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Magazines > Computers in Libraries > December 2021

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Vol. 41 No. 10 — December 2021
FEATURE

ON-DEMAND STREAMING MEDIA - Considerations for Public Libraries
by Tom Adamich


Thankfully, libraries have had to rise to meet needs like this in the past, and we have always exceeded expectations in our continuing desire to best serve our patrons.
As public libraries eventually emerge from the COVID-19 situation and continue to offer more and varied virtual services, the push to understand how these web-centric collections are managed and delivered becomes even more important. This article considers the on-demand streaming media segment of library e-resources to identify trends and issues, as well as to suggest points to consider if you are still on the fence about adding or expanding streaming media offerings.

Evolving Pricing Models

According to Barbara Hoffert’s reporting on Library Journal’s “Public Library Materials Circulation Survey 2020,” the streaming media circulation category is a growth area. The survey found that 73% of respondents said they offered the format, which was an increase of 9% over the 2018 survey results. Additionally, 55% acknowledged that streaming circulation is increasing overall. (It still represents a small percentage of overall public library circulation, though—just about 2% in 2020.)

First launched in the 2010s and led by Midwest Tape’s hoopla digital product and OverDrive, streaming media services have become a popular way for library patrons and users to obtain video content on traditional desktop computers, laptops, and smartphones. Early product offerings by both vendors were provided under traditional library circulation concepts and a “pretend it’s print” (PIP) circulation model. With PIP, one copy of the media was available for use and unavailable to others until the media was returned—which is to say, checked back in.

According to Bill Rosenblatt’s Copyright and Technology blog post, “Hoopla Digital and Harper-Collins Disrupt Library E-Lending,” the PIP model allowed libraries to plan strategically for purchases, including multiple title purchases or participation in material lease plans for temporary multiple-copy access. The model was disrupted later in the decade when on-demand, streaming media providers (such as hoopla and OverDrive) began to move to a pay-per-loan or cost-per-circ title access model. Of the major on-demand, streaming media providers, hoopla was the first to offer the policy in 2014. Many libraries were caught off guard with respect to limiting library materials circulations/holds per month and found budgeted funds for media acquisitions quickly depleted and the need to revise circulation policies imperative. They quickly came up with new circulation rules.

For example, the Estes Valley Public Library in Estes Park, Colo., issued a policy of five hoopla transactions per month, effective May 1, 2018. This way, the library’s 2018 materials budget could absorb the $2.18 per loan charge. The library also recommended using Libby, an OverDrive product that was on a PIP model. The limit was that only five Libby titles could be borrowed at one time, with no monthly restrictions. It also recommended using cloudLibrary for ebook access, which has a three-titles-per-session limit, along with no monthly restrictions for total title circulations. Estes Valley Public Library’s streaming media services resulted in 6,000 on-demand transactions during the 2-year launch period. This included access to streaming audiobooks and videos and related econtent.

Ongoing Administrative Issues

The challenges faced by library administrators and staffers in addressing the popularity of on-demand, streaming media library services go beyond budgetary considerations to include the technology-related aspects of accessing and using these services. Most of the services require applications to either be enabled or downloaded to effectively view and use the digital content. For example, hoopla offers specific apps for PCs, Roku TV, Apple, Kindle, and Android devices. According Alyssa Wroblewski’s “Libby vs. Hoopla: Reader App Comparison,” a review for the Arts Management & Technology Laboratory, one can add Amazon Echo, ChromeCast, Android TV, and Fire TV to that list of possible application interfaces—all of which have technology-based requirements to use and maintain.

Another aspect of on-demand, streaming media services is usage driven by popular demand, which can upset subscription apple carts. In the past, libraries may have bought multiple copies of printed books or digital media titles that were currently popular. Alternatively, they chose to subscribe to services such as Brodart’s McNaughton book leasing services, whereby popular titles would be offered for a period of time—say, 3 months—then taken off the shelf and shipped back (normally with one copy retained for the permanent collection). Of course, libraries that chose to increase their access totals temporarily had to budget for the increased on-demand use and the requisite incremental charges.

To address such increased-use situations for streaming media titles and to mitigate the negative public reaction faced by libraries that cannot provide access for trending titles, companies such as Midwest Tape have chosen to offer special content borrowing periods when content may be accessed either for free or at reduced costs. In February 2021, hoopla offered Bonus Borrows, which was described as “24/7 access during the month of February to borrow, download and stream over 900,000 movies, TV shows, music, eBooks, audiobooks, comics and more with a valid library card.” According to the press release, there was unlimited borrowing of these titles during the offer period that would not impact any borrowing/hold limits established by the library.

