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I have oftentimes sung the praises of your local public library and all the extra services it offers beyond simply loaning out books. But it just keeps on getting better. Tired of paying money to ‘rent’ steaming films and TV shows through Crave, Amazon or Google Movies? Check out the free steaming services offered through your library.

For quite some time now, our local library has been offering the use of the Hoopla video and music streaming service, by signing up through a library membership. In the company’s own words “hoopla is a ground breaking digital media service offered by your local public library that allows you to borrow movies, music, audiobooks, eBooks, comics and TV shows to enjoy on your computer, tablet, or phone – and even your TV! With no waiting, titles can be streamed immediately, or downloaded to phones or tablets for offline enjoyment later. We have hundreds of thousands of titles to choose from, with more being added daily. Hoopla is like having your public library at your fingertips. Anytime. Anywhere.”

So long as you have internet service and a library card, there is a wealth of free content available to steam

Now, as good as that sounds, there are some limits naturally. At our public library, for example, the hoopla service offers access only to motion picture films, television shows and complete music albums. There are more than 230,000 titles in our collection, which includes current and past hits, as well as classics. The offerings are not static either – titles get pulled and new content is added regularly. There is a variety of genres to choose from, with something for all ages. I often find interesting films that are not available through the more common fee-based streaming services and may even have been too obscure to be shown in our local cinemas when they were in theatres.

The hoopla service is offered on a pay-per-circulation basis. In addition to taking some collection development pressure off libraries, a pay-per-circulation model like Hoopla’s allows an unlimited number of patrons to check out an item simultaneously, titles are available instantly with no holds, waitlists, or late fees. And best of all, much like borrowing e-Books through Overdrive, borrowed titles are automatically returned following the borrowing period, meaning no overdue fees for users! I have found no details on the cost of the hoopla service for our local library, but I have seen online references to other libraries indicating that when a patron checks out a video, audiobook, or album of music, his or her library pays a fee of between $0.99 and $2.99. The upside is that libraries only pay for what people are actually using. The downside is that libraries need to control costs, so they are likely to implement a limit to the number of times individual patrons can check out Hoopla materials each month. At our library customers can stream or temporarily download up to eight titles per month. The download feature is available exclusively on mobile devices, through the app. The borrowing period for movie and TV content is between 48-72 hours (2-3 days) and music albums (considered as one item) are borrowed for 7 days. Compared to the generous 21 day borrowing period for books, this is a limitation, but most clients are probably looking for instant watching when they borrow anyway, so it’s not a big deal in my eyes.

Recently I received a notification e-mail from my local library about a new digital video service called Kanopy, so of course I had to check it out. The tagline for Kanopy is “The World’s Finest Cinema Brought to You by Your Library.” The site also advertises that it has more than 26,000 documentaries, art house, and indie films. Admittedly, 26,000 is significantly fewer offerings than the 230,000 offered by Hoopla, so it might be difficult considered an inferior service. But here is where the magic of genre makes the difference! Indie films and documentaries are particular favourites in our household and that’s what Kanopy is all about. One of the things I most like about the service, since I’m all about value for money, is that the pricing model is cost-per-play for public libraries. So if patrons don’t use the service, the library doesn’t pay for it.

So long as you have internet service and a library card, there is a wealth of free content available to steam. So quit wasting your money on pay-to-play streaming services and check out your library offerings. After all, you are already paying for these services with your local property tax contributions. Why not take advantage of them?