On-demand digital content comes to public libraries with hoopla

On-demand digital content comes to public libraries with hoopla

Your local public library just got a novel update.

A new service called hoopla digital has come to Chicago, and it's about to change the way library card holders borrow content. Through a partnership with the Chicago Public Library, hoopla is allowing library patrons to access movies, TV shows, music, ebooks, and audiobooks on-demand. Content can be streamed to PCs, tablets, or smartphones, and downloaded to allow for offline viewing any time. There's no need to worry about late fees; hoopla features an automated return service that cuts off access to whatever you've borrowed once your time is up.

A service from media distribution company and long-time library partner Midwest Tape, hoopla started in beta last year and has been systematically banding with libraries across North America since. It's now available in more than 320 library systems, which represents 1,700 buildings, give or take. As of this month that includes all 79 Chicago Public Library branches and a number of suburban locations like those in Park Ridge and Barrington; Oak Park goes live next week. "Chicago is one of our most exciting markets," says Jeff Jankowski, founder and vice president of hoopla digital. "We serve such a large population here." Overall, hoopla currently reaches about 70 million North American consumers.

Hoopla's changing the way we access books, music, and movies, but it's also giving public libraries new relevance. Traditionally, the process of borrowing a new release went something like this: arrive at your local library, find The New York Times bestseller you were itching to read is checked out, put your name on the reserve list, wait for months. According to Jankowski most libraries abide by the one user, one copy model, which means that patrons often have to "jump through hoops" to get what they want. With hoopla digital all of its 200,000 titles are available simultaneously, any time of day. Users need only download the hoopla app and punch in their library card number in order to stream content. "It's leveraging technology the way it was meant to be leveraged," Jankowski says. The number of items a user can stream at a time varies from library to library, but Chicago libraries are currently offering 4 items per month.

The Chicago Public Library's initiation into on-demand movies and books puts it in a position to compete with services like Netflix and Oyster for consumers' attention, particularly content-hungry millennials accustomed to instant content gratification. Jankowski doesn't see these services as direct rivals, though. Eighty per cent of what hoopla offers isn't available on Netflix, because hoopla's titles include a lot of educational content along with categories like children's programming, fitness videos, and documentaries. That said, it can deliver the new Coldplay album on the same day it's released on iTunes and get you bestsellers like author Karin Slaughter's Cop Town.

"Digital media is still in its infancy, and we're really conscientious about differentiating the public library offerings," Jankowski says. That benefits libraries of course, but it's the patrons who will really come out ahead. To find out if your local library is already offering hoopla digital, take a look at the company's library map. You can download hoopla digital here to stream on your browser, and here for Android and iOS.

With summer in full swing it's the perfect time to rediscover your local public library with hoopla.

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    Tessa Wegert

    Tessa Wegert has been covering digital media and tech trends as a journalist and columnist since 2001. Her articles have appeared in USA Today, Mashable, Ocean Drive Magazine, ClickZ, The Montreal Gazette, and Marketing Magazine.

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