Bits and bytes are increasingly replacing paper and plastic at area public libraries.
While tablets and streaming services have dominated the entertainment and media market for several years, app developers are starting to integrate the technology into the oldest media hub: public libraries.
Bloomingdale is integrating the library media streaming service hoopla into its circulation, and has joined the larger trend of libraries embracing digital streaming services.
Hoopla, designed by Toledo-based library media distributor Midwest Tape, is a Netflix-like app that allows users to stream films, music and audiobooks for free with a library card. The service offers 200,000 individual titles in its current library and is expanding into other media areas such as graphic novels and periodicals with plans to include e-books by the end of the year.
"We took the inefficiencies out of the current library media checkout," said Jeff Jankowski, Midwest Tape vice president and founder of hoopla. "Past systems would limit online or downloadable content based on what the library already had and limit checkouts, but hoopla operates on a pay-per-circ system."
Jankowski says that system is key to hoopla's economic efficiency.
The library pays for each audiobook, album or movie (typically around $1.99) streamed by a member instead of paying an often expensive licensing fee for a piece of media. In that way, titles with less demand don't weigh down the budget, and streaming services have the potential to cut down the cost of operating libraries.
But Jankowski doesn't see streaming services like hoopla as a privatization of traditionally public libraries.
"We have been working on media distribution and budget portals with Chicago-area libraries already, and so hoopla is just an extension what we do to make these libraries more efficient," he said.
The library streaming model has been a success, he says, with 23 suburban systems adopting hoopla since its launch last year, including Glen Ellyn, Lisle and Addison. The latest, Bloomingdale Public Library, introduced the system in February.
More than 75 percent of Bloomingdale residents have a library card, and library Director Tim Jarzemsky sees the marriage of streaming services and libraries as a natural development.
"I see the service as a complement to our current system," he said. "Libraries have always been community gathering places, and this is an adaptation and development of how we give library patrons what they want."
That community element is being reinforced by the new content hoopla is including, such as SAT-prep courses and group yoga videos. With seven free digital checkouts a month, Bloomingdale residents are taking advantage of the service, and the library has almost 140,000 titles to digitally stream.
"Libraries are really the last consistent public source for wonderful customer service and are often pillars of the community," Jankowski said. "Streaming services are really the way we can integrate what residents want to what a library has the potential to be."