There aren't many things you can buy today at 1976 prices, but the price of a single song remains the same.

I was 11 during the bicentennial year and was fond of visiting a Sam Goody record store in suburban Philadelphia, where 45-rpm vinyl singles were sold for 99 cents.

That was a premium price at a time when entire albums cost about $7, but not bad if you only wanted a particular song. Of course, you really got two songs with vinyl single, but the B-side was usually something awful that didn't really count.

In the decades that followed my trips to Sam Goody, album prices roughly doubled, and cassettes and Sony's Walkman made music more portable and personalized.

Then music went digital — first on discs, then in MP3 files — illegal file-sharing roiled the music industry, and Apple created iTunes. And a single song still costs, typically, 99 cents.

Well, 99 cents is not much money, but when you're trying to populate an MP3 player with a music library, those little charges can add up.

Ask any parent who's watched a teenager burn through some iTunes gift cards.

Free is better, and there are legal ways that people can download songs at no cost from public and private institutions they already may be patronizing.

One great example: public libraries.

Libraries from New York to Charleston recently have been signing up for a service that lets area residents with library cards download several free songs each week. Unlike most things libraries offer, the music files are yours to keep.

Locally, the Charleston and Dorchester county libraries have signed on. Their websites are ccpl.org and dcl.lib.sc.us, respectively.

Here's how it works: People with library cards can go through the libraries' websites and download up to three songs each week. That's 156 per year.

Those songs can be transferred to an MP3 player or added to an iTunes library.

Unlike some websites, which may offer limited selections of popular songs or broad selections of less popular songs, the library deal with Freegal taps into Sony Music's catalog with access to more than 3 million tracks.

My family gave the Charleston County Library's free download system a try and found it easy to use.

In South Carolina, libraries in Orangeburg, Abbeville, Dorchester, Kershaw, Charleston and Beaufort counties are participating in the Freegal deal.

Charleston and other libraries also offer free downloads of audio books and some e-books.

For free music, additional options include some of the websites of specific record labels and recording artists and the free music section on Amazon.com.

But you'll find a much larger selection by using the new service from the libraries. Amazon.com, for example, was making 13,490 songs available for free download the last time I checked, mostly from obscure artists, while the libraries were offering millions.

On a different note, also related to free media, I wrote in my last column about some good options for saving money at the movies, and I overlooked an option for freebies in Mount Pleasant.

An ad in Thursday's Charleston Scene reminded me that Cinebarre offers free outdoor movies during the summer months on a screen in the theater's parking lot (it's more charming than it sounds).

Most showings are on Wednesday evenings (the week of July 4 they switched the show to Monday), June 6-Aug. 8. The series features popular films such as “The Hangover” and “Ghostbusters.”

Reach David Slade at 937-5552 or Twitter @DSladeNews.