August 8, 2022

Patron Preferences Shift Toward Streaming


Library DVD borrowing has fallen sharply during the past year, and library users are rapidly migrating toward streaming services for both music and movies, according to the July 2012 edition of LJ‘s Patron Profiles, which examines trends in Media Consumption and Library Use.

DVDs are the top format for films loaned by libraries, and 27 percent of respondents said that libraries remain their primary source for movies—down from 36 percent in the first Patron Profiles survey, conducted less than a year ago. “A strong indicator of the changing media landscape is the rise of streaming and disc-by-mail services—both currently dominated by Netflix,” the report states.

In the first Patron Profiles survey, only three percent of respondents described streaming services such as Netflix, Hulu, Apple, and Amazon as their primary source for movies. That figure rose to 17 percent in this most recent survey, while the popularity of delivery-by-mail services fell from 27 percent to just over 13 percent.

Netflix’ September 2011 decision to split its streaming and DVD delivery services into separate subscription models may have been one factor driving this shift. The public’s rapid embrace of tablet computers and other mobile devices capable of viewing streamed content is another, “making it a medium that libraries would do well to explore despite challenges,” the report reads.

Maintaining a DVD collection during the transition to other media formats will pose a separate challenge to libraries. Their decline in popularity may be hastened by bad experiences with damaged or unreadable discs. Nearly 45 percent of patrons said that they sometimes have had trouble playing library DVDs.

“Notwithstanding the long-term fate of DVDs, they are still very popular and libraries will need to manage the physical discs for some time to come,” the report notes.

Similarly, Internet radio or streaming services such as Pandora and Spotify ranked second only to traditional radio as patrons’ primary source of music. About 32 percent of patrons described it as their primary source of music in this most recent survey, up from 20 percent a year ago.

“Although the physical CD is in decline, it is likely to continue its relatively small but positive role in the library experience. In the meantime, libraries should view the rise of streaming audio and legal downloading as an opportunity,” the report notes. Like DVDs, many CD borrowers had trouble with unreadable discs. More than a third of users reported problems with playback.

The popularity of music downloads continued to grow as well, with more than 30 percent of respondents describing downloads from services such as Apple iTunes as their primary source of music. And over 60 percent of respondents expressed interest in their library offering music downloads.

This latest Patron Profiles report contains additional information about format preferences, including audiobooks and digital games, and also examines the most popular movie and music genres, information about how often patrons tend to place holds on different formats, and their habits when content is not immediately available. Separately, the report includes a spotlight on library media consumption by the 61 to 80 age group, and delves into the habits of “Power Media Patrons,” closely examining the tendencies of patrons who demonstrate above-average use of library media services.  Powered by Real Time Reporting from Bowker PubTrack Consumer, the survey included responses from 2020 individuals, all U.S. residents aged 18 and over.

Matt Enis About Matt Enis

Matt Enis (; @matthewenis on Twitter) is Associate Editor, Technology for Library Journal.


  1. Wow. We are really behind the curve – our DVD use is skyrocketing. Of course, there are all of those people who can’t afford new equipment and high-speed internet . . . . perhaps they aren’t “Power Patrons”.

    • It is wonderful that your library is able to be behind the curve. I wonder what your library is doing that others are not?

      I can see how income could certainly affect the rate at which patrons adopt new technology. Could another factor be the age of the patrons who are signing out your DVD’s? Is your library in an area that is highly populated by older people? The older generation are sometimes reluctant to learn about new technology and stick with the methods they are more comfortable with…like DVD’s?

    • Income, access to high-speed internet (currently varies across service area) and, frankly, the DVDs are free which matters a lot to young families. Plus, our collection is either “how-tos”/travel etc. or current feature films; there’s not a lot of retrospective stuff to languish on the shelves.

      I don’t think our experience is all that unique here in the thrifty Midwest.

    • Our DVD usage continues to grow each year. One reasons for this (I suspect) is that I buy most DVDs on the day of release, and have them on the shelves by the next day. For example, we will have multiple copies of the Avengers ready for checkout on the day the movie is released on DVD.

      In addition to the movie bestsellers, I purchase a lot of things that are more obscure or specialized. For example, we have a small Indian population that uses the library a lot. As a result, I started ordering more Bollywood movies with English subtitles (not dubbed). Most of the moves aren’t on Netflix, and will never pop up in Walmart or Redbox. I get at least half of them on or near the day of release.

      I spend a lot of time researching movies, so I can increase my chances of finding a hidden gem.

  2. Joneser – I saw an article this morning and thought of you. It’s good news for all of us! Access to the internet is about to get a whole lot easier and much more affordable.

    AT&T will officially launch shared data plans on August 23, allowing you to share data between devices. For more info go to

  3. Our DVD use also in on the uptick, many of the streaming services we subscribe to (we are an academic library) have 2nd-tier content, and many of our faculty are looking for more mainstream or arthouse films to use in classrooms, which are not available for streaming except for personal subscriptions. So the prof who wants to show a Criterion Collection film will still need to check out our DVD or use their own Hulu subscription.

  4. I also think a big factor for DVD circulation is the ability to just browse the shelves. The patrons seem to really enjoy looking around and the certain serendipitous finds that come with browsing shelves and shelves of options.

  5. Our library is also seeing soaring circ in CDs and DVDs. But we spend time making sure we have the popular movies, the award winners, the genres that our patrons prefer, classic and popular tv series, and we make the collections easier to browse — our music collection is cataloged by genre, like a record store, rather than by dewey. Other library systems in our area, however, have suffered more of a budget crisis than we have; they’ve severely cut or eliminated purchase of DVD and CD materials in favor of books and digital services. And some have clung to the old ways of doing things — cataloging/shelving music by dewey or refusing to add R-rated movies or tv series or rap. It stands to reason that if you’re not offering the things your patrons are interested in, not actively growing those collections, and/or not displaying them in a browser-friendly way (cataloging music by dewey, for example), patrons are going to look elsewhere.

  6. Matt Enis Matt Enis says:

    Hi, everyone

    Sorry if your comments were held up. We haven’t started a moderation system. Just switched over to a new server, and we just discovered that comments on all of our sites were getting blocked.

    Also, be on the lookout for our September 15 print issue, which will have a more in-depth story on DVD circulation. It will also post here later.

    Thanks for the feedback,


  7. This website truly has all the info I wanted about
    this subject and didn’t know who to ask.