There was a time when the idea of a vinyl library, or at the very least, vinyl in the library was not an unusual concept. Up till sometime in the 1980’s it wasn’t uncommon to find records in university and public libraries. I also remember hanging out back then at a special listening library at my university’s student union building, where there was a room scattered with tables, and a desk manned by a student employee. Behind the desk were a row of four or five small enclosed rooms – sound booths of a sort, equipped with headphones and a chair and table. You’d look through a catalog of record holdings, housed in a notebook at the desk, and pick the record(s) you wanted to listen to. The student employee would retrieve your choices and you’d be assigned a room where you could listen and, presumably, do some school work. I was always too busy studying the music to do any work for my classes, though.
If you wanted to sit at one of the larger tables in the main, non-private study area, you could pick a record to be played there as well. In my explorations, I remember subjecting everyone, including myself, to Yes’s interminable double album Tales From Topographic Oceans (considered the most boring album in progressive rock history) in this public study room. It was the first and last time I listened to it. There were a lot of students snoring loudly in their books by the time the record was over.
Related to the record library concept was the short lived phenomenon of record rental stores, which operated like video rental stores. Instead of buying music at these establishments, you rented it. And then promptly brought the record or CD home to tape a copy for yourself. Because of this somewhat obvious method for the “store” to keep generating income from the same record or CD, the record industry soon put a stop to rental outlets.
Vinyl seeped into the background over the next 20 years, being stomped on a fair amount by CD’s and digital music files. It never quite died, though, and has had a well-publicized resurgence over the last few years. In a case of everything that’s old is new again, the record library and record rental store ideas have been combined and reborn in London, England as The Vinyl Library.
Open since June, The Vinyl Library is the first of its kind – a volunteer run, not for profit, community music hub centered around the once-thought-to-be-extinct vinyl record. By becoming a member, one can borrow records from their ever-growing collection, which is composed almost entirely of donations. It’s an eclectic assortment, covering genres from rock to classical to disco to country, and beyond. The cost to become a member? Free if you make a donation and only one U.K. pound per year otherwise.
Founded and run by DJ’s Elly Rendall and Sophie Austin, the space is more than just a record room. They also host a speaker’s corner, lecture series, and offer workshops such as one on how to do DJ mixing. A regular film series, featuring showings of the 1960 classic Jazz on a Summer’s Day and the Talking Head’s Stop Making Sense, to name a few, is proving popular. Rendall and Austin also host their own weekly music show on online radio station Resonance FM. Needless to say, most of what they spin is from vinyl.
A new listening station lets visitors preview album selections or discover new music on the premises if they don’t have their own turntable at home. You’re also likely to have your visit to the library sound tracked by fellow browsers at the turntable stations set up, and you’re welcome to do the same.
To help cover costs, they currently rent part of the space out to a jewelry and clothing stall, but hope to be self-sustaining in the near future.
Since opening, the Vinyl Library’s membership has steadily increased and their Facebook page has well over 6,000 subscribers. Donations have come from as far away as New Orleans and Hungary, though most are from London residents.
As vinyl records continue to make a comeback, The Vinyl Library’s future looks promising. The owners have said they would like to expand, with similar establishments all over the U.K. For now, though, they’re content to be a uniting force for their London community and, as their Facebook page says: “…provide a space to learn more about music and vinyl as well as share your own knowledge…and have a boogie.”