Here at the BPL, we’re fortunate enough to have a community full of highly generous patrons. We have no shortage of altruistic donors who bring us their previously loved books and media items, and many of those donors let us know they want our library specifically to have them. While we’re always thrilled when people choose us as the new home for their items, we regrettably can’t add them all to our collection.* This is largely due to space restrictions, but sometimes, it’s because time has passed the items by. Time is cruel like that, taking things that were once the bee’s knees and callously demoting them to the bee’s feet, or whichever part of the bee is least desirable. One of its latest victims is the VHS tape, which I think it’s safe to say has almost completely gone the way of the dinosaur, the dodo, and the quality Adam Sandler movie. Or has it?
While most of the VHS tapes in our collection have been sent to the big Blockbuster in the sky, where rewinding kindness is always observed, we still have a small collection of children’s movies on VHS. Yesterday, as one of our curious teen patrons was sifting through some donated videocassettes in my office and we discussed the death of the medium, I got to wondering just how well our remaining VHSs circulate. As I’m wont to do in situations in which I wonder at work, I took to the stats, and it turns out the answer is, somewhat surprisingly, “not terribly.” Our children’s VHS tapes circulate an average of almost six times per year, which while isn’t even half of the almost fifteen and a half times per year averaged by children’s DVDs, is respectable considering how dated both the titles and the format are. The highest circulating items in the collection are, not shockingly, old Disney movies, and some of the lowest circulating items are Sesame Street tapes, which is shocking to me. I thought maybe this was just a VHS anomaly, but the DVD stats show they’re below average circulators in that format as well. I know it’s an old show, and I’m wearing Snuffleupagus-size nostalgia goggles, but I’m a little bummed that more kids today don’t know or care to know how to get to Sesame Street.
So, Big Bird and friends’ lack of success notwithstanding, it seems VHS isn’t entirely ready to be laid to rest just yet, but its tombstone is engraved and it has a nice grave plot ready next to its fallen comrades Betamax and LaserDisc. While we’re certainly not going to invest a bunch of money in attempting to force a VHS revival, their modest success means we don’t have to chuck them immediately, either; we’re glad families are enjoying them. I suppose this exercise reinforced what we knew all along: libraries serve all types, from the early-adopting progress fiends to the slow-to-change hangers-on of the old and familiar. While we must always have our eye on tomorrow, we must also preserve yesterday. I guess by that logic, I need to put together a scroll collection for the library.
*Fret not, donors: all items we’re unable to add to our collection go into our Friends of the Library book sale, with all proceeds benefitting the library.