Streaming Your Favorite Music Through Your Local Library Has Never Been This Easy

These library programs prove that there's so much more to music streaming than Spotify and Apple Music.

Nina Raemont Writer
A recent graduate of the University of Minnesota, Nina started at CNET writing breaking news stories before shifting to covering Security Security and other government benefit programs. In her spare time, she's in her kitchen, trying a new baking recipe.
Nina Raemont
3 min read
Girl listening to music and holding a book in a library

All you need is a library card to gain access to some library's music streaming services.

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A library is a magical place. You can scour through scholarly databases, connect to free Wi-Fi, read articles from magazines or newspapers you don't subscribe to or spend the day in a cozy, well-worn reading chair at your local library. But at some local libraries, you can do all that and stream your favorite albums or songs by local artists you may be unfamiliar with.

For those skeptical of big streaming companies mining our music data or for those looking to cut their subscription costs, now is the time to try out your library's music streaming service. For more, here are other ways you can save on streaming services and the best services for cord-cutters

How do library music streaming services work?

As an alternative to Spotify, Apple Music, Amazon Music and subscription services, a handful of libraries across the US are spinning up free music services for library patrons.

To listen, most libraries use streaming services like Freegal or Hoopla. With Freegal, you have access to over 10 million songs you can stream 24/7, and you can download five songs per week. Hoopla offers new albums -- such as Taylor Swift's Midnights -- along with classics and holiday tunes. You may also have access to other things too. Hoopla, for example, has ebooks, audiobooks, comics and movies.

All you need is a library card to get access to the music. 

Some libraries across the US and Canada are using their streaming service to provide access to local musicians' albums and raise awareness for artists in the area, Vice reported in November. Fourteen US libraries across the country, from Iowa to North Carolina use Musicat, open-source software that lets libraries curate music from musicians who have lived or played in the area.

What music can you stream at your library? 

What you can listen to differs from library to library.

The New Orleans Public Library, for example, selected albums from the past five years by musicians who either lived within the city limits or performed near the area. All this music selected and curated by the library became Crescent City Sounds, a collection of 30 albums by New Orleans-based musicians. 

While some libraries focus on the depth with a handful of artists, others, such as the New York Public Library, show off the breadth of their music collection. With over 2 million tracks of classical, jazz, world, folk and Chinese music, the New York library provides an expansive catalog of music with album notes, cover artwork, tracklist, instrumentation and publisher information and even a pronunciation guide for composer and artist names.

Why artists are embracing library streaming 

Artists who put their music on streaming services like Spotify may earn as little as $0.003 to $0.005 from one stream, Business Insider reported. That means an artist would need around 250 streams to make $1. 

Library streaming offers the chance to make more. Joshua Smith with the New Orleans public library told Vice that each artist who is selected by the library's curators received a $250 honorarium to license their music to the library for five years. For comparison, If an artist on Spotify needs 250 streams to make a dollar, then they need 62,500 streams to make $250. 

The largest public libraries in the country and their music-streaming services

Want to listen? Here are the five largest public libraries, according to the American Library Association, and their respective music-streaming services. Check with your local library to see what streaming services they offer. 

  • Maricopa County Library District: Use MCLD's Freegal to stream over 10 million songs. 
  • Los Angeles Public Library: The LAPD also uses Freegal to stream music. 
  • New York Public Library: Stream recordings of primarily classic music through Naxos
  • Los Angeles County Library: LACL uses Freegal and Hoopla for music streaming. 
  • Chicago Public Library: Stream music on Hoopla

For more, read how to create your own dream festival in Spotify and what to know about this year's Spotify Wrapped.