Do movie megapacks make sense for public libraries?

When I was copyfitting the December 2006 Cites & Insights, getting it down from 33 to 28 pages, I cut several paragraphs from the end of Offtopic Perspective: 50-Movie All Stars Collection Part 2. This post isn’t those paragraphs, but covers the same ground. It’s entirely speculative, and if your response is “That’s the stupidest thing Crawford’s said in months,” you may be right.

The question is: Would any of the 50-movie megapacks actually make sense for public library collections?

[I’ll suggest offhand that they do make sense for academic libraries in institutions with any sort of film studies, but only as “filler”–cheap sources of third-rate transfers of movies, many historic and mostly old, many of which aren’t likely to be readily available elsewhere.]

If the answer is “no,” then these essays are appearing purely for amusement value. Not that I’m uncomfortable with that, mind you.

My answer is NoMaybe–and Yes.”

  • NoMaybe: I suspect it would be cumbersome for most libraries to acquire these megapacks as regular circulating items, cataloging them (presumably only the package–after all, spelling out all of the movies and stars would cost a lot more than the megapacks themselves) and circulating each 12- or 13-DVD set as one item. Added:A few libraries are opting to catalog each disc and circulate it separately; more power to them. [Bullet modified slightly based on reality.]
  • Yes: I think a fair number of public libraries could use these as supplemental casual-circulation items–but not using traditional acquire/catalog/process/protect/circulate methods.

Here’s what I mean. And hey, if you find it laughable, enjoy the laugh.

Quick update: I should have checked first! Clearly, some libraries have acquired some of these sets–at least 24 show as holding Mystery classics, which strikes me as a fine choice although I haven’t picked it up yet–and some have chosen to catalog each disc as a separate item. (Thus the multiple occurrences of some sets in Those libraries and library cooperatives know what they’re doing. Still, I suspect that for most public libraries these are cumbersome sets to handle that way. I should also note that some of the sets already have cataloging in Worldcat, spelling out the contents in full. End of quick update. Here’s an alternative method…

Some public libraries (many public libraries?) have informal paperback collections, fueled by donations and made available as casual supplements to the real collection. The paperbacks aren’t cataloged, have at most a genre mark or first-letter-of-last-name mark on the spines, don’t have security tags, and aren’t integrated in with the rest of the collection. They’re in a separate area, and patrons know they can just pick one up that looks interesting and bring it back when they’re done. Or drop off the paperback they just finished.

I believe that’s true; I know I’ve seen it in some libraries I used in the past. (It’s also true on most cruise ship libraries, and I’ve both contributed to and used those informal supplemental collections. I suspect that the ship librarian or library-attendant checks the paperback shelf once a day or so to remove anything that’s inappropriate.)

That’s what I’d do with the megapacks–start an informal video exchange collection, one that could be fueled by patron donations of the TV series that they know they’re not going to watch again (for example). You’d need a DVD or CD browsing tray or two alongside the paperback shelf. Here’s how I’d do it, if I thought it was worth doing–and in a community with a fair number of retirees who own DVD players, I think it might be worth doing.

  • Take $100 or a couple of hundred (the Friends might fund this) and pick up a few of the megapacks. Amazon has them (all, I think), at anywhere from $12 to $20 per 50-movie collection. has them at $15 or so. There are other sources. (Baker & Taylor and Ingram Entertainment both distribute DVDs from the publisher, so your library seller might even have them–but don’t pay more than $20-$25 unless there’s an awfully good reason,) The company itself is currently named Mill Creek Entertainment (formerly Treeline). At this writing, there are 21 different 50-movie packs, including Drive-In Movie Classics, Nightmare Worlds, and Warriors (mostly “Sons of Hercules” and that ilk). There’s some duplication among sets, but not a lot–and for more recent sets, the MCE website offers a summary of each flick including which sets it’s included in. Which sets should you get? Explore. (Note: There are also 20-movie and 10-movie sets, almost but not entirely derived from the 50-movie packs. I would avoid the “Cult Classics” 20-movie pack, almost all of which is unique; glancing at the titles and descriptions, it’s a little seedy for the average library. Well, a lot seedy, actually: There’s a reason that almost none of these flicks show up in the 50-movie packs.] Gunslingers? Westerns? Musicals? Hollywood legends? All good possibilities.
  • Don’t catalog them, add security strips, or repackage them in locking DVD cases or any other kind of DVD cases. Do that, and you’ve doubled or tripled the cost of the pack, and the fact that these are (mostly) mediocre VHS-quality scans, some of them with missing frames, will be more significant.
  • Remove the contents of the megapack (cardboard box): 12 or 13 CD-size cardboard sleeves, each sleeve containing the blurbs for the movies on the DVD in the sleeve. Those sleeves are your informally-circulating items. I wouldn’t even stamp them with the library name (hard to do without obscuring some of the blurbs, although admittedly some of the blurbs are so wrong that they should be obscured). I’d cut out the back panel of the box, which lists all of the movies, and have it available in the tray.
  • There’s your collection. If you spent $100 at Overstock or Amazon, chances are you now have at least 48 and maybe 60 circulating sleeves, most sleeves containing 4 movies totalling about 6 hours. A few sleeves will have five or six “movies”; a very few will have two. (There are at least two 13-disc packs where they couldn’t find very short “movies” to make up the 50.)
  • Enhancing this informal collection: If you have a couple of staff members who’ve purchased TV series on DVDs, and know they’re done with them, add those series to the informal collection–which is just a little more difficult. You’ll need to purchase slimline or regular CD jewel boxes (not DVD cases). For single-sided discs, just put each disc in a jewelbox. For double-sided or if you want to get fancy, photocopy the booklet (or the DVD case back, on really cheaply-packaged sets) and put the appropriate page as an insert in each jewel box.
  • Worst case: The DVDs all disappear and the experiment’s a failure.
  • Second worst case: Patrons don’t understand the disclaimer–that these are not part of the formal library collection, that the library won’t be cleaning or replacing them–and it’s more trouble than it’s worth.
  • Best case: You wind up with a nice little extra with no ongoing labor costs and fairly minimal supplies cost. Patrons who love old movies or want to sample TV shows are happy.

Crazy? Maybe. But, you know, there’s a lot of good stuff in these sets–the old detective series (well, there’s an Asian stereotyping issue with a few of them, and you know which ones, but…), the good old B westerns, and rather a lot of old movies that didn’t have copyright renewed for one reason or another. (Some of the sets include a lot of newer movies, presumably licensed at next to nothing.)

If this seems ludicrous, then just accept that I’m including the offtopic perspectives for the same reason as “My Back Pages”: Leavening.

Comments are closed.