Sunday, April 22, 2007

Exeter Library to Provide Free Netflix Service to Its Patrons

Is this a good idea or a bad one? Exeter Public Library has subscribed to Netflix and will be accepting requests from library patrons for DVDs not owned by the library system.

"The Library has subscribed to Netflix, the online movie rental service. Now, if there is a title you are looking for that isn't on our shelves or the shelves of any other RI library, you can request that we get it through Netflix for you. This is a great way to view the popular movies that are always out, as well as the documentaries, foreign films, and television series that aren't available at the local libraries. It's also a great way for us to provide the materials you want, without having to purchase several copies of the same title.

How it works: you place a paper or e-mail request with us. If the title is not readily available through the regular library delivery system, we will go into our Netflix account and order it for you. When the movie arrives, we will notify you and you can check it out for one week with your library card - just like the movies we own. Depending on how popular the service become, your DVDs should arrive very quickly."
The more I think about this, the more that I think it is a bad idea. Since when do we expect our public libraries to provide us with the services of a video of charge? What do you think?

Thanks to The Shifted Librarian for this news.


  1. I was hoping all sorts of wise people would chime in with opinions on this. I'm not sure what I think about it. Perhaps it is more cost effective than the library buying popular movies that will be forgotten and culled in a year or two.

    As to whether libraries should be carrying popular movies in the first place is another matter. There is probably an argument to be made that people shouldn't be shut out of popular culture just because they can't afford to rent movies or pay for cable. On the other hand, as we've seen, libraries are finite and popular materials can end up displacing less popular but higher quality works.

    Something like Netflix (and print-on-demand machines) would certainly take some of the space pressure off more permanent materials, so maybe it's a good compromise...?

  2. Sylvia, you seem to have the same mixed emotions about this that I have. My main concern is that there is only so much money to go around in most library systems and the more that's spent on DVDs, especially on new movies and the like, the less is available for books. And, I'm sorry, librarians, but a library is about books...paper and cardboard...not about flicks and popular music to the point that it starts infringing on the book budget.

    I just don't believe that a public library should be providing movies to the public to this degree. Someone seems to have lost focus here and I can't come up with any good reasons to justify something like this.

    Thanks for your comment. Like you, I was hoping for some good debate because this is definitely a gray area.

  3. Is a library only about books? When I think about it, I'm not so sure. Music, dance, and drama pre-date writing as ways to convey stories, ideas, and information, and their impact and value is undeniable.

    Now that we are technically able to record performances (and most people are able to play them back), why shouldn't they take their place beside the written artifacts of our cultures? Is writing the only art worth providing to the public free of charge? As a lover of music, ballet, opera, etc., I would disagree with that.

    I think the real question for me is about quality, but that is such a touchy and complicated subject. Do you give the people what they want, try the bait-and-switch, or champion high culture and risk getting called irrelevant elitists?

    I wonder if the librarians of Nineveh had to deal with this...? ;)

  4. Excellent points, Sylvia, and I can agree with them to a large degree. I think what bothers me most about this concept is that I don't see many "quality" movies being produced these days...too many "American Pies" and mindless violence being produced that I would never want to see my tax dollars support by opening up the whole Netflix catalog to holders of library cards.

    But, as you say, the issue then becomes who is to be the judge of "quality." It's a fine line, to be sure, but I would think that opening the doors to the worst that our society has to offer is still a step in the wrong direction.

    It also leads to the question of whether or not a tax payer can demand that some of his money be used on "trash" for his own consumption. After all, people who think that "American Pie" is art probably pay taxes just like the rest of us. :-)

  5. Good points--using Netflix takes away the librarian's opportunity to select good materials, but also lets the taxpayer decide what their money is spent on. It's a conundrum. I don't envy the librarians and politicians who have to wrestle with this.

    Did you see this?

    Is it a library's job to fight illiteracy (in the broadest sense)? We expect it of school libraries, but balk at the idea of librarians guiding adults. We all have this childish knee-jerk reaction to "being told what to do" that gets in the way of (apologies for the buzzspeak) personal growth. Not to mention a deep aversion to hard work, and a nasty streak of anti-intellectualism. There are just a whole lot of barriers to getting people to read serious literature. It seems to take the charisma of an Oprah to make it "ok" to read such stuff.

    It seems like this discussion could go on forever...

  6. How about libraries as cultural centres?

  7. Sylvia, I've just finished reading the article from the first link you provided. Thanks for that.

    Are we perhaps all too worried about being politically correct? Are we afraid to offend anyone by refusing to use tax dollars to shelve obviously inferior books and movies? Surely, most of us recognize literature when we see it and trash when we see that. Maybe libraries should be the last refuge of books and films that can't compete in a marketplace that's come to be dominated by a mass culture gone bad?

    I don't know the answer, only that I turn to the library for the kind of books (and films) that I'm unlikely to find elsewhere. I hate to see that oasis of sanity become polluted by the very kind of books and films that I can't avoid every other place that I look.

    Sorry about the rant...

  8. It's not necessarily political correctness but practicality to be sensitive to the desires of patrons. Alienating or intimidating people is not the way to get them to use the library or support it politically.

    I think inspiring them is the way to go. It's basic marketing--focus on what the "product" will do for people, not on the product itself. Your idea of the library as oasis is like that. Wave Shakespeare and Beethoven at people and they will run!

    And, to be really politically incorrect, some books are just too hard for some people. Why should they go without reading/viewing/listening material?

    I guess there just has to be a balance between giving people what they want and giving them the motivation and confidence to try something new. Right now it seems libraries are focused on the former.

    A case in point: When I looked at my library's website the other day I noticed that they had a "great books" program. Turns out they cover "great" romance, mystery, "beach reads," and the like. Maybe the books they read are a cut above, but... \:|

  9. I don't envy the predicament that so many librarians find themselves in today, Sylvia. On the one hand, they are dealing with disgruntled library veterans like me and, on the other, they are faced with the task of making their libraries meaningful to a new generation that does not see books in the way that previous generations saw them. Books are having to compete for attention in a way that they didn't have to before.

    I understand why libraries are changing but I sometimes wonder if those in charge of them are aware of the fine line they walk. Your example of the "great books" program is one way that librarians are reaching out to their patrons, but surely that's not enough. Are librarians giving up the notion that their customers still want access to the classics? I wonder.

  10. My own guerrilla response was to encourage my blog readers to go to their local library and take out some of their favourite classics. Some did, and so did I. Unfortunately it feels a little like putting an endangered species in a zoo. It keeps them going, but they're not really living the life they should be living.

  11. A spot check at my local library this afternoon showed me how difficult it is to find a classic on the shelves even when you are looking for one. Sad.

    I know that librarians face pressure to provide more copies of best sellers and modern fiction and non-fiction...coming at the expense of classic and older fiction.

    "Out of print" is the death knell for anything of less than classic status. Every so often I try to find a copy of a novel from the fifties or sixties that I remember and it takes forever to put my hands on one.

  12. Hi,

    After reviewing some of the articles left on my consumer reviews
    website, I still cannot understand: Who is winning in online DVD Rental business?

    Blockbuster Service Reviews

    Here are some of the Blockbuster specific examples:
    Blockbuster Books, Records, Videos and DVD rentals
    Blockbuster Video Stores and Online service
    Blockbuster Late fees

    Netflix Service reviews

    Here are some of the Netflix specific articles:
    Netflix Complaints - 3 Movie at a time rental
    Netflix Quality of Service
    Netflix speed of service

    Can someone help me understand, who will come out on top here?