And after years working in libraries herself, Sarah has plenty of first-hand experience.

“In high school, I worked for my local public library – North Shore Public Library in Milwaukee, Wisconsin – and fell in love with it,” she said. This led her to a work-study library job at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, where she graduated with her MLS degree, and a relocation to New York for a job as a virtual reference librarian.

After a few of Sarah’s librarian friends went to work for library vendors and enjoyed their jobs, Sarah decided to pursue a non-traditional career as well. She accepted a position at a company called Insight Media, a distributor of educational video, which ultimately became a part of Alexander Street and ProQuest.

Librarians: the “bad-ass, creative types”

“Working for Insight Media opened my eyes to the power of video in the classroom,” Sarah said. “I came to see how much faculty members rely on video, both to teach concepts and to offer students a variety of content types in their instruction. I was able to see how, in some course areas like nursing or counseling, being able to see someone demonstrate a practical skill – like inserting an IV or getting a reluctant patient to answer a question – is so much more effective than reading about it in a textbook.”

Now, Sarah is responsible for selecting and curating video content for Academic Video Online’s streaming video collection and working with development and technology teams to deliver the best possible video experience to libraries all over the world.

She also acts as a liaison between customers, developers, and sales and marketing teams to make sure ProQuest is making the right improvements and communicating the product’s most important features.

Having a non-traditional library job is easier when you spend all day surrounded by and interacting with librarians – and it helps that, like Sarah, ProQuest employs many of them. “I think, more than most professions, librarians are a group of bad-ass, creative types who know how to get stuff done within difficult constraints, and I’m so thankful that I get to be inspired by those people all day long,” she said.

Helping schools meet their video needs

All enhancements to Academic Video Online are truly customer-driven. Sarah’s team is constantly seeking customer feedback through advisory boards, conferences and – of course – honest, one-on-one discussions with librarians.

“We built Academic Video Online because we heard from customers that it was a product they wanted,” Sarah said. Consider Academic Video Online’s subscription pricing model. It helps librarians manage budgets that simply aren’t growing in a time when we’ve recently seen a huge increase in demand-driven acquisition spend for videos. Academic Video Online addresses that by allowing an institution to take advantage of unlimited viewing of 66,000+ videos – covering the majority of disciplines on campus, while providing a budgetary security net with one predictable annual cost.

“We added perpetual rights ownership as part of the subscription as well,” she said, “because customers told us that they were tired of spending subscription dollars and not owning content at the end of the subscription term. We also heard from customers that they needed a cheaper media hosting option, so made it a free add-on so we could help support the growing need for online storage of content for libraries.”

“We’ll drop everything” to try to license new titles

Sarah encourages all customers to contact ProQuest whenever they have a faculty request for a video that isn’t in the collection – “we’ll drop everything to attempt to license it,” she said. “Everything about the product exists because customers directly asked for those product features.”

And since Sarah works all day, every day, with academic video – what’s her favorite kind of film? Documentaries, hands-down.

“Documentary film, as a genre, has exploded, over the past decade,” she said. “Getting to immerse myself in a different lifestyle or human experience as part of my work life is a dream. The power of the human experience is something that few mediums can do well, and documentary film is at the top of that list. Anyone who wants some suggestions should email me! I’d love to share my favorites.”

Want to see what Sarah’s been working on? Subscribe to our What’s New in Academic Video Online page to keep up to date.