Iowa City Public Library’s Local Music Project

“If you have a library card and password, and live in Iowa City …you can download this music. You own it forever. Put it on your phone. Play it at parties. Turn it up”

That’s the message on the Iowa City Public Library’s (ICPL) page for the newly-launched Local Music Project, a digital collection that could prove to be a game-changer for libraries.

According to Senior Librarian John Hiett, this exciting new service model started with a common problem: the library needed a new way to deliver music to patrons. “CDs have high loss rates,” he says, “and many borrowers simply take them home and rip the music.” In order to keep things legal and reduce the amount of theft that plagues AV collections, the library began looking into digital options. The Local Music Project began to take shape when library director Susan Craig gave the project a budget and the Systems Department set up authentication software to ensure that Local Music Project albums can only be downloaded by cardholders.

Once the library’s lawyer drafted a license agreement, John ventured out into Iowa City’s music scene to sign bands and negotiate license fees. He usually paid $100 per album for a license that gives ICPL patrons the right to download and own local music. There are currently fifty-eight albums available on the Local Music Project page, and more on the way.

The project has piqued the interest of the library community as librarians turn their attention to local artists and makers as a source of community knowledge they can collect and share. The best proof, however, is in the response in Iowa City; Hiett reports that it has been very positive among both the artists, who are excited to have a new and different venue for their music, and library patrons. “A week after our opening, we had 334 albums downloaded, 3,942 songs. It looks like there will be a budget to expand the program next Fiscal Year.”

— by Erinn Batykefer for the Library as Incubator Project (Original post).

ICPL’s Local Music Project FAQ []
PDF version of Public Library Music Licensing Agreement []


  1. The Iowa City Public Library (in the Western Hemisphere’s only UNESCO designated City of Literature) is amazing!

  2. I appreciate the fact that they went to the artists directly to pay fees. Now we wait to see how much of that translates into more paid work or more sales for the musicians. Regardless, it’s a fantastic way to take out the middleman, and boost the recognition of local artists.

  3. I would love to live in a world where local libraries gradually evolve and out compete traditional record labels in the music distribution space.

  4. Surprise, my public library made it to boingboing! They’ve always done a good job on the digital media front (audio books via their webpage, e-books, and even video games for patrons to check out) but this is an interesting step for sure. Go IC!

  5. Pima County, and a number of other libraries, are offering Freegal. It’s not the same model, although it does offer music downloads to library patrons. This model has the library purchasing the license directly from local musicians. It’s awesome, and it should be happening in many more places.

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