Making Libraries Sing | Music Matters

Instead of focusing on a genre of music, or items to add to your collections, this column offers a shout-out to a librarian with a double life, and the work she and others do to bring music to patrons in a variety of ways.

Librarian by day, rocker by night

Let me introduce Sara Peté, senior adult services librarian at Olympia Timberland Library, WA. By day, Peté is known for her vintage-era polyester wardrobe (a young patron came into the library dressed as her for Halloween last year) and her understanding of the varying needs of the Olympia community. Whether working the reference desk, attending community meetings, or enuring that the demands of patrons are met in a variety of formats and languages, she is quick to let me know what the library needs (and gentle with her reminders when I forget). But, by night, Peté is a guitarist and singer for the group Morgan and the Organ Donors, a local band that has played shows from Washington State to Tijuana, Mexico. I spoke to Peté about music in the library and what she sees of the local music from both behind the reference desk and out and about after hours. I first asked her if patrons know of her secret life. “No, the worlds don’t really collide, though a patron did recognize me once, at a show,” she says.

Olympia rocks

Two of my favorite things happening in the Olympia library that came out of my talk with Peté are ones that patrons of the local music collection and the piano can literally check out. First, about our holdings. Our local music collection is vibrant, well curated, and well used and is comprised mostly of donations solely from people in the Olympia community. It includes CDs, of course, but also LPs, 45s, and, to my surprise, cassettes!

Librarian Sara Peté belts it with books and music

Librarian Sara Peté belts it with books and music

A lot of music currently is digital, and buying physical copies of local bands’ output might be impossible. Peté solicits physical copies from those groups if they have them, and whether the bands are new or have been around for a while, there is a good chance they can be found in our library.

in a collection

So, about that piano? I’ve been in Washington almost three years, and I had no idea that I could check out time to use the piano in the Olympia meeting room. Checkouts are in two-hour blocks when the library is open and the meeting room isn’t occupied. It’s available for programs, of course, but also for individuals to practice and hone their skills. Folks can bring their own music, but Olympia also has a rather extensive sheet music collection. Currently, it’s in the process of an overhaul to make the catalog more user- and finder-friendly. The goal is to include all the items in the main library catalog, so staff and patrons can locate them easily. The collection is sorted by popular song collection, classical music by instrument, and instruction books by instrument. So, yes, patrons are able to check out a piano instruction book, two hours of time, and begin to teach themselves how to play.

Programs and collaboration

Programming, however, was the thing that got Peté the most animated and with good reason. The library has featured a vast range of programming related to music. Among her favorites were Harry and the Potters, which she says was “one of the first live, loud band [activities] we had at the Olympia library. We realized we can have loud local punk shows…after-hours, and both the audience and the performers enjoy the whole getting-to-be-crazy-loud-in-the-library thing.”

Music collaborations also occur between the library and businesses around town. Peté described the partnership that resulted in the “Queer Rock Camp for [LGBTQ] youth and allies, [which] was run by local musicians,” she says. “The teens would come from all around the region and stay with host families…. We would host a yearly library show alongside the camp. The performers would be a mix of campers, camp counselors, and coordinators. It was open to the entire community but had the added bonus of providing all-ages after-hours events for the young campers who were visiting.”

Boomer Brass, a local group made up of baby boomers who play brass instruments, have also performed. They practice at a local retirement home and provide the residents with free concerts. They also gave a free concert in the library, featuring holiday songs. Another favorite was the instructional ukulele program, at which more than 60 people came to learn how to play simple songs on the instrument.

So customers can not only check out a music CD from their favorite artists, they can discover the sound of local performers, reminisce with classical or vintage popular songs via sheet music, learn how to play an instrument, practice the piano, and see a show, all courtesy of the Olympia library. The staff think outside the box to make the most of their resources and appeal to a wide variety of people.

Robin Bradford is a Collection Development Librarian at Timberland Regional Library, WA, where she orders adult fiction, feature films (and TV!), and music CDs. She was chosen the Romance Writers of America 2016 Librarian of the Year

This article was published in Library Journal. Subscribe today and save up to 35% off the regular subscription rate.

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