The Dallas Public Library (DPL) found a way to publicize its hidden vinyl record collection, clear its shelves of items that needed weeding, make some money, celebrate the J. Erik Jonsson Central Library’s 33rd anniversary, and show its patrons a good time—all at once. On the evening of September 17, 2015, the library held a record sale and party, complete with a DJ, refreshments, and a cash bar, dubbed the 33 1/3 party in honor of both the branch’s birthday and the revolutions per minute speed of LP records. The event “was really fun,” said organizer Heather Lowe, manager of DPL’s fine arts division, “much better attended than in our wildest dreams.” Thousands of weeded records were put up for sale at $2 apiece, with a 25 album per person limit. At the end of the evening, the library had netted more than $6,000.
The first commercial compact discs (CDs) were produced in 1982, the same year that the Central Library opened. Although within five years CDs would begin outselling vinyl records, DPL continued to collect LPs well into the 1990s. By 2014, when Lowe joined DPL, Central’s collection was extensive—some 38,000 LPs—but redundant. In an age of digital music, holding seven or eight copies of a single title made no sense and took up needed space.
In addition, the collection of classical, jazz, Americana, folk, pop, and rock LPs was closed to users. Patrons couldn’t browse DPL’s vinyl, only request specific items. “You could check stuff out,” Lowe told LJ, “but you would have to come to the reference desk and ask specifically for, you know, a Bananarama album or whatever it was you were looking for. That’s certainly a barrier…so it was a bit of a forgotten collection.”
About 4,000 albums were weeded from the collection for the sale. All were duplicates, which made the weeding process easy. “We can’t foresee a time that we’ll need 12 copies of West Side Story,” noted Lowe. The library kept at least one copy of every LP.
Although LP stands for “long-playing,” records are short and inconvenient compared with the relative ease of CDs, MP3s, and streaming audio. Yet vinyl has been making a comeback in the past ten years—many new bands issue music in LP format, sometimes exclusively—and some audiophiles who prefer analog recordings to digital say that it never really left.
To publicize the event, Lowe worked with DPL’s Friends group and issued a press release, which was immediately picked up by the news media. The local CBS affiliate visited the library, and the resulting story aired a few times a night for several days. “Once the word got out,” she said, “it was kind of a train that drove itself.”
Still, Lowe said, both library staff and patrons were surprised at the community’s enthusiasm for the record sale. “Some of our staff were, ‘Wait, Really? Anyone wants vinyl?’ And you have to explain: it’s nostalgic, it sounds different.” Dallas has at least three successful record stores, she told LJ, a couple of which opened in the past few years.
Lowe added, “I had one particular patron who would come in every day for weeks after he heard about the event, [saying], ‘I don’t understand why you guys are putting so much effort into vinyl. No one’s going to come to this.”
A good time had by all
In fact, more than 800 vinyl aficionados, from teens to senior citizens, showed up at the Central Library. Friends of the Dallas Public Library were invited to scope out the collection an hour ahead of the 6:30 start time, and, said Lowe, “when the presale opened we already had 200 people lined up.”
A local DJ played music, and the cash bar did a brisk business. Although there was no dancing, Lowe said, “One thing that was really nice is that the people who hung out were talking about music. We have listening stations with turntables, and our turntables were getting used that night.”
People were also asking about how to sign up for library and TexShare cards, and more than 100 people signed up for Friends membership. Lowe said, “People were asking, ‘How do I check things out?’ and ‘I don’t live in Dallas, but I’m really interested.’ ‘When are you guys going to have another event?’ So…it was a good way to bring in a lot of people who might not normally come to the library.” The money is earmarked to augment the collection with new, current vinyl.
Aside from unloading unneeded copies and turning a profit, Lowe explained, “The point of the album sale was really to highlight the collection that we’re keeping.”
“I think one of the other benefits of the event is that it gave the library a cool factor,” she added. “You know, people don’t think about the library when they think about hip things, necessarily. I do think that’s changing—there’s a lot of cool stuff going on in the library—but I think it went a long way to changing our image.”