November 20, 2017

Musical Instruments Circulate in Canadian Public Libraries

Canada Music Library launch

Launch of Sun Life Financial Musical Instrument Lending Library, Vancouver Public Library. L-R: VPL board chair Mary Lynn Baum, VPL chief librarian Sandra Singh, Sun Life Financial assistant VP of philanthropy and sponsorships Paul Joliat
Photo credit Vancouver Public Library

Three days after the Vancouver Public Library’s (VPL) June 7 launch of its Sun Life Financial Musical Instrument Lending Library, every instrument had been borrowed. Two months later, all remain checked out, with a waitlist as high as 70 for some. None of that has been a surprise to the man behind the service, talent agent Shaw Saltzberg. This year, his idea became reality: two musical lending libraries were launched, with a third opening this fall in a major Canadian city to be announced. In April, patrons began borrowing musical instruments from the Parkdale branch of the Toronto Public Library (TPL), followed by the VPL Central Library. Saltzberg is already thinking about how the program can be expanded to 12 or even 24 public library systems across North America in the future.

From Idea to Reality

Saltzberg spent more than 30 years with the Feldman Agency in Vancouver, representing musicians like Diana Krall, Barenaked Ladies, and Sarah MacLachlan. He first got the idea for the Musical Instrument Lending Library while serving on the board for the Sarah MacLachlan School of Music, where he “watched [students] have this transforming experience of working with great teachers getting inspired by music and working collaboratively with other children, playing on wonderful instruments.” But, he said, “There were many kids from families without resources, so what did they do when they went home? Did they wait until next week’s music lesson to play?”

He approached Sandra Singh, Chief Librarian of VPL, and the financial planning company Sun Life Financial, with the idea for a circulating collection of musical instruments that any library patron could borrow.

Sun Life Financial funded the launch, providing $130,000 CAD and 100 instruments to each library. They also brought in music retailer Long & McQuade, which offered its services to keep the instruments in good repair and hosted donation drives to help grow each city’s collection. Without Sun Life, Saltzberg and Singh both emphasized, the collections at Toronto and Vancouver Public Libraries wouldn’t be possible.

Challenges

Singh acknowledged that there were plenty of unknowns going into this new initiative, but VPL wasn’t daunted. Her team rose to the challenge and treated the new collection like any other in terms of cataloging and making it available to the public. Patrons borrow instruments with their library cards for three weeks at a time, and are able to check out other materials, like instructional books and sheet music to supplement their experience. Patrons can borrow one instrument at a time, with the option to renew twice if there are no other holds. The library does charge late fees, with a maximum of $12 for adults and $6 for minors.

Many questions remain, including some big ones about maintenance and collection development. Long & McQuade hosted donation drives at stores in Vancouver and Toronto to collect gently used instruments from the public. Jeff Long, the company’s VP of sales and marketing, estimates that a little more than half are in a good enough condition to bring into the library collections. It’s unclear what the costs will be to maintain the instrument collections, but the librarians are getting help from local music schools to evaluate the health of the instruments. Advising other libraries that might be considering similar programs, Singh said, “It’s okay to get most of it ready to go, and figure it out as [you] go along.”

Long points out that most trained musicians are familiar with a select few instruments, but very few people have the expertise to maintain such a diverse collection without outside help. “Nobody knows them all,” he told LJ.

Both cities’ initial collections, which were donated by Sun Life, include instruments from around the world, including a doumbek drum from Egypt and a cajón—a box-shaped percussion instrument—from Peru. Currently Vancouver has more than 100 instruments in its collection and Toronto has almost 200, including guitars, violins, and keyboards, in addition to a wide range of percussion instruments. Vindra Ramnarine, Library Operations Analyst at TPL’s Parkdale branch, said the library aspires to eventually have at least 250 instruments in the collection.

A Good Fit

“The Sun Life Financial Musical Instrument Lending Library is an important new service,” Singh told LJ. She sees the collection and surrounding services as “integral to contributing to a city with a healthy ecosystem of community amenities.”

Singh wants the library to empower users to create new ideas. For VPL, the musical instrument collection was a natural follow-up to the Inspiration Lab that opened in 2015. The Lab features equipment and space to record, edit, and publish audio, video, and digital media.

Patrons at VPL are encouraged to use space in the Inspiration Lab to practice or record music. While the library isn’t aware of any patrons using instruments from their collection in the space yet, Marya Gadison, VPL’s marketing coordinator, reported, “We actually have a number of musicians using the Lab to record their work. It’s really inspiring to see them in a studio playing and/or singing their hearts out.”

We always think about the unique role of the public library in our community and what seems like a natural and coherent next step for us,” said Singh.

Early Reactions

So far, patrons are taking good care of the collections in both cities. Paul Tartaglio, head supervisor of circulation services at VPL, told LJ that “patrons’ faces light up when they see the collection.” He added, “It’s reenergized both the public and fellow staff to feel excited about the library’s offerings.” At TPL, Ramnarine reported positive feedback. “Creating this accessibility of instruments to the city has drawn so much attention that we’re almost oversubscribed.”

Tartaglio reported that patrons were patient with the long wait times to borrow certain instruments. He recently received a thank-you card from a patron, followed by a voicemail in which the patron strummed the first few chords of Ode to Joy on a borrowed guitar.

Share

Comments

  1. Nancy Traina says:

    What a fantastic program! Many thanks to Sun Life and to VPL!!