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How to turn your library card into a free music portal

Alexander StreetThank you, San Francisco Public Library, for giving Californians completely free access to the wonderful Alexander Street Music Online collection. The SF Public library system is one of a host of awesome libraries offering entre to this terrific database. The collection bills itself as:

  • The largest online collection of music recordings, scores, reference, and video available anywhere.
  • The most comprehensive collection of materials for the study of music, covering every time period, genre, cultural group, and geographic region.
  • The highest quality content—the world’s best record labels, artists, scores, and recordings—together with the most essential full-text reference content.

From listening so far, I have no doubt that this is all true. I’m lucky, because my SF public library card allows me free access to the Alexander Street collection. To get to it, I go to, click the “e-library” tab at the top, and access the e-music menu.

There I have a choice of five Alexander Street databases: American Song, Classical Music Library, Contemporary World Music, Music Online, and the Smithsonian Sound for Global Libraries. Being a classical music fan, I’ve clicked on the second option, entered my barcode and PIN number, and I’m in!

Once in, I have access to the classical library, which as of this writing has 5,775 albums, equaling 87,193 tracks. It includes selections from a variety of labels, including Hyperion, Bridge Records, Sanctuary Classics, Artemis-Vanguard, Hänssler Classic, and a company that I briefly worked for many years ago: Vox.

Right now, I’m enjoying the Library’s considerable selection of the piano music of Gabriel Faure. And by registering with the Alexander Street system, I can set up my own playlists, participate in group playlists, and send my playlist data to my mobile device.

On top of all this, Alexander Street offers the public free music downloads from time to time. You don’t even have to register for these. The latest is a recording of Rachmaninoff’s Sonata for cello and piano.

If you are a California resident, you can get a San Francisco Public Library card, and enjoy the Alexander Street collection for gratis. From this drop down list, it appears that a variety of libraries also offer their patrons access to the database. These include the Brooklyn Public Library, the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh, and the Library of West Virginia University.

Thanks to all these libraries and Alexander Street for this wonderful public service!

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