Q: We now have three different iPods within the family, with the music stored on one PC. Is it possible to have a ‘master’ library containing all the albums, and also a library for each separate iPod with music that is actually in the master library?
A: There are a couple of different ways that you can approach this. The simplest is to have a single master library and selectively sync content from that library to each of your iPods. This can be done by creating separate sets of playlists for each iPod and then choosing to sync only the selected playlists to your different iPods. Playlist folders can be used to help keep the playlists for each iPod user separate within the library as well—these folders will be reflected in your iTunes Music sync settings for each iPod and can make it easier to keep track of which playlists belong on which iPod.
The benefit to this approach is that you still only have to maintain one master library with all of your content. The only major downside is that metadata such as ratings and play counts will be shared across all devices. This can be a problem if you rely on this information for Smart Playlists since if one iPod user listens to a song, the last played time and play count for that song is updated in your main iTunes library and will affect all users.
If keeping your library data completely separate is important to you, then you can choose to create logically separate iTunes library databases while still sharing a common set of music files to save space. To do this you would store your actual media files in a common location (ie C:Music) and then either create separate iTunes libraries by using separate user accounts on your PC, or by holding down the SHIFT key while starting iTunes if you’re all using a single user account.
You would then configure each iTunes library to use the common folder as your “iTunes Media” folder under your iTunes Advanced Preferences and import the music from there into each library separately.
This isn’t really a “master library” solution, however, since the metadata for each library will be separate and changes made in one library will not necessarily propagate to the other libraries. It is also important to ensure that the Keep iTunes Media folder organized option in your iTunes Advanced Preferences is not enabled for any of your libraries, since if iTunes moves files around based on changes you make in one library, the other libraries will actually lose track of those files.