Try to check out a hot new book or movie at your local library, and you're likely to get put on a long waiting list.
Libraries in the Chicago area are trying to change that by offering a new online checkout service. Instead of having a limited number of each book or movie, they can now offer unlimited access to titles — sometimes on the day they're released in stores.
The service is called hoopla digital and it's available through a mobile app or web browser at the Chicago Public Library and 23 suburban libraries. It first came online last year and is now in 300 libraries nationwide, including opening June 23 in Oak Park and an expected Aug. 1 launch in Palatine.
It marks an evolution in how libraries are trying to reach younger audiences who are used to getting content online rather than at a local library.
Hoopla officials say they charge a fee each time an item is used, from 99 cents to $2.99. The library pays the fee, so it's free to a cardholder — just enter an identification number on the library web site to access a catalog of books, movies, music and audio books. The company plans to add e-books at a later date.
The items can be streamed, or downloaded for later use. They have an automatic return date, generally from three days for a movie to three weeks for a book, so there are no late fees.
The system marks a departure from the recent model in which libraries pay a subscription or license fee for limited use of an item. For example, they might be able to virtually lend a maximum of three copies of each title.
But streaming services can offer access to an unlimited number of simultaneous uses of any title. There are still limits, however. Each library card holder is typically restricted to a set number of downloaded or streamed items. In the case of Chicago, it’s four per month.
This week, Chicago also received a $400,000 Knight Foundation Grant to check out portable wi-fi devices for patrons to use. Officials hope to also check out laptops or tablets for use in lower income areas that don't get much broadband service.
It's all part of an effort to improve access and reach online customers, especially young adults, industry consultants say.
Chicago has 2,200 patrons using hoopla since it launched in April, and has budgeted $75,000 to pay for the use through its foundation. The library has done business for years with hoopla’s owner, Midwest Tape LLC in Holland, Ohio, and hoopla has been successful in other locations like Seattle and Los Angeles, library spokesman Patrick Molloy said.
"It's groundbreaking service," Molloy said. "There's a movement in libraries to reach teens more than ever."
Library officials say the hoopla catalog of 200,000 titles is not as current as Netflix, but includes releases from Universal Pictures, NBC, MGM, National Geographic, fitness videos from Jillian Michaels, the new album from the Black Lips, best-selling authors and critically acclaimed new books like, “I Am Having So Much Fun Here Without You,” by Courtney Maum.
James Larue, a library consultant from Castle Rock, Colo., said he has some concerns about streaming services, but expects that consumers will find value in it.
“On the one hand, it's an interesting and reasonable offering in today's library market,” he said. “On the other, it's part of the continuing trend to move the content of our culture into private hands, and move it just a little farther from the public.”
Here’s a list of Illinois libraries that offer hoopla:
Addison Public Library (Addison)
Arlington Heights Memorial Library (Arlington Heights)
Barrington Public Library District (Barrington)
Bloomingdale Public Library (Bloomingdale)
Brookfield Public Library (Brookfield)
Champaign Public Library (Champaign)
Chicago Public Library (Chicago)
Cook Memorial Public Library District (Libertyville)
Ela Area Public Library (Lake Zurich)
Elmhurst Public Library (Elmhurst)
Franklin Park Public Library (Franklin Park)
Glen Ellyn Public Library (Glen Ellyn)
Highland Park Public Library (Highland Park)
Ida Public Library (Belvidere)
Indian Prairie Public Library (Darien)
Indian Trails Library District (Wheeling)
La Grange Public Library (La Grange)
Lisle Library District (Lisle)
Morton Grove Public Library (Morton Grove)
Oak Park Public Library (Oak Park)
Park Ridge Public library (Park Ridge)
Prospect Heights Public Library (Prospect Heights)
Rockford Public Library (Rockford)
Riverside Public Library (Riverside)
St Charles Public Library (St. Charles)
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