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Video Lending Libraries

Posted by Big Boo on October 1st, 2008

These days we have many choices available to us when it comes to watching films.  You can go to the cinema, watch them on TV with the likes of Sky Movies, buy a pre-recorded DVD or even legally download them from the Internet.  Another method is to rent a movie from a video lending library, either one of the new online ones or from an old fashioned bricks and mortar video lending library.

Today most of the high street video lending libraries in the UK are owned by the Blockbuster chain, but back in the 1980’s they tended to be local independantly owned shops.  The video lending library was a very useful place, since buying pre-recorded tapes in those days was almost impossible.  You couldn’t buy them in the shops, and even if you could they cost upwards of 70 pounds each!  New films generally took a number of years to arrive on television, and when they were shown they were normally saved up for a mega Christmas TV extravaganza.  If you wanted to watch a reasonably recent movie then, the video lending library was your best bet.

The first video libraries tended to be in dark, dingy looking shops, with the empty boxes lined up on shelves for you to peruse.  You could also get a printed list of all the films the shop had to take home and choose from.  These lists were first divided by the video format, since Betamax and Video 2000 still hadn’t been banished by VHS yet.  Within each format the titles were split into genres such as kids, family, action, horror and adult.  In those days of “video nasties” the latter two genres were usually the best stocked for some reason…

As the years went on video lending shops evolved from the tiny little shops that almost felt like they should have black out windows to larger, lighter, more family friendly affairs.  They needed to be large in order to display the wide range of video tapes available.  As more and more people bought video recorders it became harder and harder to get hold of new release videos, and popular films quite often ended up having long waiting lists of people wishing to borrow them.

The pricing structure also started to change, with new releases costing say three pounds for an overnight rental, and older films two pounds a night.  Really old stuff might be borrowable for more than one night for the same sort of fee.  Prices such as these were quite affordable though, and if there was nothing on the TV (more likely given only four channels back then) then a couple of quid to keep the family entertained for an evening wasn’t bad value.

Unfortunately though, the bubble started to burst.  Pre-recorded tapes started to become available at reasonable prices, and people started to build their own libraries of films.  Many lending libraries started to close or be bought up by one of the bigger chains, for example there was a chain called Ritz Video that was popular where we live, but I think this too was eventually amalgamated into Blockbuster Video.

Some libraries tried to stay alive by offering a more novel service.  For example, our local area used to be served by a company called The Video Van, which was exactly what it sounds like it should be, a large van decked out with shelving stocked with tapes that you could hire for a number of days until the van came back another day to collect them.

Personally I can’t remember when the last time I rented a film from a video lending libray was, but I know for a fact that I’ve never rented a film since DVDs replaced video tapes.  I think it must have been when I was at college, and renting a video seemed liked good value for a student looking to fight off an evening of boredom.