Nova Scotia

Slow internet means DVDs still reign in rural N.S.

DVDs may be a thing of the past for many people, but not at rural Nova Scotia libraries where they are in high demand.

Rural Nova Scotia libraries see continued demand for DVDs, even with rise of Netflix and other online services

DVDs fill up the shelves at the Halifax Central Library. (Stephanie vanKampen/CBC)

Each Tuesday, chief librarian Laura Emery or one of her staff dives into the DVD section of the local Walmart, searching for the latest romcom or Will Smith's new blockbuster.

The effort seems quaint in the age of Netflix and other on-demand movie and TV services. But not at Nova Scotia's Eastern Counties Regional Library, where the DVD collection is growing, as are the appetites of library patrons. 

So it's important to scour for deals.

"The only way you can be awesome is to be super smart and thrifty about stuff," says Emery.

It's not just big titles that find favour. Eastern Counties, which covers some of the most rural parts of the province, has a "small but decent" Asian film selection, a popular British TV collection, and has put money into French movies and Québécois shows.

DVDs hold out

All but written off with the financial ruin of rental giants like Blockbuster, the DVD is finding new life on the shelves of libraries. 

At some, DVDs now represent nearly 20 per cent of all circulation. Pictou-Antigonish Regional Library, for instance, had 20,524 DVD loans last year, nearly 50 per cent more than four years prior. 

The reasons, according to librarians, are simple. The internet isn't good enough to stream movies in many parts of rural Nova Scotia. When it is decent, many people are too poor to afford it.

"It's either their electricity bill or the internet," says Erin Comeau, library director at Western Counties Regional Library in southwestern Nova Scotia.

The victims of streaming

The rise of online streaming has taken its share of victims, however. Blockbuster shut down hundreds of stores across Canada in 2011, and Rogers ditched its rental division after a 43 per cent decline in revenues in a year.

Independents have suffered, too. In Halifax, beloved Video Difference on Quinpool Road announced this summer it would close after 34 years. Manager Paul Boisjoli said streaming services had forced store sales down below a level that could sustain the collection of tens of thousands of titles.

Still, Halifax Public Libraries and Dalhousie University later announced plans to buy 5,500 titles from the shop at a cost of $125,000 and make them available to the public.

Earlier this month, the Nova Scotia government axed a $199 licence fee for movie and video game stores, saying it made little sense now that so many consumers are watching online.

Halifax's Video Difference announced in August it would close. (Video Difference/Facebook)

Matlock and Walker, Texas Ranger

The rural library, then, is becoming one of the last refuges for the movie lover who still wants to press a real play button. DVDs are so popular, they are the only item for which some libraries will charge a fine if returned late.

Librarians say some older people don't want to fuss with online streaming and prefer something relatively old-fashioned. There's also a craving for old favourites.

Cumberland Public Libraries, for instance, has invested in titles that aren't on Netflix, like Matlock, Little House on the Prairie, Mork & Mindy and Walker, Texas Ranger.

"People really love to borrow those older series," says chief librarian Denise Corey.

DVD black market

There's even a black market. South Shore librarian Troy Myers says he still "marvels" that people continue to steal DVDs from the library. Just this month he was called to collect some seized by Bridgewater police from a local pawn shop.

"That shows you how hot they are," says Myers, who is CEO of South Shore Public Libraries.

He also sees a growing DVD demographic among "back-to-the-land" families settling in the area. Many don't want the internet, but do want to watch films and TV.

The DVD isn't dead yet, he says, and there remains a place for physical media.

"When we're kind of in the city, we're staring at our smartphones and people go, 'Oh, this is all anyone really needs.' And we kind of forget there's people who aren't as fortunate as we all are to have one of those things in our pocket."