A new year is typically chock-full with the promise of change, and city libraries are not immune.
Starting Jan. 28, many libraries — including branches like Riverdale, Spuyten Duyvil and Van Cortlandt Village — are losing a bit of their DVD weight. In fact, of the 35 branch libraries in the Bronx, only 10 will still have a direct DVD checkout option once 2019 starts. The remaining branches will require an online reservation and a little wait for the DVD to be delivered.
Why? DVD checkouts have dropped drastically at a number of libraries, and those with the highest checkout rates, like the Kingsbridge Library at 291 W. 231st St., will absorb DVD collections from other local branches, becoming a media hub.
It’s a move that might make sense to the library system, but not every patron is on board.
“This kind of decision doesn’t hold any water when you look beyond the surface,” said Nat Solomon, a former city school teacher, who is a regular visitor to Van Cortlandt Library. “They’re going to lose traffic and they’re going to lose a lot of poor people, single parents and seniors by transferring videos to different branches and neighborhoods. It’s not going to make a difference but cut down on the people who borrow videos in all the other branches where the videos are disappearing.”
However, library officials anticipate DVDs to be checked out much more efficiently, and maybe even become a little more popular, said Michael Alvarez, one of the library’s associate directors in the Bronx.
“We’d like to actually see an increase in DVDs,” Alvarez said. “We’re also anticipating the (reservation) process to be used heavily.”
Nearly 70 percent of Bronx library branches will use the digital reservation option next year along with 70 percent of Manhattan branches, said library spokeswoman Angela Montefinise. As of now, there are 14 branches in the city and four in Staten Island scheduled to become designated DVD hubs. Bronx hub libraries include the Bronx Library Center and Kingsbridge as well as libraries in Allerton, Baychester, City Island, Francis Martin, Hunts Point, Parkchester, Pelham Bay and Wakefield.
When Louise Salant discovered her local library on Sedgwick Avenue was moving to Cannon Place, she felt inconvenienced. But moving DVDs out of the Van Cortlandt branch? That’s the last straw.
“It just makes it harder to get something that you want, and I do not reserve my books or anything online,” Salant said. “If you reserve it, you have to wait until it comes in, and then you have to be available to come and pick it up. That’s what happens when reserving books, and it ends up depriving people. And we’re not talking about the millennials.”
The library leadership is monitoring how the program comes together, Montefinise said. And if there needs to be change, they’ll make changes.
“For example, Van Cortlandt is getting a brand new library, and when it opens, we will consider whether that new site could potentially hold DVDs there,” Montefinise said.
The demise of DVDs isn’t the fault of geography, however. Many people no longer depend on the discs to watch television shows or movies, instead opting for the far more convenient streaming methods that don’t require a trip out of the house, let alone a trek to the library. Demand for DVDs have dropped 30 percent over the past four years, library officials said.
“Over the years, libraries have offered eight tracks, vinyl, VHS cassettes, etc.,” Montefinise said.
“As the formats became less popular and circulation dropped, the library had to make decisions about how to use its resources. That is what is happening with DVDs. It is always an adjustment, but the library must plan responsibly and respond to the needs of its patrons.”
Part of Solomon’s frustration stems from not being included in the decision, unlike local branch managers and staff who were. The library made their decisions based on patron behavior rather than patron input.
“Companies and organizations can always fix a budget problem,” Solomon said. “I think (the city library system) is ill-advised to bring on this proposed change, and especially (since) the people who are most affected were not even involved with the decision making.”
Even if patrons don’t have a computer at home, or are not as skilled when it comes to making a reservation, computers are on hand at local branches that can accept DVD reservations, officials said.
However, for local political leaders like Councilman Andrew Cohen and Assemblyman Jeffrey Dinowitz, the possibility of losing direct DVD service is problematic. In a joint letter to George Mihaltses, an administrator for the city library system, they said consolidating DVD services will affect senior citizens the most.
“We understand that as technology continues to advance, certain changes are necessary,” the lawmakers said. “But once again, many seniors rely on the DVD program as they generally do not have access to a computer.”
Aspects like the size of the community, public transportation, proximity to hubs and accessibility were taken into consideration when it came to choosing the reservation branches and hubs.
“I know that the librarians at Van Cortlandt are upset at this change because a lot of their shelves are going to be empty,” Solomon said. “Then what are they going to do? How are they going to fill their shelves? What’s stopping them from getting rid of books and computers, too?”