For 3 years, it ran in the Greeley Tribune. Since then, it has run in various subsidiaries of the Douglas County News Press. I still have most of my columns in digital format.
For many years, I only gave myself one rule: try to work the word "library" into every piece. My intent was to think in public about just what librarianship means at the end of the 20th century and beginning of the 21st.
There have been many advantages for me. I found that putting library plans out in front of the public, and getting feedback about them, helped me make better decisions. Sometimes, I found that it was very difficult for me to describe those plans or policies -- the kind of thing that makes me realize that they might not be good ideas after all. The weekly discipline of explaining my profession to the public keeps me more mindful, more honest. It also has provided steady visibility for the library and its issues.
April 22, 2010 - library offers new ways to listen to music
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.