Research project reveals how people listen to, manage and store digital music collections

November 3, 2010


Justin BrinegarWhen Justin Brinegar, a student in the bachelor of science in information science program at the School of Information and Library Science (SILS), was considering his research project this spring semester, he began thinking about music and how it was stored and managed. As a lover of music, he felt he effectively managed his digital music archive by keeping it on a central computer and retrieving songs from it to transfer to one of the five computers he uses throughout the day. He wondered, how do others on campus manage their music?

"Music is relevant in everyday life, and yet the management of personal digital music collections is a surprisingly under-studied area, so it seemed like a good topic to learn more about," said Brinegar.

The research began as a project for a course on personal information management taught by Dr. Deborah Barreau, associate professor at SILS. Brinegar posed the suggestion for a research project about music management and storage to Dr. Robert Capra, a post-doctoral fellow and research scientist at SILS who has been examining how people manage information across different devices and computers. Capra worked with him to develop the study and analyze the data.

With a goal of better understanding how people manage and share their personal digital music collections and the problems they face doing so - in the context of current technologies: multiple computers, multiple mp3 players, music collection backups and music software, Brinegar and Capra developed a survey that was distributed to students, faculty and staff across campus. 

The results of the survey provided important insights into how people listen to, manage and store their digital music collections, especially across different devices and computers. 

"Our findings show that music collections in our sample follow an exponential distribution curve both in terms of number of songs and collection size in gigabytes," said Brinegar. "As an exploratory study, we believe that we have identified important commonly used practices in music management."

photo of Justin and RobFor example, survey results showed that 82 percent of participants listened to music on a mobile player two to three times per week or more with 48 percent of participants who listened to music on a mobile player each day; 46 percent owned one mp3 player, 32 percent owned two and 19 percent owned three; 41 percent shared or synchronized music across multiple computers. Out of those surveyed, 66 percent of participants reported collections of 4,500 songs or less, and 10 percent of participants reported collections exceeding 12,000 songs.

The study found that 49 percent of those surveyed said they back up all of their music collection and 25 percent said they do not keep a backup; 42 percent of respondents indicated they had experienced a loss of music (e.g., due to a computer crash, device problems, etc.) and of these 25 percent did not result in recovery.

To share the results of the research conducted thus far, Brinegar and Capra wrote a paper and designed a poster. The poster was accepted as one of 93 submitted by primarily doctoral students and faculty from around the world to the 2010 annual conference of the American Society for Information Science & Technology (ASIS&T). The result was a "Best Poster Award" that was presented during the Awards Luncheon on Oct. 26, 2010 by conference co-chairs Cathy Marshall, senior researcher at Microsoft Research Silicon Valley Lab; and Elaine Toms, professor and Canada research chair in Management Informatics at Dalhousie University.

The poster, which is titled"Understanding Personal Digital Music Collections," presents the preliminary results of the online survey and research project.

"I'm very proud of Justin for this accomplishment," said Capra. "He worked hard to conduct the research over the past year and it is wonderful to see our results recognized by the ASIS&T community."

"To me, this award serves as a validation of our hard work," said Brinegar. "This research and subsequent poster have afforded me opportunities to engage in discourse with a number of professionals in the field. This award also serves to empower me to pursue some of the unanswered questions in the management of personal digital music collections," he added. 

About ASIS&T
"ASIS&T has existed for over 70 years and has members in over 50 countries worldwide. The organization counts among its membership some 4,000 information specialists from such fields as computer science, linguistics, management, librarianship, engineering, law, medicine, chemistry, and education; individuals who share a common interest in improving the ways society stores, retrieves, analyzes, manages, archives and disseminates information, coming together for mutual benefit."