Library empowerers bring up new frontier of music collections across nation

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Photo Credit: Carlos Garcia | Daily Texan Staff

A sense of community filled the room as library empowerers chatted before a panel of representatives from libraries across North America and waited to hear how libraries have become prevalent in the local music scene.

Kelly Hiser, Dale Kittendorf, Jacquea Mae and Raquel Mann — library representatives across North America — spoke at a South by Southwest session on March 13. The group discussed how libraries are working with communities to create spaces for collecting, curating, licensing and publishing local musical collections.

Mann, a digital public spaces librarian at Edmonton Public Library in Canada, said libraries have shifted from a provider role to a support system for the local music community.

“People wanted a platform to boost the local community music scene and bring artists together,” Mann said.

Thus, many libraries across the world aim to provide that platform, including the Austin Public Library. Kittendorf, the sight and sound director for the Austin library, said the library is working to reduce the barriers that accompany downloading music and provide a more accessible alternative through streaming music.

“We are the music capital of the world,” Kittendorf said. “It’s kind of a no-brainer that we would have a platform.”

Hiser, the CEO of the startup Rabble that partners with libraries, said libraries have also begun signing licenses directly with local musicians. This way, all content on the library websites are provided by the artists themselves.

“We built the model to empower artists to describe themselves,” Hiser said. “We’re moving forward in terms of what the scope and model is for our partners.”

Hiser said libraries are slowly breaking from the stereotypes that they are mainly quiet places for books because of this. Kittendorf added that it’s not unnatural for libraries to support music.

“It’s natural once you get past that initial (thought of), ‘Libraries can actually be cool,’” Kittendorf said.

Mae, an artist in the collective of artists and social justice activists called 1Hood Media in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, said libraries empower local artists by providing accessible resources for producing art. For instance, she said Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh allows library visitors to rent out photographic equipment, microphones and video cameras.

“They get the opportunity to do something they didn’t think they could do,” Mae said. “It’s just going to keep building because we’re creating opportunities.”

Mae said focusing on building community is important because local artists often lack support.

“Community and individuals are taken out of the conversation often,” Mae said. “It makes them feel like they don’t have any power, when they actually have the most.”

To bridge the gap between libraries and the community, Hiser said libraries have a community jury reflecting the community who decides the content in library collections.

Mae said libraries that reflect communities are important because they are the means of which people leave their legacies behind.

“When it comes to libraries, we have to be willing to engage and empower ourselves to not be afraid of asking things from the spaces we go to,” Mae said. “When we die, what are we going to leave as our legacy?”