Round Rock Library

Removing Audio CDs From RRPL – A Painful, but Necessary, Decision

Written by: Edward Y., Adult Services Manager

This follows a decision last year to remove the CD format of audiobooks when we moved to our new building in January 2023. While many of us still use this format in our cars or at home, (the author of this article also personally prefers the higher fidelity of CDs versus streaming services’ hit-or-miss sonic quality, and usually only listens to CDs in his car), there are unavoidable reasons that are forcing this removal. This blog article is being written not only to give ‘fair warning’ that the music CD collection is on the chopping block, but to explain why RRPL has to take this sad step. 

One of the basic struggles all public libraries deal with is when to stop buying and remove a collection because the format is no longer popular enough to merit spending our tax dollars on it. In the late ‘90s and early 00’s, this occurred with VHS tapes, as libraries across the country had to transition to DVDs instead. This resulted in many frustrated patrons who liked that tape format or couldn’t afford to upgrade to DVD players, and unfortunately now we at RRPL are going to cause similar annoyance because the last of the CDs, our music collection, will likely be removed from our first floor later this year. 

Firstly, it is a sad step for the librarians at RRPL because we take our stewardship of public funds very seriously. No librarian ever wants to spend public funds on materials only to discard them. We feel this pain each time we remove a book because its condition is poor, or the content is outdated or no longer relevant; it’s one of the only negatives of our otherwise lovely and inspiring job.  

And this decision is especially difficult when it’s based on a format becoming outdated. Librarians and other professions have a fancy, high-falutin’ name for this problem: obsolescence. An easy example of this would be data disks of older computers. Many blog readers might remember the massive 1970s old computer disks, or the 80s and 90s options of the 5 ¼” floppy disks and the more robust 3 ½” diskettes. Eventually, options for digital data storage changed into totally different and more powerful variations, and stores stopped selling computers that had the older disk drives. Then, libraries had to follow suit and stop offering computers that only worked with the older disk options, since patrons would bring the new data storage formats, like CD-ROMS, and expected to access those data devices at the library. Those folks stuck with important data on those older formats increasingly couldn’t find a device able to read them, victims of obsolescence. This is a huge problem for archivists trying to maintain music and movie collections for posterity, since so much music and film was encoded and edited on very old computers which are scarcely available. There’s so much to transfer to newer formats that it’ll never be completed, thereby endangering access to those original creations for future generations. 

But, for public libraries, it’s more than just having the newest option to offer our patrons, it’s also the lack of new materials available in the old formats that also forces us to change what we offer. And that point brings us back to why we’re removing CDs. It isn’t just that we want to offer the newest options for discerning customers, RRPL also doesn’t want to store collections for which we cannot buy new titles. Yes, patrons who still want CDs could continue to checkout our older CDs, but libraries do not have enough shelf space to keep collections that are ‘dead’, i.e., we cannot order new titles in that format.  

This means we cannot replace worn out older copies, nor can we reflect changing trends in popularity with such an older format. The best example of this would be the most popular song to ever exist, Despacito, a song by Luis Fonsi, (and many other writers and performers) which won the Grammy for Latin Performance of the Year. ‘Most popular song’ is not an exaggeration, it has the highest number of downloads and views of any song, ever. It’s been viewed 8.3 BILLION times on YouTube, which doesn’t even count how many times it’s been listened to on streaming services like Spotify, which add up to BILLIONS more listens. The highest selling album, combining records and CDs, is Michael Jackson’s 1982 release, Thriller, which by comparison hovers around 70 MILLION sold. No need to think about number of listens on the radio, since Despacito is also played, continuously, on the radio across the world daily. However, there’s one group of people who could not for years hear the most popular song of all time, Compact Disc listeners. This song could not be purchased in that format, not on an album, not as a single, nothing, until last year when a European publisher created a low-quality, MP3 version for sale. A public library collection that cannot offer the most popular title of that genre or media during the height of its popularity is simply not answering the desires of our patrons. 

Furthermore, it would be almost unethical to spend public money on CDs because their usage overall is declining so steadily each year; circulation of music CDs in our library has decreased between 5-10% each year, with overall pandemic circulation decreases for 2020-2021 factored in. This means that money that could instead be spent on formats we can’t buy enough of, such as eBooks and eAudiobooks where demand far outstrips our allocated budgets, would go to CDs that would in most cases ‘rot on the vine’ as it were, or at best only be enjoyed by a tiny percent of our active patrons. 

We do have an alternative for getting music at the library, Freegal! Freegal is a subscription we pay for that allows library patrons to download to whatever device they prefer 5 songs per week, and you can keep those songs forever! Unfortunately, there’s yet to be offered a more comprehensive streaming service accessible through the library to listen to most published music, but Freegal does feature everything owned by Sony Music Group and a few other music publishers. 

So, much like the transition 20 years ago away from VHS to DVDs and eventually Blu-Rays, we now must accept the obsolescence of the music CD, even those of us like myself who still prefer them. We’ll have a grand sale of the old CDs once we elect to remove them from circulation, and we’ll broadly advertise that through our website and other outlets, so if interested, stay tuned!

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