Sno-Isle Libraries see growing demand for DVDs

EVERETT — Friday afternoons are the busiest times for browsing the DVD shelves of the Mukilteo Library.

Hoping to snag a copy of “American Sniper,” last year’s Oscar-nominated war biopic? Good luck.

There were 858 pending holds for the movie on Tuesday, for 103 copies in Sno-Isle Libraries.

It’s the most popular DVD among Sno-Isle’s 21 branches. The library’s DVD rentals have been climbing steadily for years, data show. Sno-Isle saw 2.1 million DVD rentals in 2014, compared to 1.4 million in 2008. At the Everett Public Library, on the other hand, DVD circulation is healthy but declining a bit, at 218,486 rentals in 2014 from 230,236 in 2008.

Librarians at Sno-Isle are hesitant to cite any cause-and-effect for the growth. Likely, they said, it’s a combination of factors, including the decline of video stores, new technologies and shifts in library policy. Also add in cultural change, namely the phenomenon of binge-watching and the nostalgic appetite for childhood favorites. One generation gravitates to “The Andy Griffith Show,” another “Friends.”

Another obvious attraction lies in library cards being free. Even roadside DVD machines require a credit card number and a few bucks a day.

Last year, Sno-Isle added hoopla, a streaming service that includes movies, books and music. Film options, for now, are more limited than on shelves but unlike Netflix, hoopla has home exercise videos.

Streaming shows promise, but it likely will take years before it replaces physical copies, said Jim McCluskey, the collection development assistant manager.

Sno-Isle started adding popular films in 2009, while Everett’s always carried them. Before 2009, the Sno-Isle collection focused on independent and foreign films — titles folks couldn’t pick up at the Blockbuster down the road.

Every Sno-Isle branch offers DVDs. They aim for a holds ratio of 5-to-1, McCluskey said.

Meanwhile, the Everett Public Library, with two branches, offers 10,752 titles on DVD. A little less than 5 percent of the library’s materials budget goes to DVDs, Director Eileen Simmons said.

They make changes in response to customer requests. For example, in recent years they’ve extended feature film rentals to a week. They also started packaging television shows as seasons rather than individual discs. That may be a factor in the apparent decline in rentals, she said.

“It seems as if TV shows have really changed the landscape for us,” she said. “Not everyone in Everett subscribes to cable, probably true for Sno-Isle, too, and they love to get popular shows. We almost always have hold queues for series like ‘Game of Thrones’ or ‘Mad Men.’”

So far in May, the most popular DVD rentals in Everett are “Thor: The Dark World,” “The Hunger Games: Catching Fire” and 2013 Disney juggernaut “Frozen.”

Neither library system offers VHS tapes anymore.

With DVDs, as with books and other materials, Sno-Isle aims to offer a browsing experience, said Nancy Messenger, the collection development manager. For young customers, streaming is preferred now, particularly for music and increasingly for movies, she said. Conversely, though, the big movie studios haven’t been eager to partner with library streaming vendors.

Box office-style titles are limited to around 100 copies at Sno-Isle, and holds eventually drop off, she said.

Still, in some genres — fantasy and old westerns, for example — demand always outstrips supply, Messenger said. Sitcoms from past decades also are seeing renewed interest.

“Things like ‘The Dick Van Dyke Show’ and ‘Gilligan’s Island,’ those are really, really popular,” she said.

Any title that takes more than four hours to watch — such as a television season or a miniseries — gets a 21-day checkout, Sno-Isle spokeswoman Julie Titone said.

“We all know and understand the phenomenon of binge watching,” she said.

Rikki King: 425-339-3449;

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