Parliament tunes into MP3

The service, which commenced its trial last week, has so far been deemed a huge success. "We have been overloaded with positive comments," said Rob Brian, parliamentary librarian.

The MP3 service is an extension of the library service. "We are in the business of providing information and like to look at new ways of delivering that information to members," said Brian. One of the offerings of the parliamentary library is a media monitoring service of all print, radio and television news and current affairs stories. (Parliament is not bound by the Copyright Act as reproduction of this information is deemed a service which is necessary for members to perform their duties.) In the case of radio, all news reports on all stations are taped throughout the day and then made available to members upon request, which usually involves physical collection of an audio tape from the library.

Under the new service, members -- typically those who have missed certain news bulletins -- link to a URL on the NSW Parliament intranet site and can then download MP3 files containing ABC radio station 2BL's 7:45 a.m. news bulletin and AM and PM news shows. Members are able to access the MP3 files by about 10:00 a.m., after they have been transferred into MP3 files by library staff. The PM (which broadcasts at 6:00 p.m.) file is available the next morning.

In the first instance, the radio stories are recorded onto DVD by the library's technical staff. Next, they are saved as a WAVE file and then, using audio shareware, the WAVE files are converted to MP3. Because there is no need for CD quality sound, library IS assistant Mark D'Arney said these files were saved as 16Kbps files. This meant a 15-minute bulletin would be compressed to about 1.5MB in size.

Members can then play the recordings using RealPlayer or Media Player. If they have not obtained these players, they have been encouraged to download Winamp. D'Arney said members have been encouraged to use Winamp as it occupies less space on their PCs and loaded much faster than similar players.

In an effort to save on storage space, files are kept on a weekly rotational basis. Thus, if a program is recorded on Monday, it is replaced by the current program which airs the following Monday.

Brian said the future of the service will be determined by the member response. "Positive comments from members mean it will become a permanent fixture," he said.

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