Monday, April 14, 2008

DVDs Freer than Free--No, Really, Really Free

I noticed Paul's interesting article (NEVER Pay for a Redbox DVD Rental Again ) about using Redbox codes to rent movies for free, and in theory, I am all for it. But we don't have Redbox nearby, and I would never manage to return a movie in 24 hours with my crazy life. Fortunately, I have a diabolical method of getting movies for free. Even free-er than Redbox free! Nowadays, I laugh as I drive by Hollywood video. Why did I ever pay $4 to rent a movie? Why, God, why?

Here's the secret. I use the library. I know that's not really a secret. It was even mentioned in the comments to Paul's post, but then quickly dismissed and/or ignored. I think the idea deserves to be revisited. See, most people assumed that you can't get the videos you want at the library, especially new releases. But I've been getting just about any DVD I could ask for from the library using the computerized request system. I combine this with my reading wish list, enter my requests, and a few days later, I get an email saying my DVDs are waiting for me. I even put in electronic requests for materials that are not on loan, because I am too darn lazy to go to the shelf and look them up alphabetically. I just walk up to the hold shelf, grab the materials with my name on it, zap them through the self checkout, and walk out without paying a dime.

The library has a full selection of new releases, and also popular television shows. We do maintain a netflix subscription, because there are some things we haven't found in the library. However, lately I have been experimenting with interlibrary loan for books. If the book is not found in the library catalog, you get the option to "search other libraries" and the system will look for your selection in the interlibrary lending system. I wasn't sure if this option existed for DVD's, so just now I went to my local library web page and searched for a DVD I was pretty sure they didn't have. Sure enough, I found it in a library in a neighboring town, and was offered the opportunity to request it.

Since I've been using the library pretty heavily, I've noticed something interesting. A lot of other people are, too! I have one book on request in which I started out as the 135th request. It may seem like, with a month-long loan period, I would never get the book, but when I looked at the record, my library owned 45 copies, and was in the process of acquiring dozens more. That means that the library is not as much of a free ride as we thought. They are a major purchaser of books, DVDs, CDs, and other media, using taxpayer dollars, and there's no need to feel guilty about using it. They seem to keep enough books in stock so that the hold queue is about three deep. So for a book with 140 holds, they owned 50 copies. That seems completely reasonable to me.

As it turns out, the hot books, movies, and cds are perpetually loaned out, and your only chance of getting them is to use the request system. (I always figured that mostly if I couldn't find it on the shelf, I couldn't get it from the library.) Waiting for things really hasn't been a problem, since new requests are coming up for me every few days. My biggest challenge has been keeping up with all the material I have requested. In fact, my Netflix queue has gone rather stale since we got a big batch of DVDs from the library. There is no limit on the number of items you can take out. You can keep DVDs for a week, and if no one has requested them, you can renew them nearly indefinitely. My library sends me an email a few days before materials are due, and I have made it part of my daily routine to pop in to the library web page and check my list of checked out items (up to 35 items right now!). If something is due that day, I try to renew it, or put it on the shelf next to the door to drop off on my daily errands. Often, at the same time, I swipe my holds from the hold shelf. (You do need a good home organization system for library materials if you are going to have a lot of them. I try to keep the DVDs near the TV, or on a shelf by the door.)

I don't know if I've talked you into using your public library more. I may have talked myself in to canceling my Netflix subscription! We already canceled our cable subscription and are frankly not missing it between DVD rentals and the odd iTunes purchase for very new TV shows. To ease the transition, at first we bought some current TV shows on iTunes for our son, but very quickly we weaned him onto older stuff we could get from the library. He is enjoying Looney Tunes now every bit as much as I did in my childhood, and we get them FREE from the library.

But if you're still with me after all of this, here is an extra bonus for Michigan residents. Libraries in Southeast Michigan are loaning out free tickets to area museums now through October. Tickets are available in twos or fours for a long list of museums both big and small, including the DIA and other major attractions.

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