Fifty Percent of Circulation is DVDs, and That is Okay For Now

On last week’s library blog post my friend Joe gave me a challenge on his comment. He suggested I write about why no one states that fifty percent of circulation at one of the NYC library systems is Multi Media. Multi Media includes DVDs, CDs, and audiobooks. I will take on his question as best I can, and talk broader about circulation as a judgment factor for libraries.

I’m sure Joe checked his stats and I’ll take it as truth that half of what a major library system checks out is multi media.  Traditionally the push for libraries is to check out books, we help develop readers. By the shear size of the system in question with a total yearly circulation of over twenty million items, chopping that in half to ten million for printed materials is still not shabby. So if you think of that way that so much bulk is checked out, the fact that a majority of it might be DVDs is not that bad.

I hardly ever check out DVDs, I’m not a movie person, and I consider myself a reader. According to my book log, where I duly note every book read, I read about an average of thirty books a year. That is a little more that a book every two weeks.  With rare exceptions like gifts, I check out the majority of the books I read. I feel that as a library worker I should utilize the library, but with one or two books on my card I’m not really contributing to circulation. Now consider a movie fan, if they still use DVDs will check out five to ten movies for a weekend. It takes about two to three hours to watch a movie, whereas a book can take a day to months to finish.  A library patron that is into movies will check out a lot more DVDs that than the average reader or even a person that reads a lot.

In defense of movies it falls under the umbrella or ‘recreational’ services to the community.  That is a valid reason to use the library. If someone checks out five DVDs for a weekend they can entertain their family for free.  Netflicks, and Itunes are not free, and not everyone has a computer to download movies. Some people have no interest in computers, and we are not there yet to expect everyone to have access to things like movies and music only through computers.

For my first library blog entry this year, I asked people not to judge libraries with predictions of the future. We are being used heavily now, and that is what should matter for funding. But as a profession, our colleagues should think over some of these predications, especially with technology.  That is the core of why my friend Joe thinks that having fifty percent of circulation being multi media is a problem. In fall I got an Imac. I downloaded a few skate videos on Itunes, and it is easy to use. It will get easier and more available as time goes on. Some people are predicting that within five years they won’t make physical DVDs anymore, and that includes BlueRay. Currently DVDs make circulation numbers extremely high and that will eventually become less and less. Ereaders will effect the circulation to print materials as well.

My answer to that is that circulation may not be the most important thing for libraries. Children’s, teens and adults will need materials to supplement their education. The format might change, but librarians will need to be aware of basic needs for the communities. For some needs instead of materials perhaps programming or classes can be offered.  Information needs to be accessed and accessible. Librarians can help people with the information they need, or people should be able to access it on their own too.  I also think with the information part of services that providing local history has a place in libraries. Lastly providing recreational services might change from DVDs to video game programming, or whatever is popular.

All of the libraries core services can still be provided to communities with out emphasize on physical items going out of the library. Circulation is really just a number, one year the circulation went from twenty million to twenty one million and that was a success. Both seem like large numbers to me.

I think a more important factor is gate count and program attendance.  How many people go through the library each day, how long do they stay, and what do they do while they are there? Those are questions worth thinking about. I believe gate count is continuing to increase yearly. That’s a good thing

7 thoughts on “Fifty Percent of Circulation is DVDs, and That is Okay For Now

  1. I’ve always been a believer that circulation is not a true reflection of how important the library is to the community. We’ve got our regular customers using us on a daily basis–seniors reading newspapers, kids doing schoolwork, etc. And as for DVD circ, well, it may be true that it makes up the bulk of our total circ, but that’s not our mission alone–bringing a multitude of services}programs, school assignment material, resume and computer help, etc., etc.}that’s what the library does for people. I had a customer hand me two Buy-a-Book envelopes the other day with the specific request, “Buy BOOKS with this! None of that video stuff!!”

  2. Thanks Steve,
    I’ve had the same request when people make donations to the buy-a-book drive, some people don’t want their donations to go to movies. I agree that DVDs are not the focus of libraries, and are one thing available of many services. But I don’t see anything wrong with making DVD movies available. In some ways I feel there are more conversations about movies and pop cultures than books. I feel out of touch because I’m not a movie person.
    Thanks again for commenting,

  3. Joseph Grosso May 9, 2012 — 8:33 pm

    I certainly agree circulation isn’t the main factor when judging libraries. I’ll actually go further and say I don’t think it should be a factor AT ALL. MAtt you only answered my question halfway. As far as what you say there’s nothing much debate (though I could find some…like what exactly you mean by ‘recreation’ in this context). But my real question was why yourself (in you blog entries), librarians like Kristen who treated us to a Thomas Jefferson quote, and people like Mr Galente and the other library directors in NYC when they speak in front of politicians, don’t promote the fact that 50% of library circulation is DVDs when they defend libraries or ask for funding? (I think the answer is obvious and if it is then is it very hypocritical for the library to be funded as something (A) when in reality, based on circ numbers and our daily workdays, it is something else (B).)

  4. Joe,
    To answer your question for that point, I don’t think the statistic is flattering to libraries. For funding purposes they have to focus on the postive impact to communities not necessarily the overall impact. When our library system had the highest circulation in the country that was a good talking point. But to break down the material type would make it more confusing, and might turn people off that focus solely on the education aspect of libraries. There are so many things to talk about when asking for funding, I don’t blame anyone for not getting into the DVD issue.

  5. Joseph Grosso May 9, 2012 — 9:26 pm

    The DVD Issue? ‘I don’t think the statistic is flattering to libraries. For funding purposes they have to focus on the postive impact to communities not necessarily the overall impact’. Why is the statistic not flattering to libraries? Why would people focus solely on the library for educational purposes? Who are these people? So I take it you don’t think DVDs have a positive impact to communities?

  6. For people that want to ‘educate the masses’ through libraries, probably don’t like that we dish out DVDs, have video game programming, and so forth. I’m okay and glad we provide those outlets through the ‘recreational’ umbrella of our mission statements. But if you, a librarian, don’t understand part of library services include recreation for communities, perhaps the idea is hard to explain. I can’t make it clearly enough and it is kind of an abstract idea. My question to you is, why should people point that statistic out? I just think there are more positive things to focus on.

  7. I guess I’m indifferent to DVDs. It brings people in though and they are heavily used.

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