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Hunter McDaniel

I have no doubt that outsourcing DVD loans would be more efficient that having the library keep its own stock. I could imagine the libraries might contract with Netflix on a per shipment basis rather than by giving away subscriptions. The real problem might be dealing with those patrons who don't return the discs and who maybe claim they did.

The real question is your last one - should libraries be renting movies in the first place. My gut feeling is no (or not any more); there was a time when we needed libraries as a source for niche titles, but that is no longer the case.


I have borrowed numerous DVDs from my local library. Invariably the DVDs are in very poor condition with numerous deep scratches which prevent the DVDs from playing properly. DVDs from Netflix almost always work properly.How can we account for this difference? Unless libraries can ensure that their DVDs will not be excessively damaged they should not lend them. They are just wasting taxpayer money.


DVDs are not made to be handled by normal humans. They are very delicate and it doesn't take much to screw one up - no matter how careful you are.

With town budgets getting tightened, I doubt it'll be easy for a library to propose spending millions to get everyone a netflix account. Also what do you do about the local Blockbuster and video stores suing your town for running them out of business?

I remember back when libraries would loan out vinyl records. talk about some scratched up messes. You were better off putting a frisbee on your turntable.


God bless the San Francisco bay area. Seriously, they have nothing better than this to debate? How about donating the money to cancer research and making those self-important yuppies rent their own movies.


The difference between libraries and Netflix, Flushed, is that Netflix can afford to replace a scratched DVD that no longer plays very well. Libraries don't have that kind of budgetary luxery. (Also, a lot of people who check out a DVD and find that it is damaged don't actually TELL the librarians that there's a problem, so it just goes back into circulation. People pay for their Netflix disks, though, so are much more likely to complain when there is a problem with one.)

So, I wouldn't say this is a problem with the library, so much as a problem with patron attitudes (careless handling of free materials, e.g.) and budgets. Two things the public has more control over than the library itself. We do our best!

Signed, A Librarian!


HELL NO! What next? Will people who frequent the local library be enrolled in a "Book-of-the-Month" Club?

Hunter McDaniel

If we assume that there is a public interest in providing no-charge video rentals to the public (an open question in my mind) then what is the best way to accomplish that - (a) by having libraries stock and loan DVDs, using the same procedures as they always have for books or (b) providing library patrons with some kind of access to a commercial service (e.g., Netflix). Netflix is able to make money at about $3 per rental; I strongly suspect that the actual cost of providing DVD loans from a traditional library is much higher than that.

I could see this working as follows:
a) the library sets a budget for what it is willing to spend providing this service.
b) the library negotiates a contract with Netflix (or BBO) to provide rentals at $x per rental.
c) the contract limits rentals to the type of titles which match the library's purpose (primarily educational and older releases).
d) the library sets maximum usage policies so that a few abusers don't consume their whole budget for this service.
e) patrons select what they want from the library web-site, but 'check-out' sends the request to Netflix for fulfillment.
f) the patron is responsible to pay for lost/stolen items (just as today), but the library budget has a buffer for uncollectable debts of this sort.


@Hunter McDaniel

Your last post is well thought out but I see a few problems.

The biggest problem is that it will cost Netflix, or Blockbuster money. Not in the way that it is providing rentals to library users at a reduced rate. The way they will lose money is that many current Netflix and or Blockbuster users, myself included, would either close their current account or drop down a tier or maybe several tiers. The reason being; why should they (I) pay for the service if I can get it free through my local library?

A second problem is that the current expense for DVD's in most, if not all, cities that fund their libraries is extremely small compared to what it would cost to fund a type of "mass membership". The additional expense of funding this would come from increased taxes or would come from cutting other services just as it is done now. While I don't mind helping to purchase several hundred DVD's each year I DO NOT want to pay for thousands of Netflix, or Blockbuster memberships.

Your thoughts on those two problems would be appreciated.


Yes, that would work. Suppose the library buys 250 4-at-a-time memberships. This would make 1000 rentals available at any time to patrons.

$24 * 250 * 12 = $72,000/year

A patron may request only one Netflix from the library at a time. Adult patrons (18+) only, no kids (so the library doesn't have to bother with censoring who gets what; any adult could request any Netflix). Library orders it from Netflix. When it arrives, patron has 48 hr to come to library and pick it up. 7-day rental period, no renewals. Standard late fees apply. If the patron loses the DVD, the library imposes its charge for lost materials, and pays Netflix when the patron pays up. Some will be uncollectible but most will pay up.

The library saves the money it would normally spend on DVDs, and the library would not be left with a collection of abused, unplayable discs.

Hunter McDaniel

I'm sure that potential cannibalization of current subscribers is one factor Netflix and BBO would consider when deciding how to price the service they offered to a library. But the risk BBO would take by declining to bid on the library contract is that Netflix WILL - and vice versa.

As for your second problem, the main cost of for libraries to loan DVDs is not purchasing the discs themselves but rather the labor costs associated with cataloging, checking them out and in, reshelving, etc. So one would expect there should be some staff reductions associated with an outsourcing project like this, and that would be the source of the budget for the service. Now this is where any suggestion to improve government service by outsourcing runs into resistance - what's good for the public is not the same as what's good for public service employees.


I believe something like this will be more feasible when you can download your movies. Some libraries currnetly off audiobooks via downloads. The library pays for the service. I believe they can limit the qty of certain title. The title expire after two weeks.

Old Timer Too

It seems to me that there are a number of issues here: 1 - Materials not available locally, but only through the mail; 2 - having to provide a third party with privacy information; 3 - broad competition to local businesses (a limited number of titles is not competition, but 60,000 plus titles is).

As to whether a library should be in the business of "renting" titles, no. They are in the business of _loaning_ titles and there is a big difference. The key is that the library acquisitions desk should be selective in its choices, just as it should be selective for book, audio, and magazine titles. Far too many libraries, especially in smaller towns, are not selective. I was not amused when we visited a small town library a few years ago and found it lacked a good selection of research material for even high school students. The building was new and modern, but the selection was not suitable for students wanting to do any research.

Yes, there are problems associated with damaged DVDs, just as there are problems with damaged CDs, LPs, books, and magazines. Staff should always inspect returned materials to make sure that those responsible for damage pay for the repairs/replacements.

But the debate is almost absurb - the real question is whether libraries have become obsolete. Consider tying computers to a massive centralized database of imaged/digitized books, magazines, and recordings. Card holders would be able to tie into that datasource and view/listen to (but not download) the books, magazines, or recordings (streaming audio/video) either at home, or at the library. Students needing to capture source material could easily screen print the data they needed. "Fair use" would be protected and copyright issues avoided.

Edward R Murrow

If there's that much surplus budget in Palo Alto, why don't they start a soup kitchen in the nearest poor neighborhood?

The article states that $1.44 million per year of public money would be spent.

Doesn't seem like a very irreponsible use of taxpayers funds?

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