This blog represents most of the newspaper columns (appearing in various Colorado Community Newspapers and Yourhub.com) written by me, James LaRue, during the time in which I was the director of the Douglas County Libraries in Douglas County, Colorado. (Some columns are missing, due to my own filing errors.) This blog covers the time period from April 11, 1990 to January 12, 2012.

Unless I say so, the views expressed here are mine and mine alone. They may be quoted elsewhere, so long as you give attribution. The dates are (at least according my records) the dates of publication in one of the above print newspapers.

The blog archive (web view) is in chronological order. The display of entries, below, seems to be in reverse order, new to old.

All of the mistakes are of course my own responsibility.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

April 22, 2010 - music options

As a teenager, I listened to music in one of three ways: on my transistor radio (portable), on the radio in my room (a dedicated device plugged into the wall), or on the stereo.

For the stereo, I bought a few albums, but like most teenagers mostly I bought, and listened to, 45s.

45s had two songs, one on each side. The "A" side was the song that got radio play. But the "B" side was where things got interesting. It was where artists got to put up something a little different. So if Aretha Franklin had "Respect" on one side, she had "Ain't No Way" on the other. "Respect" ("R-E-S-P-E-C-T, find out what it means to me") was pop; "Ain't No Way" was the deepest soul music, the intersection of gospel and blues. The "A" side is what you paid for; the "B" side grew your musical tastes.

For today's teenager, even the music CD is passé. I'm having trouble finding anyone under 30 who has bought one in the past six months. When they pay for it at all, they buy individual pieces of music from iTunes.

In short, it hasn't taken long for music to undergo profound changes in format. The question for libraries is: how do we leverage the cooperative purchasing power of your tax investment to give you the broadest possible access to commercial music?

Our current main strategy is still the purchase of CDs. As I've noted in previous columns, I suspect there's a brisk business in the theft of intellectual property going on. That is, some people check out the CD, rip all the songs to their computers, and bring the CD back. This practice is not the library's intention. But I really don't have a good way to stop it.

We're investigating two other options that might be not only a better answer to copyright issues, but also a better fit to the times.

In Douglas County, people spend a lot of time in front of their computers. So point your browser to our website - DouglasCountyLibraries.org. Click on the icon near the top left of the screen - "eMedia to Go." Then scroll down the page to "Alexander Street Press." Explore.

What you get is a remarkable collection of music that streams to your PC. (There's more cool stuff, too.)

From the library side, what I like about this is that the music takes up no shelf space. It can't be stolen or damaged. We don't have to reshelve it. There are no calculations of fines or fees for late or lost materials.

Shortly, we'll be rolling out another service. Called "Freegal," it's an intriguing idea brokered by Sony. In brief, Sony bought the copyrights of over half a million songs, which it sells to libraries, then to library patrons, at a base charge (to the library) of $1.29 each.

There are two unique features: first, the library can "throttle" the downloads to limit a patron to, for instance, five downloads a week. This way, the annual subscription (about $19,000) lasts for a whole year. Freegal provides detailed reports about how much use the service gets, how many individual patrons there were, what kinds of music are chosen, etc.

The kicker is this: the patron gets to keep the song. It’s a legal download of music that never has to be returned.

Both of these solutions are, in some respects, improvements to our current offerings. They're not perfect. The content - individual song titles, for instance - aren't integrated into our catalog. That means you have to do multiple searches to find something.

I worry that the fragmentation of intellectual content among multiple vendors makes for many rich offerings, but ultimately, a confusing library experience.

Ultimately, though, I think of it like this. The "A" side of libraries is that we're doing a good job of keeping up with the wild changes in music formats. The "B" side is that there's a lot of interesting work still to be done to bring it all together.

LaRue's Views are his own.

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