Atlanta-Fulton Public Library gets digi with it: mobile access for music, movies, more

A new mobile app partnership and restored library hours have the system looking sound despite challenges

The Atlanta-Fulton Public Library System has entered the digital age. The system has partnered with hoopla digital, which will allow patrons to remotely access thousands of free movies, TV shows, albums, and audiobooks via mobile app and online. 

The hoopla mobile app, available on Android and iOS devices, will provide instant streaming or temporary downloading to smartphones, tablets, computers, and Apple TV. To access, library cardholders visit www.afpls.org and click on the hoopla widget on the home page under the eResources tab or the “Books, Research & Databases." In addition to the convenience of 24/7 digital access, this also means an end to return dates and late fees for patrons who utilize the free service.

It's something of a sea change for a system that was trending downward until recently.

Just one year ago, the AFPLS was on the ropes. A budget shortfall in Fulton County caused the county board of commissioners to reduce the AFPLS operating budget by $6 million, nearly 20 percent, resulting in a massive elimination of jobs and drastic cuts to hours. More than half of Fulton's 33 public libraries were forced to close for half of each week beginning in 2014. 

The announcement of the hoopla digital partnership comes on top of the AFPLS's recent return to full hours at all system branches, effective April 1. “This is a great day for our libraries and the communities we serve throughout Fulton County,” stated interim library director Gayle Holloman in a press release regarding the library's return to 2013 operating hours. “By expanding the library hours, we meet the critical needs of residents of all ages in our libraries in every part of the county.”

The challenges faced by the local system have not happened in a vacuum. An article last year in Slate titled "What will become of the library?" questioned how public libraries will evolve in the digital age and overcome the 21st century identity crisis impacting information-based industries and institutions from publishing to music to universities. According to the article's author Michael Argresta, "2012 marked the third consecutive year in which more than 40 percent of states decreased funding for libraries." The United Kingdom shuttered 200 libraries in the same year, he wrote.

But if libraries appear to be the dinosaurs of the digital age, the Fulton County Board of Commissioners certainly heard different after the public outcry resulting from the cuts that went into effect last year. The system's 2013 budget of $28.8 million has been restored to $29.2 million for 2015, with new libraries under construction and some older branches scheduled to close by year's end. The total number of branches will remain the same. The Auburn Avenue Research Library and South Fulton branch are both currently closed for expansion and renovation. "The commissioners realized how badly patrons wanted the hours to be reinstated," AFPLS Marketing Director Kelly Robinson Vann told Creative Loafing. "It's an incredibly positive sign to us."

Atlanta-Fulton is the third library system in the state to partner with hoopla digital. While digitizing collections is being touted by many proponents as the next wave to save libraries, the new e-resource will in no way replace AFPLS's physical collection. "We'll always continue to have books, magazines, DVDs, and CDs," said Vann.