I own upwards of 2,000 CDs, 250 records and two hard drives filled with music and yet there’s something about going to the library and borrowing a CD that still excites me – I don’t have to make a $10-$15 commitment for something I might just listen to once or twice but still can listen to brand new releases in a physical format. Digital music is great because it’s portable but I still have a CD player in my 2014 Honda Civic and, while it’s not the same as pouring over the credits on a record cover and inner sleeve, flipping through a CD booklet is something I enjoy doing.
The picture that is at the top of this feature shows the CDs I currently have checked out – everything from Ray LaMontagne to Cradle of Filth, Damien Jurado to Iron Maiden, Cage the Elephant to Chris Cornell. I take the library’s CD collection for granted sometime and I’m sure, within my lifetime, libraries will eventually phase out physical copies of music, but until that time comes, I’m happy for the opportunity to check out music, both old and new.
I wanted to know more about why the Columbus Metropolitan Library system has such an extensive collection and how they decided what to stock (and how many copies). It took just one email to get connected with Jennifer Young, Librarian II Tech Services. Jennifer is the music selector in the Technical Services department at the Columbus Metropolitan Library and, if you’ve checked out a CD from any of the main branches, you’ve got Jennifer to thank for making the CD available.
Here’s an interview with somebody I consider to be an unsung hero in the Columbus music world.
Music consumption is moving towards digital and streaming and yet the Columbus library system continues to not only keep CDs as part of the inventory but is continuing to get newly-released CDs into circulation. Have you had any discussions about discontinuing stocking CDs?
Jennifer: We review CD circulation each year around budget time. And a few years ago, we thought physical music items would go by the wayside sooner rather than later, but music CDs still produce strong circulation for us. The CD-to-streaming transition mirrors eBooks a bit. It certainly is moving faster than eBooks, but neither transition has been as absolute as initially projected. We also offer Hoopla to our customers, which allows them to “check out” music for one week on their computer or mobile device. Customers can make up to 12 checkouts per month with their library card.
I have a massive physical and digital music collection and subscribe to a streaming service and yet I never walk out of my local branch without at least one CD. There’s something about holding something in my hands without having to make the commitment to actually buy it that is refreshing to me. I can’t believe the range of new releases I can find – I’ve found some pretty great indie label stuff, some underground metal, etc. How do you go about ordering new CDs? Do you select from a list or are CDs just sent?
Jennifer: We have a wholesaler who provides me lists in various genres as titles are released. We do not buy as far in advance as we do with books, but we do try to have music on order before it is released so customers can reserve. We also take requests from our customers via our website, columbuslibrary.org, and I credit them with a lot of the diversity in selection. We have some strong fans of jazz, alternative rock and heavy metal in Columbus, as you probably already know.
If a local band wanted to get their CD into the system and available for circulation, is there a way for them to do that or do they have to be working with an established distributor that you go to for a majority of your catalog?
Jennifer: We welcome local music CDs in the collection, although we do not promise to hold onto them for any specific length of time. If they are not circulating, they will eventually be weeded from the collection. Our limitations involve actually obtaining the CDs. If a title is too small for our wholesaler to carry, we can order from Amazon. We can also purchase from a local book or record shop. We cannot write a check directly to an artist. We will also happily accept donations!
Obviously, you’re going to order way more copies of the latest Taylor Swift CD than you are the latest Speedy Ortiz CD. Is that something that you have direct influence on or do you base it on any data that shows how often Taylor Swift CDs are requested and how long the wait list is?
Jennifer: I order an initial number of CDs based on the history of the artist and how their titles have performed in the past. Our computer system gives me a report of new titles and how many reserves are on each title. We buy at an 8-to-1 ratio. So, when there are more than 8 reserves for 1 copy of a title, it shows up on my report as something I should revisit. (Also, thanks for introducing me to Speedy Ortiz!)
