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Video loans rise quickly at libraries

Though books are still number one, lending of videos has surged at area libraries, although some librarians say the availability of streaming video has slowed that surge. Though books are still number one, lending of videos has surged at area libraries, although some librarians say the availability of streaming video has slowed that surge. (John Tlumacki/Globe Staff/File 2011)
By Matt Carroll
Globe Staff / November 24, 2011
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Borrowed any good videos lately from the library? If you have, you are in good company.

Video lending has exploded during the past five years, rising at a far higher rate than the lending of books or audio, according to information from the Massachusetts Board of Library Commissioners.

Video lending statewide more than doubled between 2000 and 2010, from 6.6 million videos to 14.1 million.

That’s still a far cry from ever-popular books - more than 38 million were borrowed last year. But while books still reign as king at libraries, the number borrowed has climbed less than 10 percent since 2000.

However, rocketing video lending may be losing some of its altitude. Some librarians say the ease of watching movies and TV shows on computers, through online streaming services such as Netflix, may undercut borrowing.

Still, Karen Johnson, director of the Avon Public Library, said the surge in video borrowing has been remarkable. Years ago, children’s and historical videos dominated borrowing.

Now it’s new-release movies, especially since most videos are available as soon as they hit pay-per-view. She spends about 5 percent of her budget on video and has more than 14,000 titles available.

People like to borrow because it saves them money over Netflix or other services - although some come to the counter and offer to pay, not realizing that borrowing videos, like books, is free.

The big times for borrowing tend to be Fridays, Saturdays, and before snowstorms, she said. She noted that DVDs don’t hold up as well as tapes.

“I think people use them to ice skate with, they are so scratched,’’ she said.

Patrons can only hold on to new releases for two days, ensuring quick turnover.

In Mansfield, space constraints keep the town library from dramatically expanding its video collection, said director Janet Campbell.

However, the library is a busy lender - last year more than 35,000 videos went out the door, including 15,000 geared toward children.

“The decision was made years and years ago not to invest a lot in DVDs and videos because of local stores,’’ she said. “We don’t have the stores now, but we don’t have the space either.’’

The library concentrates on video versions of books, which narrows its collection, although patrons can get a broad selection from neighboring libraries.

Some librarians are wondering whether video borrowing may be waning, as they have seen numbers plateau or drop slightly. Judie Kleven, director at the Elizabeth Taber Library in Marion, said more and more people are turning to their computers rather than the library.

“It’s too easy to get what you want with the flick of a button,’’ with online services, she said. Plus, online there are no fines. Or people can even rent from kiosks at the supermarket.

“I’ve been noticing the trend for a couple of years now,’’ she said, although the decline has been slow. “For a while, it was quite a boom.’’

Children’s videos still see a lot of use, she said.

“What is interesting to me,’’ said Harry R. Williams III, director of the Crane Library in Quincy, “is that the huge preponderances of checkouts are still books.’’

Despite continuous warnings that videos are turning the nation into illiterates, people love their books, he said.

And when a good movie comes out of a classic book, requests for the book will soar.

“The formats feed off each other,’’ he said.

Books are far and away the big-ticket items at the Sharon library, said director Barbara Nadler. In October, 13,000 books were checked out, compared with 4,000 videos.

The most popular videos are new releases, but TV shows and foreign and independent films are also enjoyed, she said.

Also extremely popular in the commuting town halfway between Boston and Providence are audio books, with about 1,000 a month going out.

Rob MacLean, director of the Weymouth public libraries, said he thinks the big jumps in video lending may be nearing an end, although lending of DVDs and Blu-Ray remains strong.

People especially love when they find out that movies are available on the first day of their release.

“When they find out they can put holds on a movie, that’s all they need to know and we become their video store,’’ he said.

Matt Carroll can be reached at mcarroll@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @globemattc.

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