When Frank Street resident Henry Brockenberry lost his retail job last month, he started coming to the Courtland Wilson Branch Library in the Hill to use the computers and Internet to job search.
But you have to take a break every once in a while from sending out your resume. That’s how Brockenberry discovered the branch’s up-to-date and extensive collection of DVDs.
Now, he takes out two a day — “religion, Bible, comedy, everything.”
This past Monday at noon, when Wilson opened up after the weekend, Brockenberry was one of many patrons returning and taking out new DVDs from the collection of movies, TV series, nonfiction, and self-help titles, which Jessen and his staff have built up—many through promoting voluntary donations of DVDs—over the last several years.
About 5,000 DVDs circulated in 2012, when Jessen took over as the branch librarian. That number has risen to 30,000 during 2016, with demand continuing to grow, Jessen reported.
Those 30,000 are the number of “units,” to use library-ese—or times the DVDs have circulated from out of a collection of 3,381. About 650 have come through donations organized by Jessen and his staff since 2012.
And lots of those have come through voluntary donations of DVDs, which he said Wilson still is in need of, especially copies of new or recent movies or TV series, which are always in demand.
The library, of course, has a budget for purchases. But the money is often spent by the late spring. So beginning in June and for the balance of summer, patrons ask for items, especially new movies, and that’s where donations come in.
When Jessen sensed the demand, back in 2013, he immediately bought, for example, copies of The Sopranos and Breaking Bad series and has kept them in stock ever sense.
Daniella Herget is catching up on season five of Breaking Bad and has it at home. She said she doesn’t want to watch it quite yet, because she likes it so much and doesn’t want the action to end.
She did not have that home a year and a half ago when she started coming to the Wilson Branch. She and her husband were homeless. She and her husband both used the WiFi connection and the computers to look for work. That’s also the way they discovered the DVD collection.
She finally has a place of her own over on Ellsworth Avenue. She and her husband continue to come to the library for the Internet and then to borrow from the DVD collection, she said.
While all the branches have respectable collections of DVDs, many of Wilson’s titles have been donated over the years, especially after Jessen and his staff began to put flyers inside the cases requesting donations.
People were eager to give them, a few at a time. Longtime patron Shane Barber, who was moving away from the neighborhood, donated 80 DVDs.
The library is able in many cases to make repairs if a DVD is worn, and then re-case.
On the morning I visited, an interesting collection of classic Westerns, which had been donated the prior week, was being borrowed by a patron, the transaction conducted by branch technical assistant Bill Beckett.
After that transaction, Beckett helped Hill resident James Hampton take out five DVDs, which Hampton said he’ll finish up and then return in two days to take out more.
He said he discovered the DVD collection last month when he started coming into the branch to begin research on his family history.
Jessen ascribed the avid use of the collection not only to his staff’s efforts and to the word getting around the community, but to the excellent overhead lighting illuminating the shelves, making browsing attractive and easy.
He’s experimenting in the coming months with grouping the items, especially the most popular, in new arrangements. “We’re trying to genre-fy the collection,” he said, by which me meant grouping. For example: Tyler Perry’s—count ‘em—40 DVDs, the horror, the martial arts, and maybe the black history materials. Currently the arrangement is alphabetical by title.
Jessen reported people of all ages and interests both use and donate DVDs. Jessen showed me a recently donated great classic collections of Hitchcock films, the old time-y Andy Griffith Show, and then every single one of the Fast and Furious series.
Jessen’s got a total of about 85 linear feet of shelving to house the collection. That includes the fiction and TV materials, taking up the lion’s share, and then smaller sections for kids, self-help, and Spanish language DVDs.
One of the ways he’s made room for more DVDs and made them more accessible is through downsizing, and fairly eliminating the reference sections in the library. They used to house that wonderful old Webster dictionary perhaps on an old-fashioned rotating desk-top platform, and your various thesauruses and rhyming dictionaries.
Jessen said it’s a national public library trend now to let the reference material be accessed online.
“The numbers here show you the digital divide is alive and well. Maybe one day this collection [of DVDs] will be obsolete. It’s great the way the mayor has promoted WiFi on the Green. Until [web access is universal], I’m going to keep this collection going and give people what they want.”
Unlike books, which you can take out for 21 days with 30 at a time, DVD rental is limited to five at each borrowing. They must be returned after seven days. The late fine is a dollar a day.
Those interested in donating DVDs, should contact the Wilson Branch or call Jessen at 203-946-2228.