Culture and Pop Culture: Music in Public Libraries – A Trends Reflection

Home Forums Student forums Kirsty Culture and Pop Culture: Music in Public Libraries – A Trends Reflection

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    • #2755
      Kirsty Roberts

      It seems these days that most public libraries are eager to distance themselves from the stuffy, antiquated library of old and rebrand themselves as ‘community centres’ – a positive step in the right direction. Positioning themselves as places of community engagement has opened libraries up to the ability to provide a wider range of services and activities to more varied groups and individuals. There is no longer the same air of exclusivity to libraries – even individuals unable to or disinterested in reading can find something to their liking in a public library. When we look at trends in this specific context, it may seem as if the most drastic change has come at the expense of traditional services and collections. While this may be true in some respects – collections have become increasingly smaller to accommodate for social and digital spaces – it has resulted in much higher rates of patronage over the past few years.

      For the purpose of this reflection, I’ll be looking at one particular trend– the use of music in public libraries.

      Still well within recent memory, it seemed as if every library had a fairly significant CD collection full of both classical records and more popular releases. These CDs, like most at the time, were often subject to being borrowed with the sole purpose of burning copies, as this particular account discusses. The practice of burning eventually died down as digital music files (generally mp3s) began to take off – and brought an end to the popularity of the CD (with CD sales declining every single year since) and with it, its borrowing from public libraries. No one was interested in borrowing an entire disc of music of compressed, mediocre quality when an entire library of music was freely available to them in a crisp lossless format without ever leaving the house.

      Libraries rightly caught onto this turning of the tide by making streaming services and databases from which music could be streamed available digitally to their patrons. On a surface level, this approach seems to validly serve the needs of their users, but how many individuals these days would bother using a library as an intermediary when they can access free streaming services such as Spotify or YouTube legally on their own? Or, for a small cost, purchase the song they’re looking for from iTunes or Amazon?

      It’s evident even from this small amount of discussion that libraries wanting to include music in their collection or overall cultural experience need to find ways to do so that is far more effective than simply offering their services as they currently stand, but what exactly?

      One example that I was able to personally bear witness to was the inclusion of musical instruments in the library. During my placement at Mitchelton Library, we were host to two beautiful keyboards as part of the Brisbane City Council’s Keys to the City program – an initiative striving to create interest in live music within Brisbane. For a portion of their day in the library, the keyboards were played by professional musicians but, for the most part, they were played by curious visitors and library patrons. To those who see the library as a sacred, silent space (which is hard to imagine if one has so much as visited a public library in their life) the very idea may seem horrifying, but to the rest of us, the experience was very enjoyable and not at all as disruptive as one may assume.

      This experience is not the exception – all over the world libraries are turning to live performance to generate interest in music (particularly local music). The UK have been running Get It Loud in their libraries for the past nine years with huge success – with over 28, 000 people visiting libraries during the program’s run. At the Thousand Oaks Library in California, they host Live @ The Library with a variety of artists. Closer to home, Surry Hills has previously hosted the Late Night Library Program (which also features film screenings and group discussions).

      The appeal of these events, according to Sydney Mayor Clover Moore is that they create a more open, welcoming atmosphere – “libraries aren’t just for quiet reading anymore,” he states, “we want them to be useful for everyone, including people who can’t get there in the day.” Having music performed at the library not only draws in wider (and generally younger) crowds, it also positions it as a space where art itself can be created rather than simply consumed. Libraries – through programs such as these – become the community centres they aspire to be. And, as Get It Loud’s philosophy claims, “a trip to the library can change your life”.

    • #2865
      Deborah Fuller

      I enjoyed your post  Kirsty. It is an interesting but valid take on pop culture to discuss music in public libraries. As you say libraries are becoming more community hubs than the traditional silent reading places of my childhood. Libraries should be inclusive places where people can go and feel welcome. Music is a large part of many people’s lives and by holding specific musical events, it will attract new people into the library. Similarly other culture events could be held in libraries such as street performers and fashion shows which will expand on their inclusivity.

    • #2877
      Samantha Maddox

      Hi Kirsty, great post! The concept of bringing music into a library on this scale, I had never heard of before. Hopefully with the success of The Late Night Library program in Sydney, the concept will infiltrate up here 🙂

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