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What’s all the Hoopla?

Richmond Public Library doubles its digital offerings

Jeremy Lazarus | 6/2/2017, 10:41 p.m.
The Richmond Public Library just doubled its offerings of books, music, movies, TV shows, video games and other items, and ...
Scott Firestine, director of the Richmond Public Library, sits in one of the smaller computer labs available to the public in the library’s Main Branch at 101 E. Franklin St. in Downtown. Patrons can use the computer lab to access the library’s expanded array of digital materials. Sandra Sellars/Richmond Free Press

By Jeremy M. Lazarus

The Richmond Public Library just doubled its offerings of books, music, movies, TV shows, video games and other items, and it didn’t have to buy anything.

According to Library Director Scott Firestine, the library did it by hooking up with an online website called Hoopla and making the items available to patrons through its online library that is open 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

He said Hoopla offers about 600,000 items on its website — equal to the total number of physical items available at the Main Library in Downtown and its seven open branches. (The West End Branch on Patterson Avenue, now under renovation, is expected to reopen by September.)

Library patrons will be able to borrow up to four items a month from Hoopla without charge, Mr. Firestine said, simply by using their increasingly powerful library card numbers.

The new connection to Hoopla, which is to go live on Thursday, June 1, is one way that the resource-short library is using online services in carrying out its mission: “To inform, enrich, empower.”

Amid struggles to staff library branches and maintain adequate hours, Richmond is re-inventing itself using the library card as a key to expand access to information and other resources — from continuing education courses and legal forms to newspapers and magazines.

A pilot project this summer will involve 300 students enrolling in the summer program of the Mayor’s Youth Academy.

Mr. Firestine said the students will be able to use their library cards to ride GRTC buses and use the exercise facilities at the YMCA. And the access could expand if other programs sign on.

His hope is that the program will prove a success and secure resources for expansion.

He said the ultimate goal is to have every Richmond Public Schools enrollee receive a student ID that can double as a library card and also open up access to other services. He said Louisville, Ky., and Charlotte, N.C., already issue such multiuse student IDs.

“It would be great if Richmond could do the same thing,” he said.

If that doesn’t happen, he said the library will be working on a way to ensure every child in Richmond is enrolled as a library patron as soon as he or she is registered for school.

Hoopla is one way the library is overcoming longstanding shortfalls in its budget for purchases. Instead of buying the items, Mr. Firestine said that the library would pay a $1.60 fee for each transaction a patron makes with Hoopla, a far cheaper way than buying physical resources.

‘We obviously have to cap the amount of borrowing that people can do online,” he said, “but this means people can get items without having to actually come into our buildings.”

He and others at the library also realize that most people no longer care “whether they get the latest James Patterson novel on a device or in print,” he said.

While Richmond Public Library has done little to toot its digital horn, it has been boosting its internet offerings for years in seeking to be “the location for lifelong learning,” Mr. Firestine said.