understanding libraries' video success

Previously I estimated that, from 1985 to 2004, video circulation from U.S. public libraries grew 340%, compared to 140% growth in video rentals from video rental businesses. This estimate depended on a sub-estimate that video circulation from public libraries in 2004 was 15% of total library item circulation. Data that I did not previously consider suggest that video circulation from public libraries in 2004 was about 25% of book circulation, or about 20% of total library item circulation.[1] That figure implies a greater library video circulation growth advantage.  The revised circulation share implies that, from 1985 to 2004, video circulation from public libraries grew 9.2% a year, while video rentals from commercial outlets grew 4.4% per year.

Public libraries’ comparative video circulation success occurred with a much slower transition from video cassettes to DVDs. The ratio of DVDs to video cassettes rented from commercial rental businesses was 1.1 in 2002 and rose to 12 by 2005. For a sample of 11 libraries, this ratio reached 0.9 only in 2005 (see Table below). A sample of about 275 library systems in 2005 had a ratio of DVDs to video cassettes of 1.3.[2] Libraries’ video circulation shifted from a majority of video cassettes to a majority of DVDs about three years behind video rental stores’ rentals.

Ratio of DVDs to Video Cassettes Circulated
Year Rental Businesses Libraries
2002 1.1 n/a
2003 2.3 0.4
2004 4.5 0.6
2005 12 0.9
2006 115 1.7
Source: See [2]. Library ratio is for sample of 11 libraries.

Libraries’ relatively fast growth in video circulation and late transition to DVDs suggests that video quality is less important than video selection and video price. Libraries may have offered borrowers videos, including video cassettes, not available at video rental businesses. Libraries also offered free borrowing, as compared to fee-per-selection at video rental businesses. Desire for DVD-quality video viewing apparently wasn’t strong enough to shift a lot of video borrowing from libraries to video rental businesses.

Update: First paragraph revised to correct incorrectly defined, misleading numbers.


[1] Molyneux (2007), reporting data from the Normative Data Project for Libraries, documents that for 11 libraries, video circulation (video cassettes and DVDs) in 2004 was 26% of book circulation. For 275 library systems in 2005, video circulation was 35% of book circulation in 2005, compared to 34% of book circulation for the 11-library sample in 2005. Molyneux (2007) p. 403 notes variation in reporting among the 275 libraries over time. That does not affect the ratio of reported figures at a given time.  These data suggest that 2o% is a reasonable estimate for 2004 for video circulation as a share of total library item circulation.

[2] The video rental data are from Adams Media Research, as reported in U.S. Entertainment Industry: 2006 Market Statistics, p. 28. The library statistics are from Molyneux (2007).


Molyneux, Robert E. (2007) “Transitions: Library Circulation and Digital Formats,” in The Bowker Annual 2007: Library and Book Trade Almanac, pp.402-6.

2 thoughts on “understanding libraries' video success”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Current month ye@r day *