Your Chicago Library Card Unlocks Hours of Free Content

There was a bit of news recently when Criterion Collection, that of the esteemed film re-issues and special editions, announced a partnership with Kanopy, the streaming service that connects public library systems across the country with streaming content available to card-holders.

Let’s get this out of the way: the bad news is that Chicago Public Library is not one of those systems.

The good news is that CPL does, in fact, offer a very similar service, and you should know about it. In the age of Netflix and iTunes and Redbox, it’s easy to forget that these pay-per-use services, affordable as they may be, aren’t in the budget for everyone.

Enter Hoopla, the service Chicago Public Library uses to make hours upon hours of content available to cardholders. That’s right: if you have a library card, you have access to streaming films, music, audio and digital books. It’s all just a click away.

To access the service, visit the Hoopla site (linked above) and login using your library card info. There are some limits on how much you can “check out” each month, but generally speaking, there’s a deep well of content to get lost in without any cost to you. There’s even an app for your Apple or Android devices.

It’s worth noting that the Hoopla digital collection doesn’t include the Criterion Collection, or even likes of Game of Thrones or the latest Marvel adaptation. That said, there are gems to be found. Here are a few great films you can stream right now, thanks to CPL, Hoopla and your library card:

I Am Not Your Negro – If ever there was a documentary for our times that is essential viewing, it’s Raoul Peck’s compelling, unflinching film about author and activist James Baldwin and the civil rights movement.

Joss Whedon’s Much Ado About Nothing – When you’ve made some of the biggest films of our generation, sometimes you just want to make a movie in your backyard with friends. Whedon’s black and white version of Shakespeare’s classic comedy is just that, made with love by familiar faces in close quarters, and it shows.

Secretary – A classic in the independent film cannon, Maggie Gyllenhaal stars as an office assistant who finds herself exceeding her boss’s expectations both in and out of the office. Think Fifty Shades of Grey, on a budget.

The Tribe – This massive hit at the 2014 Cannes Film Festival is entirely unique in more ways than one. Set in the world of a Ukranian high school for the deaf, the film’s breathtaking visual style removes the need for subtitles all together.

What We Do in the Shadows – From the genius comedic minds behind Flight of the Conchords comes this split-your-side funny vampire flick that finds these lords of the dark dealing with the mundane of modern life: paying rent, social plans, splitting chores with your roommates.

A scene from What We Do In The Shadows

Ida – The 2015 Academy Award winner for Best Foreign Language Film (and released by Chicago’s own Music Box Films), Ida is a thoughtful period piece that explores the impact of religion and family history on the lives we choose to lead.

Tangerine – Sean Baker’s breakthrough hit from 2015, Tangerine in exceptional in more ways than one, not the least of which is the fact that it was filmed entirely on an iPhone. Stream this new classic before you head out to the Chicago screening of his latest, The Florida Project.

And that’s just scratching the surface. A quick look at their film content reveals the likes of Blackfish, the 2013 documentary that single-handedly ended Sea World’s orca shows; Monster, Charlize Theron’s 2003 Oscar-winning drama about serial killer Aileen Wuornos; A Most Wanted Man, one of Philip Seymour Hoffman’s last films; and classics like Short Circuit, Pillow Talk, Moonstruck and Stop! Or My Mom Will Shoot. (OK, maybe not that last one.)

What’s more, you could fill hours by streaming their audiobooks or music, and who needs a Kindle when you can check out digital books for your next plane ride or lazy weekend? It may not have the panache of Kanopy, but Chicago Public Library’s partnership with Hoopla is a serious perk to cardholders and one you should totally get in on.

Lisa Trifone
Lisa Trifone