There is also the issue of limited-term access to titles, which may or may not be related to the per-use subscription models promoted by on-demand, streaming media services such as hoopla or OverDrive’s Libby. While Wroblewski’s test comparison of Libby and hoopla showed a tendency for titles to disappear on the latter and remain on the former, both platforms often had search inconsistencies that would surface a title on one platform and yield a null search result on another. For example, Wroblewski revealed that the following occurred in some sample searches she replicated in both applications: “[W]hen I searched for Bryan Lee O’Malley’s ‘Scott Pilgrim’ ebooks on Libby, there were no results. However, when using the same search terms on Hoopla, three titles with the complete Scott Pilgrim series were available for me to borrow along with soundtracks from the game and live-action movie. I conducted a similar experiment with the search terms ‘Michelle Obama.’ Hoopla returned a movie called ‘Michelle Obama: Forward Motion’ and several bibliography ebooks. Meanwhile, Libby returned Michelle’s popular memoir titled ‘Becoming’ that I was originally trying to find.”

Another issue is what each on-demand, streaming media platform allows users to do. For example, most TV applications limit the interactive capabilities with the content compared to their PC/smartphone counterparts. In addition, the TV applications only allow access to movies and television shows. Furthermore, the idea of overall user experience and user interface designs plays into how library patrons access and use on-demand, streaming media content. In this sense, application providers such as Midwest Tape for its hoopla applications and OverDrive for its Libby apps have worked hard to make overall look-and-feel experiences easy and intuitive. However, overall user experience/user interface functionality satisfaction then becomes a purchasing and maintenance criterion for library decision makers and an opportunity for patrons to join forces by providing feedback and sharing ideas.

Should You Offer or Extend Streaming Media?

Based on all of the previously mentioned information, here is a short checklist of questions to ask yourself:

✔ Can you afford it? Does the library budget cover an initial on-demand, streaming media package and/or title acquisition?

✔ Can you handle it? Do the library budget and circulation policies address and cover annual on-demand, streaming media per-view transactions?

✔ Can you support it? How has the library prepared to provide transaction support for titles circulated or accessed? How has the library prepared to provide technological support for the applications used to view on-demand, streaming media content?

✔ Can you assess it? What opportunities do library patrons have to provide feedback for on-demand, streaming media titles? Can you measure the frequency of use if access to titles is dynamic?

✔ Can you sustain it? Do your contracts with the on-demand, streaming media providers allow for periodic review of the agreements and modification of the terms and conditions to address budgetary and delivery needs and usage trends?

✔ Can you ignore it? Probably not.

Although libraries providing web-based, on-demand streaming media services is not new, the content delivery realm these services operate within continues to evolve. Characterized by dynamic shifts in content offerings, a multitude of acquisition models, potentially volatile use costs, and changing delivery platforms, streaming media services require a certain application-based skill set and a commitment by library staffers to support and maintain them. Yes, these challenges can be addressed, and we must address them in order to respond to patron demand for streaming media content as well as patrons’ content delivery device preferences. Thankfully, libraries have had to rise to meet needs like this in the past, and we have always exceeded expectations in our continuing desire to best serve our patrons. Can you do it? Yes, you can.

Resources

Hoffert, B. (2021) “Circ Disrupted | 2020 Materials Survey.” Library Journal. libraryjournal.com/?detailStory=Circ-Disrupted-2021-Materials-Survey .

Rosenblatt, B. (2017) “Hoopla Digital and Harper-Collins Disrupt Library E-Lending.” Copyright and Technology. copyrightandtechnology.com/2017/06/25/hoopla-digital-and-harpercollins-disrupt-library-e-lending.

Estes Valley Public Library. “Digital Collection hoopla Is a Success.” estesvalleylibrary.org/hoopla-success.

Cision PR Newswire. Bonus Borrows Are Back on hoopla Digital. prnewswire.com/news-releases/bonus-borrows-are-back-on-hoopla-digital-301222772.html.

Wroblewski, A. (2020) “Libby vs. Hoopla: Reader App Comparison.” Arts Management & Technology Laboratory. amt-lab.org/reviews/2020/7/libby-vs-hoopla-reader-app-compairson.


Tom AdamichTom Adamich (vls@tusco.net) is president of the Visiting Librarian Service, which is a firm he has operated since 1993. He is also serving as project archivist for the Greening Nursery Co. and Family Archives.