Live at Your Library!

How to plug into your local music scene and charge up your communities

December 11, 2012

Singer Paten Locke performing at JPL's Main Library in July 2011.
Singer Paten Locke performing at JPL's Main Library in July 2011. (Photo: Walter Coker)

It’s hard to miss the ever-growing enthusiasm for the “buy local” movement. People want locally grown food, locally made handicrafts, locally created products. Now is the best time for libraries to join that movement and provide space in their collections for local content, particularly local music. These collections are a plus for libraries in terms of economics, partnerships, and plugging libraries into the local creative “scene.”

Just look at Seattle Public Library, which in July partnered with the University of Washington’s acclaimed KEXP radio station to make its extensive archive of live performances by both local and national acts available for library users. “We see the KEXP offerings as an added bonus to our music collection,” Seattle City Librarian Marcellus Turner said after the launch.

The radio station’s collection of approximately 3,200 live in-studio performances include a variety of genres such as indie, hip-hop, reggae, roots, country, and Latin. And, Turner noted, the range of artists include many up-and-coming Seattle bands as well.

Public libraries can play a role in distributing, promoting, and archiving quality local content. As a result, the library gains materials, musicians gain another outlet to the community, and the public gains access to new content.

What’s more, a local music collection gives the music community a personal stake in that collection and generates cool points for the library. It allows librarians to “shop” locally and can mean a steady stream of new and often free material during tough budgetary times.

Make time and space

At its core, creating a local music collection doesn’t have to be a radical departure from standard operating procedure. It can be as simple as including locally produced music within the library’s collection and providing library users with some special mechanism for finding that music. For overworked catalogers, a “local” note in the MARC record is all that’s needed to generate reports and make item lists available through the OPAC.

Of course, it’s best to be as prepared as possible for the unique eventualities that occur when dealing with new collections and self-produced material. Have a collection development statement approved and ready to go before you even start accepting music. Best to be consistent from the get-go to prevent hurt feelings or unnecessary conflicts. Also, accept that you’re not going to love every single album submitted for the collection. That’s fine. Understand too that production values won’t always live up to Abbey Road standards. That’s fine too. Be open-minded when reviewing albums for inclusion and consider adding “outdated” formats; cassettes and vinyl are still widely circulated on the local level.

Recordings can be on compact disc, vinyl, cassette, and/or digital format. A local music collection should include historical content—that is, older acts that have played in your city—as well as current acts playing around town. For maximum exposure, the ideal local collection would be displayed together in one central location, separated from popular music.

Because local music isn’t dependent on what’s hot on the charts, it may be much harder to come by than Top 40 music, which is readily available both digitally and on the radio. That’s even more reason to promote the idea of local, as the library can offer truly unique content that reaches beyond market saturation and exposes patrons to a variety of styles and genres.

The Kalamazoo (Mich.) Public Library and Rockford (Ill.) Public Library both circulate local music CDs as part of their collections, and Kalamazoo even goes so far as to add the genre designation “local artist” to its CDs.

Build it and they will come

Once you’ve narrowed down a physical space for the collection and a system for cataloging it, how do you go about building the actual collection?

First, get out there and meet musicians—and do not limit your search team to credentialed librarians. Engaging and collaborating with local performers isn’t hard; you just have to hit the bricks and start going to local shows. Work to establish direct contact with musicians, labels, and show promoters. Local experts in the field (promoters, label heads, DJs, writers) can be a great source as well. As you pitch the mutually beneficial nature of this relationship, be sure to maintain good relations with the community so your library will be seen as a worthwhile partner.

Second, if you are concerned about costs or constrained by purchasing restrictions, consider beginning with a small cache of donations to launch the collection. As use increases, you may be able to advocate for funding. At Jacksonville (Fla.) Public Library, we started by soliciting donations from musicians and labels. We modified cataloging procedures to make local music more accessible through the catalog. The result has been an influx of new music and renewed interest from the public for checking out music from the library.

Third, boost usage with marketing. Effective publicity will build the audience and, in turn, encourage more musicians to contribute. To do this, use social networking as well as old-fashioned fliers. One-on-one interactions are also key: Convert local bloggers, radio personalities, local press, and other tastemakers to your cause. Consider making samples of this music available online, either on the library’s website, via podcasting, or similar avenues. Favorable word of mouth can go a long way.

