New Milwaukee Public Library service offers free MP3s

Along with checking out CDs, library patrons will soon be able to download mp3 files.

The Milwaukee Public Library is now allowing city residents who hold a library card to download three free songs per week from the Sony music catalog through the launching of the library’s new Freegal music service on March 19.

Library card holders can download the songs by visiting the library’s website and entering their library card number and ID number.

“It’s a great way to bring more traffic to the website,” said Gwendolyn Long of the library’s communications and marketing department.

Library Technical Services Manager Bruce Gay said Freegal opens up a lot of opportunities for both the library and users.

“It really gives us a way to present a lot of material in a way that people are looking for today,” Gay said. “It expands our catalog and gives us thousands of albums we may not have. “It also offers a quick way to get the songs.”

Marketing professor Syed Akhter said this new program is a must for the library moving forward.

“The library has to adapt to the new digital environment people want,” Akhter said. “They want to read books on the Internet, download movies on the Internet and download music on the Internet.”

Akhter said the ability to get music online from the library creates flexibility for users.

“They are creating time and place utility,” Akhter said. “You are saving time also — you can do it from your home.”

The service will cost the library $45,000 per year, which has already been approved in its 2012 budget. Gay said the money comes from a fund that had already been set aside.

“(The $45,000) will be part of our materials budget,” Gay said. “We set aside about $1.5 million. That’s all the money the city gives us for books and what we use for our databases.”

Akhter said the cost was likely not a concern for the library.

“This is a service-orientated organization,” Akhter said. “Profit motive does not drive their decisions.”

The files are MP3s and can be downloaded to a Mac or PC and can be transferred to an iPod or smart phone. They can also be stored in iTunes libraries and kept indefinitely since they have no due date. Library director Paula Kiely said in a press release that this arrangement could allow Milwaukee residents to have access to more than 65 million songs in total.

The Freegal music service is already offered in public libraries in other parts of the country, including New York City, San Antonio, San Jose, Seattle and Scottsdale, among others.