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Library Videos Won’t Survive, and There Go Our Circ Stats

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.


Please note that new comments for all posts on this blog have been closed.


  1. Bruce Campbell says:

    Well, libraries will still have computers that poor people will want to use. So we might have to go by door count instead of circulation.

    We don’t have DVDs, but when we get them they’ll be related to the technical college’s program areas.

    Many public libraries began their DVD collections with noble intentions, purchashing only DVDs based on books, but at some point they caved and bought Borat.

  2. SpongeBob Librarypants says:

    I agree with Bruce. Looking back it seems to me that many libraries started out with video collections that were composed of mainly travelogues, documentaries, and maybe some how-to DIY stuff. Now we all carry the latest feature film and children’s show. I’m as guilty of it as anyone, because it does pump up the circ. Give ’em a 3 day loan period and allow for renewals and watch circ take off. It is not hard to play and game your stats. It happens all the time.

    If we were to remove videos, DVD’s, and video games from our collection, then limit the use of our computers to just job hunting and serious reference and research uses, circ and door count would both drop like rocks. Throughout my career I’ve always tried to be in the “give them what they want” camp, but anymore I’ve come to realize that sometimes you should make objective value choices and that “giving them what they want,” not just in libraries but in many areas of society, has given us the dumbed-down culture we have today.

  3. Bruce, there are a LOT of people without computers now. But then, more and more people are “poor”. So is it just “poor” people, or are “middle-class” people using them as well (printer broken, Internet connection down or they’ve stopped subscribing to save money). Perhaps you even see some of these people at the technical college.

    And even “not-poor” people may not have the equipment to download things. Perhaps they’re sticking with their regular DVD (even VHS!) players, like me, and praying they don’t break b/c they don’t want to or can’t replace them.

    Oh, and as far as “caving” to Borat, is that like libraries caving in and buying Danielle Steel and Tom Clancy?

  4. jonser, you are taking the wrong line for this blog. The AL is one who pines for the (mythical) era when all public libraries supported only vast populations of serious readers. Until recently no one ever read for entertainment and the idea that public libraries should support any thing of the kind is laughable.

  5. Bruce Campbell says:

    Borat (DVD) =/= Danielle Steel/Tom Clancy (Book)

    DVD =/= Book

    Lighten up about saying the word “poor.” I remember when that word didn’t used to invoke such venom. Yes, middle class people use the library while they wait for the guy from Geek Squad to fix the computer. Got me there. Pfft.

    Public libraries provide a great service to the disadvantaged (like that better?). Libraries might be the last bastion and the only way to create social mobility in such a venal, cruel world. I’m all about public libraries helping people find jobs, etc. Poor, middle-class, whatever. We’re on the same team, homie.

    Lose the VHS.

  6. I agree that video stores are going away. That’s an indisputable fact. The same could be said of bookstores and music stores as a result of digital downloads.

    At the same time, we’ve been busily heralding the pre-mortem eulogy of the modern library for a while now. People were predicting that libraries would no longer be used and disappear since before the 1990’s. There were articles about how VHS would make the library redundant because the public would, at least theoretically, always choose a movie over the book. Well, VHS has come and gone. Libraries are still there. Different, but still there.

    While I don’t disagree that changes in formats certainly affect our profession, making the announcement that we’ve tied ourselves to a stone that’s going to drag us under seems a bit far fetched. We provide far more services than a DVD store, Bookstore, and Music store combined. We have classes, events, literacy programs and clubs. We provide a safe place to meet and a good environment to do research. If you are doing it right, a library becomes a community. (Of course, if you are not doing it right, I suppose it could become a Video store)

    Aside from that, the DVD and VHS circ stats are not a good basis for comparison. A book in my library has a loan period of 3 weeks. A DVD has 3 days. In the time that I get 1 circ for a book, I could have 7 DVD circs. Certainly sounds great for a person who loves high circs, but it’s apples to oranges. Also, it obfuscates popularity and interest. The highest reservation item we have system wide is a book (shocker!) with 612 holds. The highest reservation DVD has 152 holds.

    Prediction – people who care about circ stats will just get them from somewhere else. If it’s not DVDs, it will be some other format. If they run out of formats, they will just hand out caramel-dipped hardbacks so that people can snack and read at the same time. First ones always free.

  7. “Oh, and as far as “caving” to Borat, is that like libraries caving in and buying Danielle Steel and Tom Clancy?”

    Spending a huge chunk of the materials budget to get a quick circ boost from things that no one will be interested in in a year? Yup.

  8. the public library I worked at was in a middle class suburb and the computers were always full

  9. Dvds replaced vhs, and now dvd players are dirt cheap. I don’t see Bluray replacing dvds as a physical format, because people are moving more into streaming for the convenience. Libraries are going to need to find a new metric that can be used to inflate their numbers as dvd checkouts decline.

    This talk of inflating the circulation statistics with dvd checkouts reminds me of “The Wire,” when the detectives are told by the higher-ups to “juke the stats” to make the department look better.

    Same thing, just way more pathetic in the library world because the stakes are so small.

  10. Google & Apple TV (new and improved version) will be there for people who can afford the bandwidth and content. Beyond entertainment there will be many basic needs for viewing online instructional videos at the library. Will helping those unable to afford these services be enough to keep publics up and running? I would like it to be.

  11. +1 to Sasquatch for “The Wire” reference.

    Now if only we had our own library – Hamsterdam where all the skeevy patrons can do their business.

  12. september 23 says:

    and the difference between education and culture is what, again? the line is where?

  13. september 23 says:

    sorry: the difference between *entertainment* and culture, etc.

  14. We had a full video collection until 2 years ago. Most of the videos were weeded; special interest ones remained as staff only use.

  15. The attitude around streaming video proliferation is depressing. As a movie fan, I will always prefer having my own (as in, I /own/ them) collection of my favorite movies in my home. But most people don’t take film as seriously. I want to have a copy of /Raging Bull/ because it’s a work of art, not because I just want to see it.

  16. The digital systems made available to libraries are deliberately obtuse and ridiculous, but we have to jump on the bandwagon to prove relevance.


    At my library, books are still the bread and butter, though of course the videos go out a lot, as do the audio books. But at check-in, we have one media cart and five book carts to sort to, and the book carts have to be switched out more often.

    I quite honestly don’t see e-books as a danger to book-books, and particularly not to libraries. There’s too much equipment needed for retrieval, and they keep changing it so fast–it’s only a certain segment of the population that can use the stuff at all.

    There are definite benefits in digitizing the periodicals and reference works–instant updates, for one thing, and much easier searching through databases. But I am very nervous about the corporate control of those databases because, as the AL points out, that means that someone can just pull them off at any time, depending on whim, and what on earth is backing them up?

  17. september 23 says:

    Exactamundo, KidLib.

  18. But I thought E-books were at the “tipping point”?

  19. In our rural community we still have VHS and DVD in our library. People borrow both. Learning to live within your budget means that you don’t have to rush out to buy a new piece of equipment if the one that you own still works. It’s one thing to buy a new TV if you don’t have one or the old one finally konks out. Some of us are able to access cell phone service and some of us cannot so we still have land lines. Some of us can afford $60 month for a satellite connection to the internet and some of us still have to have dial up on old copper wiring whether we like it or not. Our library tries to provide services to us, the best available in our physical area, and within their budget – whether it be print, audio, internet or visual.

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