Depending on the report, last year saw anywhere from half to three-quarters of teens owning MP3 players. And given that MP3 players remain at the top of teen wish lists, you’re going to see even more teens asking the question:
“How do I download MP3s on these computers?”
Increasingly, the software and security on your library’s computers is going to decide whether you’re poised to meet the information needs of teens. That means allowing teens to use your high-speed connection to download files onto the hard drive, as well as allowing devices to connect through USB or firewire ports. It also means having software installed that can interface with these devices. So in honor of the upcoming Teen Tech Week, here’s a brief guide to making your library’s computers MP3 capable:
Behind Windows Media Player, Winamp is the second-most used MP3 player in the world. This lightweight program plays a wide array of formats, gives users an easy way to listen to Shoutcast radio and video stations, and–most importantly–lets users upload files to most commercial MP3 players, iPod included. You can find more information about uploading files through Winamp by following this link. A free download is available for Windows computers only.
For those of you using Macs, it’s not easy to avoid iTunes. This is Mac’s ubiquitous all-in-one multimedia player and iPod manager and it’s the first thing a Mac looks for when an iPod is inserted. Unfortunately, using iTunes on a public computer can have potentially disastrous consequences. If teens aren’t careful, the computer will try to “sync” with their iPod, deleting files and replacing them with whatever was previously imported into iTunes. You can disable this behavior in the “Sync” tab of your preferences. Teens can then go to the iPod preferences pane and select “manually manage music and videos” to add songs without wiping out their whole system (however, this option is not available for the iPod Shuffles).
Most other MP3 players will simply show up in Mac OS X as a removable drive within the operating system, allowing teens to drag and drop files as needed. Safer alternatives to iTunes exist (such as YamiPod) for transferring music to an iPod, but they have their own problems. You’ll need to assess the risks and rewards based on your own needs.
If you’re running Linux on your library’s computers (yes there may be one or two of you), fear not. amaroK is a terrific open-source solution that combines the flexibility of Winamp with the great user-interface of iTunes. It plays as many file types as your operating system is set-up to handle and works with a number of media devices (check the wiki page for more information).
Freeing your computers shouldn’t just go for MP3s players, but for generations of plug-n-play devices to come. If you’re not already, it’s time to let teens download pictures, videos, books, and more. And it’s time to let teens thrive as content creators by giving them the tools to upload from their cameras or portable audio recorders. Broadband penetration may be high among teens, but it’s not the whole story. By downloading free software and loosening a few restrictions, your library computers can be a destination for years to come.
(It’s worth mentioning that there are a few resources for teens to download free, legal MP3s. MP3.com is still alive and kicking, and c|net offers a music portion on the site http://music.download.com. There’s always the netlabels at archive.org, as well as promotional MP3s featured on blog aggregators like elbo.ws and The Hype Machine. If you want to be really cool, you’ll link to DatPiff, where teens can download the latest hip-hop mixtapes as they hit the street.)