Using Netflix at an Academic Library – a TTW Guest Post by Rebecca Fitzgerald

Our academic library in New York started a Netflix subscription last Fall. We started out with one account allowing for the maximum number of DVDs, 8 at a time. By the middle of Spring semester, we had two accounts. The New Media professor took over the prior, and we made the new one for all other courses. New Media requires many movies for students to watch. Our library has a very limited budget when it comes to film purchasing, especially popular titles. Netflix has saved us an enormous amount of money (around $3,000) by allowing the physical rentals as well as instant play. The streaming movies have been a great success; instead of students waiting for the one DVD on reserve, they can go to the computer or into the library’s film viewing room, where we have a Roku player set up, and watch the movies on our flat screen TV. The amount we save just having the instant play is significant; it’s almost like having multiple copies of the movie on reserve.

The other departments are taking awhile getting used to the Netflix idea. Most professors seem very happy when they see educational videos available, especially those from PBS. There are hundreds of interesting documentaries available for instant watch, and many more offered in physical form. Even though we have this program, we have still exhausted our DVD budget. For the first time, we are able to purchase high quality educational (Insight Media and Films for the Humanities and Sciences) films that enhance the classroom experience as well. Since we are not paying for any of the popular titles and national released documentaries, we can focus our budget on these more academic materials. I hope many libraries, who are facing hard economic times, consider Netflix as a valuable option. It continues to be cost-effective and easily accessible for the students. It is very rare when you see faculty and students praising a new library program.

UPDATE – Comment from Rebecca: Thank you all for your comments. There have been no legal repurcussions involving our Netflix accounts. The Netflix is addressed to the library and paid with a college credit card. No one from Netflix has questioned this. Our library is not the first to use this program. In an article from Library Trends, Volume 53, Number 3, Ciara Healey, talks of all the benefits a Netflix subscription has to offer an academic library. The article is called “Netflix in an Academic Library: A Personal Case Study,” if any of you are interested in reading it. She does mention the fact that Netflix does not offer institutional subscriptions, so her library resorted to getting their own credit card. I really recommend you read the article. It’s great stuff!

Rebecca Fitzgerald is Acquisitions Librarian/Office Manager at the Scheele Memorial Library Concordia College, New York.

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41 thoughts on “Using Netflix at an Academic Library – a TTW Guest Post by Rebecca Fitzgerald”

  1. I would love more details about how the queue is managed, and by whom. I’d also love to know how you got this past legal for your university….I’ve tried a couple of times to bring this up as a model for us to use here at MPOW, and the general pushback is from the legal side of the world (Netflix policy isn’t designed for library-use).

  2. That was my same question as well: how did you get past the legal department given issues of copyright, performance rights, and loaning out something you are renting? If I recall, this has been an issue with doing things like just passing out e-book readers like Kindles. It sounds nice in theory, but here at least, I see the lawyers resisting (and thus telling us to forget it). More specifics please.

    Best, and keep on blogging.

  3. Ditto. I’ve thought often about how wonderful Netflix would be for school but the Terms of Use are set for personal use. PLEASE let us know how this fits with your institution’s copyright policy? I would love nothing more than to start offering this!
    Waiting with baited breath!

  4. Thanks for sharing — a few of us were just discussing Netflix as a possibility for our very small community college library. Would love to hear more about how you’ve made this a reality.

  5. Thank you all for your comments. There have been no legal repurcussions involving our Netflix accounts. The Netflix is addressed to the library and paid with a college credit card. No one from Netflix has questioned this. Our library is not the first to use this program. In an article from Library Trends, Volume 53, Number 3, Ciara Healey, talks of all the benefits a Netflix subscription has to offer an academic library. The article is called “Netflix in an Academic Library: A Personal Case Study,” if any of you are interested in reading it. She does mention the fact that Netflix does not offer institutional subscriptions, so her library resorted to getting their own credit card. I really recommend you read the article. It’s great stuff!
    To answer your question, Jason, about who controls the queue: We have two accounts. I manage the general queue, and the new media professor manages the other. The general account is delivered to the library and the second goes to the professor’s house. We also have a roku player where students can watch films related to their classes in a room set aside for viewing.

  6. One thing I do want to make clear though is that we never copy the DVDs, and we never charge fines for the DVDs. We do not make any money off the materials.

  7. We’re a small public library that started a similar service 2 1/2 years ago. Newsweek got wind of this somehow & we ended up being mentioned in the March 2008 issue of that august publication.

    We tried several times to contact senior people at Netflix, offering to cancel our subscription. We never heard back & took their silence as tacit approval. Works for us, but then we don’t have our own legal department :-)

  8. I was a film major as an undergrad, and this would have been so incredibly helpful in my schoolwork. So many times I was stuck buying my own copies or watching horrible quality VHS copies, or worst of all, simply not finding obscure films in time at all. I also wonder about the legal issues, though.

  9. I recently contacted Netflix regarding options for site licensing for an academic library. I got a response that very explicitly stated that Netflix accounts are intended for individuals ONLY, and that classroom use and public performance is not allowed.

  10. This article is incredibly irresponsible. The Netflix terms of use, which is a binding contract on the institution, specifies clearly that the movies are for “your personal and non-commercial use only,” and that you are not allowed to distribute them. Library lending is not a “personal” use, and the fact that you save so much money is arguably a commercial use. You have put your institution at great risk for contract and copyright infringement, with the latter potentially costing $150,000 per borrowed DVD.

    Librarians follow the law when licensing materials, regardless of whether anyone has objected. If they don’t like the licensing terms, they get them changed.

  11. Dear Anne Prestamo,

    Could you please email me with the response you received from Netflix regarding licensing. I’m a technology Director of a school District and i have a principal and teacher who want to stream netflix movies from their personal accounts.

    Thank you

  12. I cannot in all clear conscience allow Netflix streaming on our campus. As copyright officer, this flies in the face of our copyright policy and ethical guidelines. Just because Netflix doesn’t get upset, it still is a violation of their guidelines.

    This being said, having Netflix streaming media and DVDS would be a tremendously useful tool on a college campus. I love the idea, but have problems with libraries doing this without complete approval from Netflix.

  13. I wonder why a Netflix subscription is not a part of required course “textbooks.” Faculty often have no problem requiring a $200 textbook be a part of a class so why not require students to have a $8.95/month Netflix subscription for courses that use film content?

  14. I’m surprised that rights holders for the films licensed to Netflix have not forced them to actually enforce the Terms of Use at the very least. I’m more surprised how flagrantly these terms are being gleefully disregarded by Librarians and find this very disturbing as it undermines the credibility of the profession as a whole. Are you now going to begin cancelling access to your subscription serial packages after you’ve downloaded all the content and seeded torrents to your satisfaction? If you don’t like the terms of an agreement try to renegotiate. Disregarding them because their have not yet been any repercussions (yet) is not really a very good professional or legal test.

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