Cinema central

Ta­cony branch lib­rar­i­an Dav­id Payne sorts through the lib­rary’s col­lec­tion of DVDs. JENNY SWI­GODA / TIMES PHOTO


Who doesn’t like movies? Who doesn’t like free?

Any­one who has a Phil­adelphia lib­rary card can walk in­to a loc­al branch and stroll out with 10 DVDs and not pay a cent for them as long as they’re re­turned in a week.

That’s a pretty good value. Ac­tu­ally, it’s a great value, es­pe­cially when you con­sider the huge se­lec­tion of films avail­able on DVD at most city lib­rary branches.

There are about 5,000 DVDs at the re­gion­al lib­rary on Cottman Av­en­ue, said ref­er­ence lib­rar­i­an Keith Kessler.

Lib­rary branches have a sur­pris­ingly large num­ber, too. For ex­ample, the Tor­res­dale branch on Holme Av­en­ue has roughly 2,400 DVDs, said lib­rar­i­an Ann Horbach. Ditto for the Bush­rod branch on Castor Av­en­ue, said lib­rar­i­an Cath­er­ine Krysto­pow­icz. Dav­id Payne, man­ager of the Ta­cony branch at Tor­res­dale and Knorr, said he has about 2,000 titles.

These are just samples of what’s avail­able at a few North­east Philly branches.

And each branch or­gan­izes its se­lec­tion dif­fer­ently, Kessler said.

Lib­rar­i­an Kristin Sawka can give a good break­down of the Bustleton branch’s ap­prox­im­ately 1,500 titles: 500 fea­tures, 250 doc­u­ment­ar­ies or non-fic­tion, 200 In­di­an-lan­guage titles and about 200 Rus­si­an DVDs as well about 500 chil­dren’s titles.

 Oth­er branches might al­pha­bet­ic­ally sep­ar­ate the chil­dren’s ma­ter­i­al from the adult sec­tion, and the non-fic­tion from the fic­tion and leave it pretty much at that.

Like the Bustleton branch, some oth­er North­east lib­rar­ies have for­eign-lan­guage DVDs. The re­gion­al has many, Kessler said, in­clud­ing large num­bers in Hindi, Chinese and Vi­et­namese as well as smal­ler amounts in Hebrew, Ar­ab­ic, Span­ish, Ger­man and French.

The North­east lib­rar­i­ans in­ter­viewed for this story all said new re­leases are not only hard to keep on the shelves, they of­ten don’t even make it to the shelves be­fore they’re bor­rowed. They get re­served by the savvy lib­rary pat­rons who keep track of what is com­ing out and when.

Or, even when they’re re­turned, “people take them off the shelving carts,” Sawka said in an e-mail to the North­east Times.

Kessler char­ac­ter­ized the re­gion­al’s DVD bor­row­ers as a crew of know­ledge­able movie fans who have high ex­pect­a­tions, but oth­er lib­rar­i­ans said their pat­rons some­times are sur­prised by the num­ber of DVDs at their branches as well as the range of sub­ject mat­ter.

In­di­vidu­al lib­rary DVD col­lec­tions can be a little flu­id. Not only are new titles com­ing in all the time, but they, well, float.

Any­one who bor­rows ma­ter­i­al from one city lib­rary branch may re­turn it to an­oth­er, Tor­res­dale’s Horn­bach said. That’s very con­veni­ent for lib­rary pat­rons, but a DVD bor­rowed at a North­east branch that is re­turned in South Philly stays in South Philly — un­til it some­how makes it back to the North­east. As long as it is re­turned, it’s in the city­wide lib­rary’s sys­tem, Kessler said, so if a pat­ron wants it, a re­quest can be put in to bring it back to a branch.

That abil­ity to go after a title that isn’t in a branch goes bey­ond city lim­its. Philly’s lib­rar­i­ans can re­quest ma­ter­i­al from dif­fer­ent sys­tems across the state.

The new­er the DVD, the more in-de­mand it is, said Krysto­pow­icz.

“The new­er re­leases for both adult and chil­dren’s videos go right out, re­peatedly,” Horn­bach said.

Payne said The King’s Speech is ex­tremely pop­u­lar as are DVD col­lec­tions of TV series from both side of the At­lantic like The Tu­dors and MI5. Col­lec­tions of shows aired by PBS on Mas­ter­piece Theat­er “are ex­tremely hot right now,” he said.

Some­times, it’s just the new­ness that draws at­ten­tion.

Oscar-nom­in­ated The Help is hard to keep on the shelves, Krysto­pow­icz said, but so is Thor, a Mar­vel com­ic book-to-Hol­ly­wood of­fer­ing that wasn’t a par­tic­u­larly cel­eb­rated re­lease.

The North­east’s branches also have some DVDs that pat­rons might or­din­ar­ily over­look. 