How do YOU consume music? When flipping through the extensive library selection, do you ever give random CDs a try and, if so, do you pick them based on album art? On the band name?
Jennifer: Interesting question. Sometimes I see CDs as they come in, but mostly they are processed quickly and sent out to our libraries. Lately, if I am trying something new, it is probably someone I have heard on Later…with Jools Holland or on CD102.5. I also get music suggestions from my 20-year-old son, who taught me that electronic swing music is a thing. While I am writing this, I am listening to the Foo Fighters Skin and Bones album via Spotify. I love Spotify because I do not necessarily know what I am going to be in the mood for when I get busy at my desk, but I feel like the whole world is open to me. I have an iPod, but it seems to me that my account requires too much maintenance and I don’t update it often enough. Everyone in my house buys CDs, even my millennial son, for must-have bands. I also sing in the CSO chorus, so I am building a CD collection of everything I have had a chance to perform over the last 16 years.
What were some of your favorite 2015 releases and is there anything that is currently in circulation that you think most people overlooked and should give a listen to?
Jennifer: I have been enjoying Foals What Went Down and the latest Civil Twilight CD, Story of an Immigrant. My husband and I are listening to Rhiannon Giddens Tomorrow is My Turn after a lovely report about her work on CBS Sunday Morning. Okay, that’s a 2014 release, but I really appreciate the clarity of her voice.
At my branch (Old Worthington), there is a “for sale” section in the lobby and I often find CDs that have been taken out of circulation and put on those shelves including some pretty recognizable names and/or somewhat current (within the last 12 months) releases. How do those CDs end up for sale rather than continue to be available to check out? Do you look at how long a CD sits on the shelf without being checked out and/or reserved and if it meets a certain criteria, it is removed from circulation?
Jennifer: Old Worthington is part of Worthington Libraries, and they have their own criteria for purchasing and weeding music. At Columbus Metropolitan Library, we will review CDs by circulation and remove some titles that do not meet circulation criteria. Of course, CDs are also weeded for wear and damage as well. We need more copies right after music is released, and then not as many copies later on. New music is constantly coming in the door, and so we need to make room from time to time.
Because I live so close to the Old Worthington branch, and because of the great reservation system that allows me to reserve a CD from any branch and have it delivered to my home branch, I don’t make it to other branches that often. Does each library in the system stock the same amount of CDs? Is it based on available floor space? Is it based on demand?
Jennifer: Collections in each of our locations are different. When new music is processed and sent out to branches, it is generally reserved by someone. Music travels to where it is requested and then stays wherever it is returned for someone else to discover. In that way, we hope it is distributed by demand.
I was talking with a friend about a certain artist and this artist’s rare, early release. This person said, “There was a copy at my local library that I took out. I called them a few weeks later to tell them I had ‘lost’ the CD and paid whatever it was they charged me but I was able to add this CD to my collection for much cheaper than had I tried to buy it from eBay.” (This person wasn’t me, by the way, and I think this person they mentioned they were from a small town in Northeast Ohio so I don’t think it was from the Columbus Metropolitan Library system). While you’ll never know the true stories behind “I lost the CD”, is this a pretty regularly occurrence (people losing CDs)? How do you determine how much to charge for a lost CD?
Jennifer: I don’t think we own many titles that you can’t pick up easily and cheaply from the online vendor of your choice. Our budget priorities lie with books, so the music budget only really allows me to buy popular and requested new titles. I try to replace classics where I can. We do not purchase boxed sets here at CML. A customer’s cost for a lost item would be our cost.
I remember when I was in high school in the late ‘80s, I could borrow vinyl from my local library (Cleveland suburbs). With the resurgence in vinyl in the last few years, is there any chance you’re exploring making vinyl albums available to check out?
Jennifer: I don’t think so. Vinyl albums deserve much gentler treatment than our book drops could ever provide. I know there are smaller libraries that circulate vinyl. But we operate on such a large scale, it would be difficult for us to manage in any efficient way.