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Music in the Library

by on April 28, 2016

Since—and perhaps before—public libraries started building auditoriums in their libraries, we have had music programs for the public. Some of these programs started back in the 1940s; possibly earlier. One of the first noted concert series in libraries was that of the Composers Forum. Under the joint auspices of Columbia University and the New York Public Library, contemporary American composers in 1947 gave concerts until 1977 in the Donnell Library, a branch of the New York Public Library, and in Columbia’s McMillin Theater (now the Miller Theater).

Some libraries included Recorded Sound programs, where music buffs would come together at libraries to share their recordings, listen to some rare treats of opera and soloists, and discuss and critique the music or the recording. Since then there have been many free concerts at night, music during courtyard lunches, and more.

More recently at the Music Library Association meeting in Cincinnati, Ohio, public librarians Laurie Bailey (San Diego Public Library) and Steve Kemple (Public Library of Cincinnati & Hamilton County) presented some newer ideas for music in the public library.

One San Diego program, “Jammin’ @ the Library,” offers beginning guitar instructions through a partnership of San Diego State University and Taylor Guitars. Cincinnati Library’s “Little Bits Synthesizer Orchestra” invited participants to assemble unique synthesizers using Korg Little Bits Synth modules and concluded with a performance of the sounds made with their creation. Group instrument lessons have been offered as well, helping patrons enjoy the music found at libraries.

Some of these music programs are documented now on the Internet. A March School Library Journal article contains information about several sing-along events at libraries. Orange County Library lists a number of interesting programs and concerts. Jacksonville Public Library concerts, Music @ Main, have included world premieres of more than a dozen newly-composed works in a variety of vocal, choral, and instrumental styles. Printed program guides accompany each performance, providing information about the compositions and the performers, as well as selective listings of related reading and listening materials available from the library’s superlative collection of music resources.

As people, musicians, and libraries experiment with new ways to draw people in so they can appreciate and understand creative endeavors art and music, we continue to look for ways to engage our public.

The Knight News Challenge accelerates media innovation by funding breakthrough ideas in news and information. Winners receive a share of three million dollars in funding—and support from Knight’s network of influential peers and advisers to help advance their ideas. Innovators from all industries and countries are invited to participate. A recent Knight News Challenge was, “How might we leverage libraries as a platform to build more knowledgeable communities?” There were forty-four participants and 675 ideas, and forty-six ideas were evaluated. Only twenty-one participants won. Although none of the winners were in music programs, it seems every public library could and should have taken part in the challenge to promote their own music (and other) programs. The newest challenge is found here.

Like a writer and their book, one needs to draw the reader into the story. Helping to build those stories can be libraries with innovative and creative music, art, and writing programs. Go ahead, like the NYPL, have a debate between Shakespeare and Mozart.


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