Film clas­sics like On the Wa­ter­front and old TV shows from The Hon­ey­moon­ers to Sein­feld don’t get much at­ten­tion from the Bush­rod branch’s pat­rons, said Krysto­pow­icz. Tor­res­dale has some Shir­ley Temple movies as well as old Flint­stones and Bat­man car­toons that kids would en­joy, Horn­bach said, but they’re not bor­rowed of­ten.

Payne said the Ta­cony branch has some high-qual­ity films that rarely leave with pat­rons.

Al­fred Hitch­cock’s clas­sic thrillers like Night Train to Mu­nich or The Lady Van­ishes aren’t titles that jump out at mod­ern lib­rary pat­rons, he said. Neither are Man with a Movie Cam­era, a 1929 si­lent film doc­u­ment­ary about the So­viet Uni­on, or La Notti Bi­anche, a 1957 black-and-white Itali­an-lan­guage love story star­ring Mar­cello Mas­troi­anni and dir­ec­ted by Luchino Vis­conti.

Kessler agreed that Hitch­cock’s films aren’t the draw they should be. Usu­ally over­looked DVDs at the re­gion­al lib­rary, he said, in­clude Har­old and Maude, a 1971 Hal Ashby com­edy about the ro­mance of a young man and a very old wo­man, por­trayed by Ruth Gor­don, and Slaughter­house-Five, dir­ect­or George Roy Hill’s 1972 take on Kurt Von­negut Jr.’s anti-war nov­el of the same name.

Lib­rar­ies also have doc­u­ment­ar­ies whose the­at­ric­al re­leases might be ig­nored by film fans. Pres­sure Cook­er, for ex­ample, a film about Frank­ford High School’s culin­ary arts pro­gram and Wilma Steph­en­son, the blunt, no-non­sense teach­er who runs it, is avail­able at the Ta­cony branch, Payne said.

Bio­graph­ies, said Sawka, are avail­able at the Bustleton branch but aren’t bor­rowed of­ten.

“Oc­ca­sion­ally, we’ll have a teach­er or a par­ent take one for their kid who is not really a read­er,” Sawka said.

Lib­rar­i­ans poin­ted to edu­ca­tion­al, his­tory and how-to titles that are avail­able but hardly used.

Payne said he is build­ing a loc­al his­tory col­lec­tion at Ta­cony. In­cluded in that is Pre­cious Places, a 2005 re­lease about sev­er­al Phil­adelphia neigh­bor­hoods and in­cludes a short made by the Ta­cony Civic As­so­ci­ation.

“It’s a won­der­ful com­munity doc­u­ment­ary,” Payne said.

An­oth­er piece of that col­lec­tion is something that’s be­com­ing his­tor­ic in its own right. All Aboard is about the city’s trol­ley cars. It’s not a DVD though; it’s a VHS tape. If you got rid of your old VCR, you’re out of luck. There’s no DVD copy, Payne said.

The lib­rary sys­tem’s VHS tape col­lec­tion has been get­ting chucked over the past few years, but some lib­rar­i­ans said they have re­tained a few titles.

As good a deal as bor­row­ing lib­rary DVDs is, not re­turn­ing them on time can run in­to money. The re­turn-it-at-any-city-branch policy helps pat­rons avoid fines be­cause pat­rons can get them back in time even if they’re not near their home branch. But fines can add up. DVDs are free only for a week. After that, the fines are a buck a day per DVD, up to $10 per DVD. If you took out 10 and for­got about them, the fines total $100. ••



Land (and lib­rary) of the free…

The Free Lib­rary of Phil­adelphia, which has 10 branches and a re­gion­al fa­cil­ity in the North­east, is a lot more than a col­lec­tion of books or an edu­ca­tion­al re­source. Your loc­al lib­rary is a great en­ter­tain­ment value.

After all, it’s the free lib­rary. A pat­ron can, for ex­ample, check out 10 DVDs, keep them for a week at no charge and get more week after week.

City­wide, the lib­rary sys­tem has al­most 170,000 DVDs. In­di­vidu­al branches have thou­sands of titles, a fact prob­ably not known by a sol­id ma­jor­ity of city res­id­ents. The num­ber of people who have lib­rary cards — the free pass to all those DVDs — is 460,000, or only about 30 per­cent of Phil­adelphia’s pop­u­la­tion of roughly 1.5 mil­lion.


How you can get carded…


Are you a card-car­ry­ing Phil­adelphi­an?

No? It’s pretty easy to get a lib­rary card.

If you live, work or go to school in the city, you’re eli­gible.

Stop in any branch lib­rary to ap­ply or go to ht­tp://lib­www.freel­ib­­gister/get­card1.cfm

This month, the North­east Times will look at loc­al lib­rar­ies as sources of fea­ture films, doc­u­ment­ar­ies, TV shows, mu­sic, au­dio books, chil­dren’s books and pro­gram­ming and great book finds for adults. 

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