Digital days

Minneapolis Public Library expanding online offerings to include movies, television programs

With just a few clicks of the mouse, Minneapolis Public Library cardholders will soon be able to check out movies and television shows online, download them onto their computer and watch them without ever leaving the comfort of home.

The new service, which library officials expect to launch in May, will add to a growing list of materials - including online books and music - Minneapolis library cardholders can already access on the library's website.

The new services are part of a larger effort by the library to expand its online materials.

Kathy Boyd, coordinator of collection management at the Minneapolis Public Library (MPL), said adding movies and TV shows to the library's online content is part of an effort to keep pace with what patrons want and expect in a rapidly evolving digital age.

&#8220Libraries are striving to make as much content as possible available 24/7,” Boyd said. &#8220That's what people expect these days.”

The movies and TV shows will be available through a video-on-demand service called MyLibraryDV. The vendor of the program notes in its promotional materials that libraries can turn their websites into &#8220a new branch location to provide unique entertainment and information.” With MPL's physical branch locations open limited hours due to a strained budget that prompted the indefinite closure of three of the system's 15 libraries late last year, library officials said having materials available online is one way to provide some content to patrons 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

The program costs $29,500 per year. Boyd said deciding how much money to spend on new technology versus building on its collection of physical materials is a balancing act, especially with a tight budget. MPL's collection department puts its budget into four areas - electronic resources, reference materials, periodicals (such as magazines), and physical materials such as books, DVDs and CDs. Boyd said much of the library literature she reads notes that the future of libraries rests largely in digital content. So despite a looming financial crisis, Boyd said MPL is making a commitment to improving the system's electronic resources.

&#8220We still forge ahead and do what we can with our budget,” Boyd said.

Downtown resident Al Bastin, who had two DVDs in hand as he browsed through the CD collection at a busy Central Library, said he would likely give the library's online movies and TV shows a try when they're available. Yet even if checking out DVDs and TV shows online works well, Bastin said it still wouldn't change his routine of walking the few blocks from his residence to the library once or twice a week.

&#8220It wouldn't stop me from coming here,” Bastin said.

And while he said he understands the library's need to invest in digital technology, Bastin said it's hard to justify when the new $100 million-plus Central Library is only open five days a week for limited hours because of the library system's financial problems.

&#8220It's nice to try to keep up with the times, but at the same time it's sad that this building is closed Mondays,” Bastin said, sweeping his hand toward the majestic architecture of the facility that opened less than a year ago. &#8220It's a catch-22.”

Cheryl Luger, a library supporter and founder of Save Our Urban Libraries (S.O.U.L.) who waged efforts this past year to get MPL to pour whatever resources it could into keeping its 15 libraries open, said she agrees that the library needs to invest in digital resources.

&#8220It's what people want. If they're going to stay competitive, that's what they need to do,” Luger said, adding that she views the addition of more online resources as a &#8220long-term investment.”

Minneapolis is the first library system in the Metropolitan Library Service Agency (MELSA), an organization linking 103 public libraries in the seven-county metro area, to purchase this movie and TV show service.

&#8220We wanted to be ahead of the curve on this one,” Boyd said.

Like the online books and music already available, the movies and TV shows will be accessible from a link on MPL's website. Library cardholders will find the materials by clicking on the &#8220research tools” link on the left-hand side of the MPL website, Cardholders will then need to click on &#8220databases” and then on &#8220entertainment.” When the service is up and running, cardholders will find a link there titled &#8220My TV and Video Downloads.”

By clicking on the link, library cardholders can - after entering their library card information - browse a wide range of movies and TV shows that are divided into categories such as documentaries, food, health, how-to, travel, children's programming and movies. A movie collection of &#8220Hollywood Favorites” features 500 titles including several Woody Allen movies, &#8220West Side Story,” &#8220Magnificent Seven,” &#8220Fargo,” &#8220I Shot Andy Warhol” and &#8220On Golden Pond.” A number of American and British TV series will also be available, including &#8220The Addams Family,” the &#8220Pink Panther Show” cartoon, Agatha Christie's &#8220Poirot” and others.

Other programs include cooking shows such as &#8220Julia Child's Kitchen Wisdom,” travel shows such as &#8220Globe Trekker,” interviews with authors such as Pulitzer-prize winner John McPhee and public television staples such as &#8220Antiques Roadshow.” Boyd said MPL might also take advantage of a feature of the program that allows the library to put its own video content online. This could be one way to broadcast the Minneapolis Public Library Board meetings, which are currently not televised. Library officials just recently started recording the audio of board meetings and making it available on MPL's website.

Once a library user has selected a title, he or she can download it to his or her desktop. The first time a library cardholder checks out a movie or TV show from the MPL site, he or she will have to install download manager software. The movies and TV shows can be checked out for seven days. After that period, the file expires on the computer and is no longer accessible. A patron is allowed to have up to 10 downloaded programs in any seven-day period and early returns are not permitted.

Because library computers have a limit on how much time each visitor can spend on them, Boyd said the movies and TV shows are really meant for library patrons to view on their home computers rather than at the branch libraries.

Other online materials MPL currently offers include online books - those for both children and adults - that feature audio. Cardholders check out the books and read them on their computer screen. MPL's website also features music that is streamed online. The current music selection is limited to an extensive classical music library, African American music of the early 20th century and folk music from the Smithsonian Global Sound. Boyd said a more extensive online music service is something the library might also consider in the future.

Reach Kari VanDerVeen at 436-4373 or [email protected].