A Publication of the Public Library Association Public Libraries Online

News & Opinion

Ready to Roku?

by on May 15, 2013

Sometimes I wish I had a crystal ball and the ability to predict the future so I can be prepared for the next big thing.  Maybe I wouldn’t have spent so much time developing a MySpace page for teens at the library several years ago or maybe I wouldn’t have purchased so many books that were once a hot topic and now need to be weeded.  However, even without a crystal ball, I know one of the next big issues in technology and services at public libraries will be streaming video content.

Some public libraries are already offering streaming TV and movies with services from OverDrive, Hoopla, IndieFlix, and PBS.  I will save an in-depth review of these services for another time, and focus on an option offered by the Ephrata (Pennsylvania) Public Library: Roku.

Roku is a small device that streams video content through your TV and internet.  Users must have a newer TV with HDMI connections and most Rokus require wireless internet (although the newest version offers an ethernet connection as well).  Users subscribe to channels, some free, and can watch the movies or television shows anytime.  With channels such as NetFlix, Amazon Instant Video, Disney, and Hulu, you have access to the latest TV shows and movies on demand.

The Ephrata Public Library purchased a few Rokus, and they are so popular with patrons that they are considering buying more.1  When a patron checks out a Roku, they receive the Roku box, an HDMI cable, a remote control, and a power cord.  Staff also provide instructions and created a short video tutorial.  The library subscribes to a variety of entertainment including NetFlix and Hulu Plus as well as PBS and other educational channels.  The boxes check out for one week.

This idea sparked a great discussion at my library.  Like many libraries, DVDs are in high demand with long waiting lists, shelving space is becoming more limited, and the budget does not allow us to purchase many expensive TV series.  Offering Roku as a complement to our DVD collection could help alleviate these issues in a small way.  While we all agreed Rokus would be popular with our patrons, we were concerned about patrons having the right technology at home and if we would have the budget to buy the Rokus and subscriptions (the boxes cost $50-$100 each and subscriptions each have additional costs).  We also discussed providing a service like Hoopla vs. Roku and what the advantages and disadvantages may be.  While we concluded that the timing is not right for our library to launch streaming content, we are open to the idea and look forward to learning more about Roku or Hoopla or the next big thing.

What are your predictions for libraries and streaming video content?

1)   http://www.thedigitalshift.com/2013/02/media/one-way-to-get-streaming-content-from-the-library-ephrata-pl-looks-to-expand-roku-lending-program/

Further resources:







Tags: ,

Leave a comment


  1. Jim Douglass says:

    Jun 4, 2013

    Roku seems extremely faddish and short-lived. Libraries should focus on technologies/services that will be around for a while instead of just jumping on the supposed ‘next big thing’. Trend hopping is not an effective strategy for libraries.

  2. Debra Holgate says:

    Jun 24, 2013

    I disagree with Mr. Douglass. While the Roku may one day be unseated as the most desirable device with which to access streaming video content I think streaming video is here to stay. Despite the demand a DVD can only be in one place at a time; streaming video can meet the demand and reach many people at the same time. Great idea Ms. Svehla! I hope our budget one day allows for this at every library.

  3. CLee says:

    Jul 9, 2013

    “I disagree with Mr. Douglass. While the Roku may one day be unseated as the most desirable device with which to access streaming video content I think streaming video is here to stay.”

    Agreed. Not to mention, that the Roku is hardly a new device. The original Roku debuted in 2008, making it an “ancient” 5-years old. 😉 To date, the majority of big-name streaming content, including players such as Netflix, Amazon VOD, Hulu and also cable channel content, have applications in the Roku channel store.

  4. Louise Svehla says:

    Jul 10, 2013

    Thank you all for your comments! Great discussion. This was just one example of how a library is offering streaming content to their community. I know there are other options, and no doubt others will develop. I look forward to learning more and hearing thoughts from others.

  5. Carol McAnulty says:

    Jun 13, 2015

    You don’t need a
    “Users must have a newer TV with HDMI connections” for Roku as stated above you can get a roku that runs withe the old 3 colored cables to a very old TV I do it and it runs fine
    Older TV. No problem.

    Roku 1 comes standard with Composite cables just in case your TV doesn’t have HDMI. For full HD, you’ll need HDMI® though.

Name required