Re: Public libraries and video collections (long)

Chuck Ebert (
Fri, 10 Dec 1999 07:45:56 -0800 (PST)

I'm being pulled in two directions on this issue. For the most part it's the
cheap popular movies that are disappearing or are getting damaged. I don't even
bother replacing Terminator, T2, Full Metal Jacket, or (believe it or not)
Annie, anymore because I know somebody will take them out and never return
them. It's happened too many times in the past. With music it's even worse.
If you buy a copy of Dark Side of the Moon for your collection, you may as well
wrap it up with a bow because it's a gift to the first punk who comes along. I
really feel like I'm wasting the public's money in cases like that.

Cost and damage is factor, too. Like the earlier poster, I admit that when I'm
going over reviews, I skip the ones for titles that are a couple hundred
dollars. The main reason is that I have to stretch my budget, but I also don't
want to have that conversation where I tell a patron he/she owes us $240 for a
half hour tape. In my defense I would point out that a large price tag doesn't
always guarantee high production values. It's hard to get much slicker than a
Nova or a National Geographic and you can pick those up for $20. You can find
material on most topics of interest to public library patrons in that price

The irony is that a $500 documentary on agricultural practices in East Timor
probably won't get stolen. It probably won't get damaged either, because it
probably won't go out. I'm pressed for space so I have to do a lot of weeding
and I just hate to get rid of a tape that cost us a bundle and circulated maybe
three times in five years. I give it to the Friends and they sell it for a
buck. It seems like a waste of money and time to me. And yet if you buy
certain popular items at the other extreme, they will get stolen or damaged and
that's a waste too.

It's one of those dilemmas that make our jobs so interesting.

-Chuck Ebert
Head, Audio-Visual Services
Muskingum County Library System
Zanesville, OH

Andrea Slonosky wrote:

> I worked in a large urban public library until quite recently, and spent a
> lot of time tracking lost or vandalized items, and deciding whether or not
> to replace items that had already gone missing several times.
> It seems to me that the main motivation in collection development, at least
> on the parts of some public library administrators is to get bodies into
> libraries, boost use and statistics, and prove to money granting powers that
> the library does serve the public, and is worth funding. The general feeling
> is that communities who are using libraries at all, in any form, are going
> to be better off than those who are not. Is there a better way to bring
> people into the library than by offering them free movies?
> With this kind of objective, it is not surprising that libraries are trying
> to market themselves as an alternative to B& N, etc. This results in the
> acquisition of materials which are popular to the greatest number of people
> who will use the library. In some areas this means that the library
> maintains a collection of 'Bollywood' films, or perhaps the latest and
> greatest horror films.
> If the policy is successful, and more people come to the library, more
> items circulate more frequently and are at a higher risk of never coming
> back. This then results in a reluctance to purchase high priced, high
> quality items, not necessarily on the part of the individual librarian, but
> on the part of the institution as a whole. The problems in retrieving
> 'lost' items are perceived as bad pr for the library, rather than as an
> effort by a public institution to recover the public's property. There is
> also the hard fact that what many people want to see are the action flicks,
> which are cheap to buy and replace. The beautifully produced, sensitive
> documentary/art films discussing situations many of our users would
> otherwise have no conception of are seen as a waste of money and space. It
> is a cynical attitude, and as I understand it, not quite what a public
> library is about.
> I would be interested to hear other opinions and experiences.
> Andrea Slonosky
> Media Librarian
> LIU - Brooklyn