Whatcom County libraries offer free digital access to movies, music, audiobooks, through new service

Whatcom County library users are taking to a new service that allows them to temporarily download or stream audiobooks, movies, TV shows, and music albums for free.

Provided through hoopla digital, the service offers people access to 260,000 items for adults and children — with more being added — instantly and without having to wait for borrowed items to be returned.

“People can have what they want, when they want,” said Lisa Gresham, collections support manager for the Whatcom County Library System.

Both Bellingham Public Library and Whatcom County Library System are offering the service.

“We just view this as another branch. It’s our digital branch,” said Beth Farley, head of information and reader services for Bellingham Public Library.

About a dozen library systems in the state offer hoopla digital to their patrons, according to local library representatives.

People must have a library card to access hoopla, which was launched in 2013. It can be used with smartphones, tablets, computers, and Apple TV.

Local library systems had a soft launch much of March and fully launched the service Monday, April 6.

“The response has been super-positive. People are so pleased with how easy it is to use,” Gresham said. “That’s a breath of fresh air, compared to some of the other platforms that provide more challenges.”

For now, library cardholders are limited to 12 items a month through hoopla. That number could change, depending on how people use the new service.

Returns are automatic, so there’s no late fee.

Movies and TV shows can be checked out for three days, music for seven, and audiobooks for 21. Mobile device owners can choose to download.

The Bellingham library has budgeted $1,000 a month for the service, while the Whatcom County Library System has budgeted about $2,000 a month.

Billing is based on population and a per-use rate. If the libraries don’t hit their budgeted threshold, then the amount held in what is like an escrow is rolled over to the next month.

“The interesting thing about digital materials is we don’t have the expense of processing the material,” Farley said. “Things don’t get lost. Things don’t get damaged. We feel that it’s a good value. The sheer number of titles makes it something very different from what we’re offering now.”

Borrowers who have faced long waits for popular titles also will appreciate the immediate access.

For example, there were 158 people waiting to read the “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up” through the Bellingham system. That’s how many holds were in place as of Friday, April 10, for 24 copies of the book by Marie Kondo. Meanwhile, 62 people were waiting to check out the ebook version of Kondo’s book, which had seven copies available through Bellingham.

But it’s instantly available as an audiobook through hoopla.

“It’s a nice example of having immediate access to something that’s really hot right now,” Farley said.

Library users are catching on to the offerings through hoopla digital.

This week, more than 100 Bellingham library cardholders on average were registering with hoopla a day, according to Farley.

As for the Whatcom County system, 439 cardholders have borrowed 1,413 items since the soft launch, Gresham said, which was about half the physical circulation of one of its small branches.