I was having some nostalgia while reading this article about creating a vinyl lending library in London. Vinyl, what a great sounding pain in the backside you were, and I assume still are.
Although I used to enjoy the large record collections of myself and my parents, transitioning to CDs and then eventually to digital music wasn’t terribly difficult. Sure, the sound quality suffered, but the ease of carrying 5,000 works of music everywhere I go in that little pocket computer we keep calling a phone has offset the lesser sound.
Theoretically, I could listen to vinyl at home and still enjoy the portability of digital music, except that I got rid of my last vinyl 15 years ago, which seemed to be around the time libraries were finally discarding their collections.
As the creator of the new Vinyl Library says, “there’s no vinyl in libraries any more.” There are some university music libraries that still preserve their vinyl, and possibly buy new releases if there are any, but for most public libraries vinyl went the way of phonograph cylinders and gramophone discs.
I’m not sure when libraries started lending records. I’m assuming sometime in the 1930s because a 1941 New York Times Magazine article about “Circulating Records” reports on what they thought was a popular new trend.
According to the article, “during the first year of this service in the Newark Library…900 records were circulated 11,000 times.”
It wasn’t just big cities, either. A public library in Falls City, NE “circulated 400 records 2,173 times in a town of 6,000 population.” That had to boost the circulation statistics significantly.
On a side note, there’s a whiff of the stuffiness of the old fashioned Times. The unattributed author is pleased that “borrowers of symphonic records are frequently of high school and college age – an encouraging note in this day of swing fans and jitterbugs.”
25 years later he probably wrote that swing music was popular again among high school and college students, an encouraging note in this age of hippies and acid rock.
And then along came CDs and digital music and all but diehards got rid of their vinyl. Since public libraries are typically not for aficionados of the relatively obscure, they followed suit, selling or giving away those old vinyl collections and making way for racks of CDs, which are probably now making way for more computer stations or 3D printers or whatever it is libraries are adding now.
Then there was the revival of vinyl, and a dying format became trendy once again. Just this year the Library Journal provided a list of “Best Media 2012” that covered some vinyl offerings.
According to LJ, “Music fans have been blasted between the ears with digital for years, but in 2012 vinyl and, even more remarkably, cassettes began rising from the ashes to again find a small but solid handhold.” And if you can’t trust LJ, who can you trust?
Public libraries won’t ever be the popular source for vinyl again, but maybe the Vinyl Library and anyone it inspires will be.
They sounds like librarians, too. As opposed to those hoity-toity record shops, they want to create a “welcoming, open space.” They’re partly influenced by a library that was shutting down but was “taken over by pensioners and became their social space.”
“There’s people there playing games and there’s always someone who will talk to you about the gardening book you’re taking out, and we were inspired by that.”
That sounds even better than most public libraries I’ve been in, at least the ones without cafes. If you start talking in the gardening section, people might start talking in the cookbook section, and pretty soon it will be anarchy.
Maybe if more libraries brought back vinyl albums, and listening rooms, and all the other accoutrements of the analog age, they would be even more popular than they are now.
Then they could hold vinyl record playing dance parties. That might be a dance party in a library even I’d attend.
Now that they’ve bringing back vinyl, maybe they’ll bring back Elvis as well. He sounded great on vinyl.