Sunday, Sep 23, 2018
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Library teams with streaming service to offer millions of songs

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    Librarian Michelle Gasser shows a customer how to download and use Freegal.


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How do you consume music?

Maybe you’re a vinyl nerd who prefers to dive head first into a physical soundtrack. Or maybe you pay the $9.99 a month for Spotify or Apple and stream music on the go.

According to the 2018 Nielsen U.S. Music Mid-Year Report, released just last month, on-demand audio streaming has already exceeded 268 billion listens since January, an increase of about 45 percent from this time last year.

Libraries throughout the world are taking notice of the demand for music streaming and are offering patrons a chance to listen to their favorite artists for free using an app known as Freegal Music.

Freegal at a glance

• Freegal Music launched in 2010, and the Toledo Lucas County Public Library started using the service in April.

• Freegal Music has approximately 5,000 institutional users (libraries, universities, military bases) in 15 different countries.

• The music streaming service has more than 15 million songs, including the entire Sony Music catalog.

• Users can download five songs per week as well as unlimited streaming.

• Songs range from Jimi Hendrix and Elvis Presley to modern artists such as Camila Cabello and Justin Timberlake.

Bob Dylan once sang, “The times, they are a changing,’ “ and, ironically, that 1964 track is among the 15 million songs available to stream through the app for cardholders of the Toledo Lucas County Public Library.

“We are committed to providing people with this sort of content,” said Ben Malczewski, media relations coordinator for the library. “We want to meet customers in the community at their point of need.”

In April, the library signed a $240,000, three-year contract to use the app service, allowing its cardholders to stream unlimited music for free.

Anyone with a library card can download the app to a smart phone, computer, or tablet.

Library members can download the app on their phones for free through iTunes or Google Play and sign in with their account numbers. Once they are signed in, they can stream songs from more than 40,000 labels as well as music videos and audio books. The app allows users to stream music anywhere at anytime without having to be stationed at the library as long as they have a data plan or have a secured Wi-Fi connection.

“We’re trying to save people money,” Malczewski said. “We’re looking at how we can cost defer for the customers and community so you don’t have to buy Spotify or Pandora.”

Malczewski said the library has a small budget for physical items like vinyl records and CDs, making it difficult when deciding what makes the most sense to have available for patrons. He said Freegal now allows the library to offer a much wider selection of music for its members.

[Freegal]is better for us because this has way more access to genres and sub-genres than we could ever scope out,” Malczewski said. “For this, we actually have access to the whole catalog. People have access to more than we could ever purchase.”

Browsing through Freegal Music, one will find anything from Jimi Hendrix to Elvis Presley and today’s top artists such as Justin Timberlake, Camila Cabello, Foo Fighters, Childish Gambino, and Kane Brown. Freegal claims to provide songs from more than 200 genres.>

Brian Downing, chief executive officer for Library Ideas LLC, the organization that launched Freegal Music in 2010, said since its inception the app has tallied about 5,000 users (libraries, universities, and military bases) in 15 different countries. Libraries in Ohio that use the app include Cleveland Public Library, Worthington Libraries, Mentor Public Library, and Westerville Public Library.

Of course, libraries, universities, and those in the military can only use Freegal Music if they have signed up for the service. If someone in Toledo is not a library cardholder, member of the military, or a student at a university that has the service, they won’t be eligible to use the music streaming platform.

Mr. Downing said libraries have historically offered CDs to their members, and music is considered a core part of a library’s offering along with movies and books. He said with CDs getting damaged over time, Freegal Music’s online streaming is a more convenient listening option for consumers.


Librarian Michelle Gasser shows a customer how to download and use Freegal.


“We didn’t know how big a deal it was going to become; it just made a lot of sense,” Mr. Downing said. “The libraries don’t get credit for how forward thinking they are. All of our best ideas come from our customers. We could see they were having problems with CDs getting damaged or stolen and, of course, [only] one person can use them at a time. There was a need in the solution that came together, and we’re very pleased with the development with online music. It’s all about convenience for the user.”

Toledo Lucas County Public Library’s contract with Freegal also allows members to download five individual songs per week.

After a song is downloaded, the customer can keep the song forever, whether that’s uploading the file into their iTunes library or burning it to a disc. Unlike the free streaming music services, of which Spotify has a version, there aren’t any ads that play on the Freegal app.

“If you’re working out at the gym sometimes those places don’t have great WiFi and it’s not always possible to [stream on] Spotify,” Mr. Downing said. “If you download files you can build a collection. If the library didn’t renew their contract after three years the user would still have those files forever.”

Mr. Downing said Freegal isn’t trying to compete with other streaming services such as Spotify, Apple Music, or Amazon.

“We are trying to serve our markets and be a Spotify for libraries,” he said.

The Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County has been using Freegal Music since 2012.

In an email provided by the library, Holbrook Sample, the library’s regional manager, said the music streaming service was an early and successful way for their library to connect cardholders with electronic material.

“It was part of our effort to get music to people where they are instead of requiring them to come into a physical library to check out some music,” he said. “It also meets the demand for e-materials, which we’ve seen surge for a long time. Customers have loved it, and we have a large customer base that is dedicated to streaming and downloading songs.”

Mr. Downing said the music app is another way for libraries to be useful in their communities without members having to drive to a physical building.

“It’s a great value position for the library, and for the library card holder it’s one of the great economic benefits of the library,” Mr. Downing said. “Lots of libraries do calculations for what a library card is worth, and we’re happy that Freegal is a part of that story and to help them market their services.”

Toledo Lucas County Library patrons can visit or download the mobile app and log in with their library card information.

Contact Geoff Burns at or 419-724-6054.

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