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Streaming Video in Public Libraries
Posted On July 1, 2014
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In the beginning, libraries lent books. Fast-forward to the present day, and patrons can borrow all kinds of things from the library, including books, ebooks, audiobooks, CDs, and DVDs. The newest available format for patrons is streaming video, which is quickly gaining traction in public libraries across the country. Several librarians shared their experiences with streaming video lending, so institutions thinking about implementing their own programs know what to expect. 

Deciding on a Service

Boston Public Library (BPL) surveyed its patrons in early 2014 and found that access to streaming videos was one of the top-requested services, says Laura Irmscher, chief of collections strategy. The two most popular streaming video lending services, OverDrive and hoopla, are compatible with multiple platforms—PCs, Macs, and Apple and Android devices. OverDrive launched its streaming video program in November 2013 to complement its catalog of ebooks, audiobooks, music, and Windows-only downloadable videos. hoopla has offered audiobooks, music, and streaming videos since January 2013 and added ebook lending in May 2014.

Los Angeles Public Library (LAPL) served as a beta tester for hoopla and then as a pilot library for OverDrive. Peggy Murphy, collection services manager, says the library is a longtime satisfied customer of Midwest Tape (which owns hoopla), and she was a fan of hoopla from the start because of its reporting functionality and “good front end and back end on their product.” hoopla provided merchandise that LAPL could give to patrons as advertising: bookmarks, coasters, posters, etc., and it hosted a training day to familiarize staff with the service.   

Sandra Fernandez, manager of public relations at Houston Public Library (HPL), has also had a good experience with hoopla since signing up in December 2013. “[I]mplementation for customers has been amazingly simple,” she says. “I really was prepared when we first launched it to get numerous emails about issues, and I’ve only gotten very few.” Like at LAPL, hoopla helped HPL with marketing and provided training.

LAPL has been an OverDrive customer since around 2005, and “they’ve also been a very good company for us,” says Murphy. Another longtime OverDrive customer, Phoenix Public Library (PPL), has gotten its ebooks and audiobooks from the service for almost 10 years. “So it was a natural progression when they started making streaming video available, because this is a product that our customers are already familiar with,” says Jeriann Thacker, electronic resources librarian.

Rochester (Minn.) Public Library has also been an OverDrive customer since 2005 and adopted its streaming video service in February 2014. Kim Edson, head of reader services, notes that because the library’s video collection is limited to only what it has purchased from OverDrive, she’s looking into signing up with hoopla as well.

Edson believes that libraries should evaluate streaming video lending services just like they do other information resources so that what they choose is a good fit for their library community and patrons’ interests. “Both companies are working hard to give libraries the best services they can,” says Murphy.

Pricing Models

When patrons choose a TV series or movie to stream from the hoopla catalog, it’s instantly available to multiple users simultaneously. “That does have a pricing model that makes us a little nervous, because it is a pay-per-circ,” says Edson. “And the only way that we’re going to be able to be successful with that is if we limit our patrons to a certain number of checkouts, and our patrons are not used to being limited.” The same model is what attracted PPL to sign up in January 2014, because hoopla is one of the only services to offer simultaneous access to streaming videos using a patron-driven strategy.

OverDrive has a one-patron-per-title model: Patrons must put holds on titles that are already being streamed by another user, so librarians need to buy multiple copies of popular movies and TV series. Thacker says that OverDrive can make it difficult to keep up with demand. “[W]e’ll buy one copy, and as soon as I turn around it’s got 40 holds on it, so I need to purchase more copies,” she says. (On June 25, 2014, OverDrive signed an agreement with Warner Bros. Entertainment, Inc. to offer the studio’s titles using a pay-per-circ model with simultaneous access.)

Log In, Check Out, Stream, Repeat

Edson says she hasn’t had any patrons ask for help with streaming videos, “which is really quite remarkable, considering we have several support questions on the digital audio and the digital ebook.” She credits OverDrive’s ease of use for the lack of patron confusion.

OverDrive and hoopla both have mobile apps that patrons can download to their devices. The first time they use the app to borrow a movie, patrons enter their library card number to set up an account with the service. Once they’re logged in, they can search the service’s catalog (in the case of hoopla, all titles; on OverDrive, the library’s purchased titles) and then choose the movie or TV series they’d like to stream, check it out, and begin watching immediately. Patrons can also use their internet browsers to do the streaming or download movies they’ve checked out for offline viewing. Movies then disappear from their devices when the lending period is up, which is typically 3 days.

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Brandi Scardilli is the editor of NewsBreaks and Information Today.

Email Brandi Scardilli

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