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Across the suburbs, libraries' VHS collections are unraveling
By Russell Lissau | Daily Herald Staff

Cook Memorial officials are selling their remaining VHS movies, a common move throughout the Chicago area.


Gilbert R. Boucher II | Staff Photographer

Cook Memorial Public Library manager Nancy Hart organizes the Libertyville facility's DVD movie section. VHS tapes are getting phased out.


Gilbert R. Boucher II | Staff Photographer

Even though DVDs have all but replaced videocassettes at libraries throughout the area, the Crystal Lake Public Library is maintaining its VHS collection. Here, patron Eren Hendrix selects some videos for her children.


Brian Hill | Staff Photographer

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Published: 3/2/2009 12:08 AM

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Like video rental shops, retail stores and movie buffs before them, suburban libraries are hitting the eject button on VHS tapes.

Libraries in Cary, Lake Zurich, Lincolnshire and Wheeling are among those phasing out VHS collections in favor of more-popular DVDs.

"The format has become a thing of the past," said Valerie Stern, spokeswoman for Lake Zurich's Ela Public Library. "If titles are available in the DVD format, we purchase it and at that point eliminate the VHS (copy)."

Patrons don't seem to mind. Cook Memorial Public Library video customer Josephine Chang said she hadn't even realized the Libertyville library's VHS collection has disappeared.

"I haven't gotten a VHS (tape) from a library in about five years," the 23-year-old Green Oaks resident said.

Some libraries are hanging onto their tapes, however - and not out of any sense of nostalgia.

"As long as our community checks out our VHS titles, or until space again becomes an issue, we will continue to have VHS," said Cynthia Lopuszynski, head of adult services for the Crystal Lake Public Library.

Once a favorite way to document family events, record TV shows and enjoy feature films at home, the videocassette is headed to the same home-entertainment junk pile as 8-tracks, Laserdiscs and audiocassettes.

Introduced in the 1970s, VHS defeated the Betamax tape to become the predominant home video format in the 1980s and 1990s. This decade, however, DVD sales and rentals eclipsed VHS' numbers.

In the last few years, the major film studios stopped releasing new movies on VHS. Top retailers such as Wal-Mart, Best Buy and Target stopped selling them, too.

The impact is clear: Consumers spent $23.4 billion buying or renting DVDs in 2007, compared to only $300 million on VHS tapes, according to an industry organization called the Digital Entertainment Group.

The shift to DVD is evident at libraries across the Chicago area and the country. Prerecorded movies and television shows typically comprise a large percentage of checkout activity at libraries, and many libraries are reducing or eliminating VHS collections.

The demand just isn't there, Cary Area Public Library Director Diane McNulty said.

"As more people replaced their VHS equipment with DVD players, many of our VHS tapes were sitting on the shelf occupying much-needed space," said McNulty.

The Cary Area Public Library eliminated its VHS collection over the past year. The Vernon Area Public Library in Lincolnshire phased out its VHS feature films last year, too.

Patron Michelle Marzouk doesn't miss them.

"I really don't use my VHS player, except when I tape (TV) shows," said Marzouk, 42, of Buffalo Grove.

Space has been another factor for some libraries. Slim DVD cases don't occupy as much valuable real estate as bulky VHS boxes.

"Our patrons are very understanding of our building's space limitations, and realize that in order to have a greater selection of DVDs, the VHS collection had to be downsized," said David Archer, Cook Memorial's adult services manager. "Some patrons were sad to see the VHS tapes go, but overall, the change was accepted without fanfare."

About 5,000 VHS feature movies had been in the Cook Memorial's collection as of June 2007, officials said. Most were sold for $1 each, netting about $3,000 for the Friends of Cook Memorial Library not-for-profit group.

Such sales are common for libraries seeking to unload VHS tapes. Wheeling's Indian Trails Public Library sold the bulk of its tapes - about 4,400 in all, spokeswoman Jennifer L. Koch said.

About 1,000 additional tapes were given to a variety of nonprofit groups interested in literacy, Koch said.

Indian Trails kept some VHS tapes. Videocassettes can be found in the library's science, history and international film collections, Koch said.

The Ela library has made similar cuts. Although it's eliminating its VHS feature film collection, the adult nonfiction department still has about 2,500 videotapes. Most are instructional or educational programs, officials said.

About 2,300 videocassettes for children are available for checkout at Ela, too.

"They are still in good shape and are used often," Stern said.

The Crystal Lake library is one of the few facilities in the area that hasn't reduced its VHS collection. Although librarians aren't buying more tapes, they have no plans to dismantle it.

"The VHS format still circulates very well and is an excellent supplement to our DVD collection," Lopuszynski said.

Even so, with VHS tapes no longer being manufactured, some holdouts realize the format's time on their shelves is limited.

"At this point, since we can't purchase any new ones, we withdraw anything that hasn't circulated in the past few months, and we don't replace damaged cases or repair tapes any longer," said Susan Dove Lempke, youth services supervisor for the Niles Public Library, where the only VHS tapes left are in the children's department. "So the size of the collection is going down, little by little."