Toronto library streaming

Toronto library adds streaming to its high-tech offerings

The Toronto Public Library isn't just about books any more. Today, a Toronto library card gives its holder access to a world of information, including, as of this morning, 10,000 films, and 250,000 records available to watch or download for free online.

Hoopla, a service similar to (though not nearly as comprehensive as) Netflix, which officially launched Monday in Toronto, provides media streaming subscriptions for 40 North American public libraries. As we reported in January, the service eliminates late fees and hold lists associated with eBooks. There are a few recent movies, but the selection is geared towards documentaries and educational TV programs.

There's music, too. Drake's Nothing Was the Same is one of the stand-out titles available to stream for free. Digital books and magazines are available via Overdrive, though the system of holds and limits on the number of digital copies of each publication makes the service feel a touch clunky compared to Hoopla.

(Caveat: Hoopla limits its users to five movies per month and video "rentals" expire after three days, albums after seven.)

"E-content is our fastest area of growth, with customers borrowing more than 2 million ebooks, eaudio-books and emagazines in 2013," said Vickery Bowles, Director of Collections Management at Toronto Public Library in an emailed statement. "We expect we'll see even more growth this year with the introduction of online music and video."

In February, the library launched a suite of 3D printers, part of its $44,000 Digital Innovation Hub on Yonge Street. These cutting edge machines, still cost-prohibitive to all but the most dedicated early adopter, render digital wireframe models in real, hold-in-your-hand plastic. A boon for medical science (print out bones, teeth, and possibly other prosthesis) and even model makers: create custom tools or replacement parts from scratch in minutes.

The digital lab also includes Raspberry Pi programming computers, laptops, iPads, and other computers all of which are available to anyone with a library card.

TPL has greatly improved its digital archival offerings, too. Not long ago most online image searches turned up low-res scans that gave an unnecessary amount of space - sometimes about three quarters of the image - to citation information. Now, a quick search for a picture of the Summerhill train station, for example, results in a gorgeous, high-res picture of the Tyndall stone building from 1913, minus extraneous detail.

Three cheers for free stuff.

Chris Bateman is a staff writer at blogTO. Follow him on Twitter at @chrisbateman.

Photo by Rina Pitucci

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