Got a computer, a tablet, or a smartphone? Got a library card? Then you’re all set to watch movies, TV shows, and educational programs, all for free. Two of the Island’s public libraries, West Tisbury and Oak Bluffs, are currently offering an on-demand digital streaming service called Kanopy. And others will be following the trend soon.
Kanopy features a broad selection of more than 30,000 feature films, documentaries, and foreign-language and training videos. The subscription service has been offered nationwide in libraries, schools, and nonprofit organizations since it was launched in 2008.
In August the New York Public Library system signed on to Kanopy, and the move generated a lot of publicity for the streaming service. In September the West Tisbury library started offering Kanopy, and earlier this month the Oak Bluffs library jumped on board. Plans are underway for the Edgartown library to add Kanopy to its offerings.
Anyone with a West Tisbury or Oak Bluffs library card can subscribe to the service for free by following a few simple steps online. Patrons are able to view 10 movies per month, and can access Kanopy from any device, including Roku, iOS, and Android apps.
This past spring, West Tisbury started offering patrons a similar service called Hoopla. Hoopla streams movies and television shows, as well as audiobooks, ebooks, music, and comic books/graphic novels. Hoopla KAI offers most of the Pimsleur language audiobooks. It can be used with Chromecast.
Rachel Rooney, IT and reference librarian for the West Tisbury Free Public Library, has found that the two services complement each other. “We felt that offering both gives our patrons many more options,” she says. “Hoopla offers patrons ebooks, audiobooks, and music, as well as the video content. Kanopy offers only video content, but has way more documentaries, PBS shows, indies, etc. Hoopla’s a little more mainstream.”
Both services use a pay-as-used model, charging the participating library a small per-view fee.
Unlike Netflix or Amazon, Kanopy has a wide selection of classic, foreign, and indie films, as well as numerous documentaries. One of the things that Nathan Luce, program coordinator at the Oak Bluffs library, is particularly excited about is the availability of the Criterion Collection on both Kanopy and Hoopla. Criterion focuses on licensing “important classic and contemporary films,” and specializes in classics, cult films, and world cinema. Both Hoopla and Kanopy also offer the Great Courses series — a collection of thousands of college-level video courses taught by professors and experts in many fields.
On-demand streaming services are one way that libraries all over are able to expand their inventory and keep up with the technology landscape. “Every library, including this one, is constantly shifting its purpose,” says Mr. Luce. “We’re trying to keep up with demand and the way people are consuming information and entertainment. It’s clear that our viewing habits are changing. People are shifting from DVDs to streaming services. Why feel stuck in an old pattern?”
Ms. Rooney sees the development as a positive one. “I think if anything, it just enhances the library’s offerings. I own books and audiobooks and ebooks. One thing hasn’t replaced the others. It just gives people more options. And it doesn’t cost the library any more, since we only pay for what people are using.”
Mr. Luce has also found that the addition of Kanopy has expanded the library’s reach. “It’s part of a larger initiative to be as inclusive as possible,” he says. “We have such a large number of our patrons who are here for six months, one month, maybe only a week, who still think of us as their home library. We want to offer ways to continue to serve people while they’re not here. They can still be an Oak Bluffs library patron. Ebooks were the first step in that direction. We’re also doing things like streaming our programs, and archiving them on our Facebook page. We’re also starting to work on podcasts.”
The West Tisbury library is continually looking for new ways to keep up with technology and provide services that reflect the direction in which things are moving: “We have Chromecasts, Rokus, and Wi-Fi hotspots available to borrow to help patrons with all of the cool new streaming services,” Ms. Rooney said.