Loafing in the library to read a book is hopelessly old-fashioned in light of the Anne Arundel County Library System's latest innovation: allowing patrons to download videos and movies from their home computers.
Starting on Monday, cardholders at the 15 branches will have free access to an online program known as MyLibraryTV. Library officials said the county is among the first subscribers in the state to the new product developed by a private company, Recorded Books.
Health, travel and cooking shows will also be available in the county's collection of more than 400 programs. Next month, the movie collection will add scores of new releases.
No need to walk in or out of a neighborhood branch to check out the physical object. No fines, either, because the seven-day lending period expires automatically.
Laurie L. Hayes, spokeswoman for the county library system, said, "The cool thing is, when it's due it disappears, unlike Blockbuster and other [video] stores."
"This expands the services we'd like to offer to patrons," she said.
With more than three-quarters of county residents holding library cards, Hayes said, librarians are constantly searching for ways to keep current with all age groups.
Beyond traditional lending, the library system offers such high-tech services as downloadable volumes and audio books, a round-the-clock online reference service allowing patrons to reach a librarian anytime, and live homework help for grades 4 and up with online tutors.
The popularity of its services is reflected in the latest numbers, from 2005: Anne Arundel's libraries racked up 2.8 million visits from patrons, 5.4 million items were circulated and 25.6 million people accessed the Web catalog.
That, along with the ever-rising popularity of the DVD and video services, spawned interest in MyLibraryTV, whose annual subscription cost to county government is estimated at $70,000.
Librarians say downloading, which has become commonplace in the past decade, has revolutionized the nature of their work. On weekdays and nights at most branches, there's often a wait to use computers.
"The job has changed radically," said Cindy Hackett, a librarian at the Annapolis Area Library.
But a young man perusing the popular Web site, MySpace, at the Annapolis branch on West Street expressed doubts about an idea designed to benefit only those who have online access at home.
Tremon Smith, 24, said, "It saves you a trip, but it takes away from libraries." "In my house, we don't have a computer," he added.
"I come here every spare moment I get."
For more information, visit www.aacpl.net.