Introducing the band

But why stop there? You can also host concert events in the library or promote local musicians and albums on the library website.

At Jacksonville Public Library, we’ve partnered with local musicians since 2005. Because we are fortunate to live in a city with a thriving local music scene, we have had many local musicians give free concerts in the library, from rock to classical to hip-hop, including events specially meant for children and teens. For children, Library Associate Josh Jubinsky created a concert series called Music Club that features local bands performing music that makes kids get up and move. For teens, we host a Teen Battle of the Bands event every summer.

We have also partnered with our public radio station WJCT to create Lost in the Stacks, a weekly program that promotes music from the library’s collection. We have featured local musicians and DJs on the program and we anticipate further collaborations as the library’s local music collection grows.

And we’re not alone. At Ferndale (Mich.) Public Library, librarians circulate local music and invite artists to perform in a monthly concert series held in the library, which give acts more exposure and a place to hone their craft.

Iowa City Public Library made a big splash this summer when it launched a homegrown digital music download service called the Local Music Project. Librarian John Hiett explained the digital shift as a strategic move: “A few years back, it looked like CDs might become obsolete,” he said. “As a library, we’d been giving some thought to our place in a world of downloads.” The library pays local musicians—from a wide swath of genres—to obtain temporary licensing rights to distribute digital copies of their albums through the library’s website. Users love it, downloading approximately 1,100 digital albums since early June.


The long-term goals of a local music collection should be mutually beneficial for both the library and the community. By having a strong local music collection, you will (1) have a continuous source for new materials; (2) build strong and enduring ties to the local music scene; (3) foster this scene; (4) energize more people to play music and directly support and interact with their local music scene; and (5) build support for your library within the community.

Libraries have a knack for making connections, whether that means connecting people with books, films, or recorded music. More and more, though, internet-based content providers—such as Google, Amazon, Spotify, and others—have become the primary source for those connections. But what they lack—and libraries can provide—is a local touch. By developing local collections, libraries are simply creating a space for homegrown materials, which serves to reemphasize the library’s commitment to the community. But what’s more important, by contributing to the collection, local authors, musicians, and artists will take pride in their library as it comes to represent the intellectual, artistic,and cultural soul of the community.

MATTHEW MOYER is a popular media librarian at the Jacksonville (Fla.) Public Library’s Main Library. An outspoken advocate for alternative media, he helped build the library’s zine collection and started its Music Advisory Service. ANDREW COULON is an e-library specialist at the Jacksonville (Fla.) Public Library. He has worked to reimagine library services and marketing for the 21st century. Both cohost WJCT radio’s weekly Lost in the Stacks.



Local artists in Jacksonville who have partnered with our public library:

  • The 2416. Hard-charging Jacksonville noise-punks with a serious taste for the surreal, the 2416 are one of the hardest-gigging local acts, always playing out and never failing to impress with pop-art-influenced stage outfits, a standing drummer, and a repertoire of ear-bleedingly precise viciousness.
  • Willie Evans Jr. Affable, laid-back Evans is not afraid to shout out comic books and B-movies in his rhymes and self-produced beats. A former member of Asamov, Evans is gaining a good deal of national traction via favorable mentions in Paste, URB, and Spin.
  • Robert Lester Folsom. Cult 1970s singer/songwriter who cut the lost, hazy classic Music and Dreams album and then disappeared. Recently rediscovered by a new generation of fans via a reissue of that album, his music hasn’t aged a bit.
  • Paten Locke. Formerly DJ Therapy and also once part of Asamov (Jacksonville hip-hop royalty), Locke now follows his own muse, honoring rap’s past and looking to its future with commanding solo tracks and frequent DJ gigs. He’s gigged in Bahrain and did a DJ spot opening for Portishead, so keep an eye out.
  • Memphibians. These indie oddballs somehow manage to mix being constantly on the road around the country with running Infintesmal Records, an important outlet for scores of local weirdos, and running weekly club nights.
  • Jamison Williams. Punk with a saxophone? Free-jazz skronkmeister Williams melds his formative influences of Albert Ayler and Screeching Weasel into a formidable wall of noise either by himself or in any number of ad hoc duos, trios, and even the jazz-thrash orchestra Trapbomb.


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