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The English Video Library – A brief history

Almost unnoticed, while we were exiled on JvF Str, the Video Library entered its second decade. An occasion, therefore, to take stock – both literally (many thanks to Vanessa!) and metaphorically.


How did the EVL start?

The EVL was born in 1998 as a direct consequence of our former colleague Stephen Speight winning the university prize for tuition. Rather than taking all the credit himself, Stephen generously considered this award to be recognition for the quality of teaching by the entire Sprachpraxis team. And so we sat down together to think about what we could do with the prize money. In fact, the decision came very quickly and almost without discussion: we would put the money into a video library to make English-language films and television programmes available to our students – and, of course, to ourselves.

This was the beginning of the English Video Library: occupying at first no more than a couple of shelves in the office Stephen and I shared, subsequently, as the collection grew and grew (by this point Richard had joined us and donated his Buffy collection!), it relocated to our first proper home opposite 3.214, and then more recently to the spacious premises we now share with the wiki team since we moved back to EF 50 at the beginning of WS08/9.

As the Video Library has grown, so has the work load required to keep it running. Here we are enormously indebted to the two student “librarians” who have made such an enthusiastic and effective contribution over the last couple of years: firstly Tom Bauernfeind, and, more recently, Vanessa Lehmann. For most students, Vanessa is now the public face of the Video Library.

Drs. Cass and Kane conferring life membership of the EVL on former student Birgit Nebert (December 2003).

How are we funded?

Through most of the first decade we did not have a guaranteed source of income, and yet we have still managed to grow our collection into what it is today. From the start the EVL has benefited from the support of both the Department and the Fachschaft. And we have been extremely grateful for the generosity of various individual students who have given their time – and their videos – to the EVL, or who have simply donated their deposits when they have left university. More recently, we have had a small but steady income stream from book sales (second-hand books donated to the EVL – donations gratefully received!), from fines for late returns (fortunately – or perhaps unfortunately – not too many), and from the more swingeing fines for speaking German in Richard’s WOCs!

What do we buy?

In the days of videotape, the fact that the videos in our collection were in English clearly set us apart from the average local video-rental shop. In the early days we tried to maintain a balance between entertainment and education, i.e. videos relevant to students in an English department. More recently, since the switch to DVDs, we have bought fewer of the more commercial “blockbuster” titles (easily available in Germany anyway with English soundtracks). Instead we have concentrated particularly on three areas: film or TV adaptations of works of literature (e.g. Dickens, Shakespeare, Jane Austen); films frequently used in seminars, and documentaries; and, finally, TV drama series. In these areas we now have quite an impressive collection. However, these are not hard and fast rules and we are happy to consider requests.

What will the future bring?

Certainly changes in technology. Our videos are mostly in the PAL format (for the European market). Most DVDs are Region 2 (Europe). When we started buying DVDs (rather than VHS tapes), the demand was at first negligible. Hardly anyone could play them! Almost overnight that changed, and demand for videos dwindled. We are now replacing some key titles with DVDs to make sure that they remain available to everyone. But what of Blu-Ray? Presumably, at some point we will have to decide again to switch to the new format. When that will be is anyone’s guess. But one thing is certain: we will be there!