- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 24, 2005

Movie buffs are finding an alternative to Blockbuster at their local libraries.

Libraries nationwide are competing with video rental stores by lending DVDs and videos.

“We have a pretty cool video and DVD section. We have things you wouldn’t find at a Blockbuster or Hollywood video,” said Bridget Warren, spokeswoman for Prince George’s County Memorial Library System.

More than 25,000 movie titles are available throughout the Prince George’s County library system, many of them newer titles.

According to the National Center for Education Statistics, the number of video materials stocked in libraries nationwide has risen by 56 percent in the past four years.

Residents of the Washington area are able to rent a video or DVD from any Prince George’s County library for $2.10 a day if they have a valid library card.

“I like to compare our movie collection to an artsy New York video store rather than a Blockbuster, but we make it a point to have new releases. We even have multiple copies of some newer titles,” Ms. Warren said.

She said the library was able to offer a wider variety of foreign films and classic titles because it doesn’t have to worry about making a profit.

“It wouldn’t make sense for Blockbuster to stock videos from Ghana, but we can meet that need,” she said.

Patrons of Montgomery County and District libraries don’t have to pay a fee to get movies, but they, too, must have a valid library card.

“Obviously we don’t have the same numbers as a commercial video store, but it’s free — you can’t get much better than that when looking for entertainment,” said Monica Lewis, a spokeswoman for the District of Columbia Public Library system.

As with books, a late fee is charged for movies not returned on time. Most feature movies are available for one week, but patrons can call and place a movie on hold before it is returned.

“We don’t routinely get new releases the same time as a video store, but it is a very popular option with our customers,” said Gail Gormley, spokeswoman for the Montgomery County Public Library system.

Officials at Wedbush Morgan Securities, a Los Angeles consumer products and retail analyst firm, said libraries can’t match video stores on the number of new releases available because of rising production costs.

Montgomery, Prince George’s County and District libraries buy their movies from vendors or wholesale companies.

Despite the growing trend of getting movies from the local library, national video rental chain Blockbuster Inc. is not concerned.

“We’re certainly on a transformation plan, but we don’t see libraries as a threat,” said Randy Hargrove, spokesman for Blockbuster Inc.

According to officials at McAlpine Associates, a Scarsdale, N.Y., video store analyst firm, online-rental services such as Netflix Inc. are a bigger threat to rental stores than are libraries.

Fairfax County libraries stock only educational movies. Officials with Alexandria public libraries could not be reached for comment.

• This story is based in part on wire service reports.

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