Last time I wrote about a depressing video. This time I’m writing about a depressing statistic. According to this LJ article, despite constituting only 7.6% of “total adult holdings,” DVDs accounted for almost 60% of the circulation of the Kansas City, Kansas Public Library.
Sprucing up your DVD collection will do wonders for circulation, and many librarians have a naive faith that whatever the library does is right as long as circulation stats don’t fall.
To her credit, the assistant director of the library doesn’t seem to be one of these librarians.
To Assistant Director Helen Rigdon, the results represent a double-edged sword. “While this increase in numbers is good for circulation, we worry about just being thought of as a ‘video store,'” she told LJ.
That should be worrying, because as everyone knows, video stores are a dying industry.
Every public library I’ve ever used has had hordes of people in the video section while the book stacks were mostly deserted. Buy lots of videos and let them circulate for only 2-3 days at a time and any library can boost its circulation stats. In some ways, it’s a testament to the good sense of many librarians that there are any books left in the library at all.
What’s depressing, though, is that it’s possible the days of rigging a library’s circulation stats this way are numbered, and then how will libraries please the bean-counters! A couple of months ago I speculated that with the rise of ebooks, the future of library book-lending could be bleak. The possibility is even more likely for the staples of library popularization, videos and music.
As music and video downloads and streaming increasingly become the norm, DVDs or any other physical manifestation of videos will most likely be eliminated, and without institutional subscriptions, libraries might not be able to lend them, at least legally.
While this would disappoint the hordes of people waiting in line at the library for newly released videos, I doubt it would make any commercial entities upset, because in the case of videos, libraries have been competing with not one, but two different commercial entities.
With books, libraries were competing only with publishers selling books. However, from the beginning of the home video revolution in the seventies, libraries have been competing not only with movie studios selling videos, but with video rental stores. The Blockbusters and Hollywood Videos of the world stepped in to make videos affordable to just about anyone, and then libraries stepped in to compete with the video stores. The video stores are now slowly dying, and I expect the same will be true for library video circulation.
As I said in the previous post, some librarians live in a la-la land where digitizing information means it will be more available to everyone, but that’s just not the case. Digitizing information means that its delivery can be controlled more by the content creators.
Once you have a physical book, DVD, or CD out in the world, it’s uncontrollable. People can loan or copy and distribute the content as they will. Attempts to stop digital copying from a disc are generally fruitless if you have $40 to invest in the right copying software. If a physical item is for sale somewhere, no one can stop a library from purchasing it.
Those days are ending. With digital books, videos, and music, the creators have the control, and are so far doing a pretty good job of leaving libraries out of the loop. They don’t care about “information access” or any of that baloney. They care about sales, and the less libraries are able to lend, the more sales they get. Even if just a small fraction of the people who might have gone to the library purchase a download instead, then they come out ahead.
Meanwhile, libraries are slowly adopting the truly awful digital download and streaming workarounds that publishers and vendors are providing. The publishers and vendors must find it amusing what libraries are willing to put up with in the digital world. They could keep libraries from getting the content, or they could make it very easy for library users. Instead, they put up all sorts of restrictions and barriers just to tease librarians and library users.
After trying to navigate some of the music and video services libraries are supplying, most normal people would just as soon go to iTunes, Amazon, or Netflix. And those poor people who just can’t afford to download or stream music and movies will just be out of luck, because there’s no constitutional right to free entertainment.