County libraries launch on-demand video streaming

Movie lovers in Baltimore County — who also are library patrons — now have a place from which to access movies and other video entertainment on demand for free.

The Baltimore County Public Library system announced last week that it has added a new video streaming service called Kanopy to its digital collection. The service features more than 26,000 titles and is available immediately to all library cardholders, library spokeswoman Erica Palmisano said.

The service makes movies, documentaries, indie and foreign films available through an easy-to-use, curated interface, Palmisano said.

Library cardholders must sign up for an account that allows them to use the service. Users can stream up to 15 films a month from any compatible device, including Roku, iOS and Android.

"Not everyone can afford monthly subscription fees for big-name streaming services, so we're excited to be able to provide our cardholders free access to high-quality movies right from home," she added.

Though a similar service called Hoopla is available at some libraries in Maryland, Baltimore County's library system is the first in the Baltimore metro area to offer Kanopy.

Library systems in Carroll County, Harford County and Howard County offer Hoopla, while the Enoch Pratt Free Library in Baltimore City offers InstantFlix. Both are similar to Kanopy, but offer fewer video items.

Hoopla offers about 15,000 movies and television shows to Howard County Library System patrons, spokeswoman Christie Lassen said in an email.

The Anne Arundel County Library System is considering adding Hoopla or Kanopy, but does not currently offer video streaming due to the cost of providing such a service, according to library representatives in the county.

Libraries sign up for subscriptions and pay upfront annually to use the service based on the average use from the previous year or the expenditures of other libraries of similar size. The service's mission is to "make the finest cinema accessible to as many people in as many places as possible," according to a Kanopy spokeswoman.

"It's pretty unique, as of now, though I'm sure more libraries will come on board as it gains in popularity," Palmisano said of Kanopy.

More demand, less money

Nationwide, libraries have had to adapt to increasing demands for digital products but decreasing budgets, said Christine Peterson, a member of the Library and Information Technology Association board of directors. The association is a division of the American Library Association, which works to promote library service and librarianship.

Video streaming services are more common at larger libraries with larger budgets, Peterson said, adding that public library officials do not want to provide a popular service that they later would have to cancel because it becomes too expensive to maintain.

"Library budgets are not going up," Peterson said. "In many cases they are going down, so a library really has to look at the services they're providing. If they want to bring on another service they sometimes have to take out one that isn't being used."

The Baltimore County Library System serves more than 800,000 residents through its 19 branches with an annual budget of about $39.8 million. It is the third largest library system in Maryland in terms of users served and budget size, behind those in Montgomery County and Prince George's counties.

"It's a very flexible model," Peterson said. "The thing that can be unnerving is [libraries] don't know how much they're going to spend. They don't know how many patrons are going to use the service. So a lot of times they'll allow them to set a cap so libraries don't overspend."

Kanopy, which began marketing to public libraries in 2016, charges libraries a varied fee for each video that is streamed. The on-demand video streaming was founded in 2008 and originally intended for educational institutions.

More than 3,000 college campuses provide the service to 5 million students and library card holders in 118 countries, Kanopy spokeswoman Karen Marines said. Additionally, 186 public libraries, includes those in Los Angeles, Chicago, Brooklyn and Cincinnati offer the service.

"We received a lot of interest from the general public writing in [and] asking how they could access Kanopy, and also from students asking how they could continue watching Kanopy after they left college," Marines said. "Now we can direct them to local libraries in their community."

In Carroll County, increasing the system's video streaming offerings with Kanopy was not something officials there considered until recently, said Joe Thompson, the system's director of public services.

The library system has seen the greatest growth in audiobook use on Hoopla, which went from around 9,000 downloads in 2015 to more than 16,000 in 2016, Thompson said.

However, in the past year, patron use of video streaming on Hoopla also increased by 1,000 additional views from 2015 to 2016, leading officials to reconsider, Thompson added.

"It's something that libraries have to do to keep with the times," said Thompson, who also is the vice president of the Maryland Library Association, an advocacy and professional development group for Maryland library workers.

"We're always looking at ways to meet expectations and try to be predictive of what county residents are going to be looking for," Thompson said.

In Baltimore County, users are capped at 15 videos per month to control costs, according to Jamie Watson, manager of the library's collections department.

The service will cost about $25,000 its first year, Watson said. However, the final amount may be lower depending on how many videos are streamed. Use of the service is still in double digits, but in the past few days the number of videos streamed has doubled, Watson said.

Baltimore County library cardholders interested in using the service can set up an account to use the streaming service at https://bcpl.kanopystreaming.com. First-time users must sign up for an account by confirming an email address and entering library card information and a pin.

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