Tuesday, 9 August 2016

An Introduction to the Yahara Music Library

This post was originally published on August 14, 2014.

Many libraries are finding ways to share community-created content and provide their patrons with access to exciting new writing, music, and art.  Not only do these efforts support local artists, they also create unique collections, many of them digital.  I’m excited to introduce Kelly Hiser to the site today to share her work on one such project: the Yahara Music Library. Enjoy! ~Erinn


by Kelly Hiser

The Yahara Music Library is an online collection of albums by local musicians that the Madison Public Library launched earlier this year. To be exact, Yahara went live on my last day working at the library as a public humanities fellow. I’d spent the previous nine months helping folks at the library with a number of digital publishing projects, but Yahara was by far the biggest. As a music historian, it was really exciting for me to work on a project that used the library to connect musicians and listeners in new ways.

As a music historian, it was really exciting for me to work on a project that used the library to connect musicians and listeners in new ways.

Yahara started with librarian and avid local music fan Guy Hankel, who read about Iowa City’s Local Music Project  (which the LAIP has previously covered) and wanted to try something similar in Madison. Guy wasn’t alone; libraries across the country are taking Iowa City’s project as a model for their own local ventures (see, for example, Denver Public Library’s Volume). These projects share a basic structure: the library pays a musician or band a one-time licensing fee for an album for a set term (in Madison, it’s $200 for five years). During that licensing term, library cardholders can download and stream the album to their hearts’ content. There are no limits on the number of cardholders who can access an album at any one time, and there is no digital “lending”: once a cardholder downloads an album, it’s theirs to keep.

Once a cardholder downloads an album, it’s theirs to keep.


The model is compelling for a number of reasons: it gives libraries a way to share local content digitally and lets them explore an online circulation model that doesn’t involve DRM. Taking on a music project like this also creates opportunities to form new relationships with an artistic community that many public libraries haven’t traditionally engaged with.

The Yahara Music Library expands on Iowa City’s model in a few ways. For one, it’s the product of a partnership between the Madison Public Library and Murfie, a startup located just across Madison’s Capitol Square from the library’s central branch. The folks at Murfie were a perfect fit for the project: they already specialized in music streaming and downloads, and they were eager to work with the library.

The library is also seeking to use Yahara to foster a culture of engaged fandom in Madison. Those of us working on the project knew that a one-time licensing fee of $200 might be nice, but wasn’t going to change anyone’s life. So we looked for ways to leverage access to the music into support for the musicians. To that end, the folks at Murfie created artist pages with biographies, videos, links to social media, and upcoming event listings. Visitors to the site also see links to online retailers where they can purchase physical copies of Yahara albums or additional music not in the collection. The idea is to create not just new fans, but active ones– fans who attend shows, buy music, and engage with musicians on social media.


Finally, we wanted to be sure that Yahara represented the diversity of Madison’s musical communities. Wisconsin currently has a reputation as a haven for atmospheric indie music, but there is so much more going on in Madison, and we wanted Yahara to reflect that. Guy is still working to expand some areas of the collection, but the current assortment—about 45 albums total—represents a good mix of what’s on offer in Madison. The indie rock is there, but listeners will also find hip hop, world music, jazz, punk, pop, and metal.

The indie rock is there, but listeners will also find hip hop, world music, jazz, punk, pop, and metal.


Reception of the Yahara Music Library in Madison has been enthusiastic. Local media coverage of the launch generated a lot of  buzz, well over three hundred unique users have streamed and downloaded music thus far, and musicians have responded warmly to the project in conversations with the library, local journalists, and on social media. The library plans to grow the collection to a total of 75 albums within the first year and add at least 50 per year after that. Ongoing plans for promotion through events and local media are aimed at steadily increasing use of the collection.

I’ll talk more about the nuts and bolts of the Yahara Music Library in a future post, but in the meantime you can follow the project on Twitter @YaharaMusic and Facebook.


headshot 2013aKelly Hiser is a PhD candidate in historical musicology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. She spent the 2013-14 academic year working as a Public Humanities Fellow at the Madison Public Library where she helped sort out all kinds of persnickety problems related to digital publishing. She’s currently living in Massachusetts, learning to play the bass, and writing a dissertation on early electronic instruments like the theremin and the Hammond organ.

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