Right now, thousands of vinyl records are stored in the third floor of the Minneapolis Central Library downtown.
They’re not easy to find — the stacks are in a remote room, far from where patrons usually look for books, CDs and movies. But librarians are now beginning to bring the collection out, little by little, to the public.
On Saturday, Hennepin County Library hosted the first event in its new “Vinyl Revival” series, which aims to bring attention to the thriving audio format. Through June, artists will present vinyl-themed programming and curate records from the library’s stacks, many of which are the works of local musicians.
The library also converted a small meeting room on the third floor into a listening room equipped with a turntable and headphones, which people can reserve to listen to the artist-selected picks.
“We just wanted to connect people again with the collection, because it was being unused,” said associate librarian Elizabeth Cole. “It just felt like a really great tool for connecting generations.”
The vinyl market has steadily grown over the past decade. Record sales last year went up 15 percent from 2017 to a total 16.8 million sold, according to Billboard magazine. (This is still only a fraction of overall album sales, which are on the decline.)
That interest has been reflected in libraries, as well. The St. Paul Public Library system, for instance, allows people to check out vinyl from its collection.
The Minneapolis Central Library has had its collection for decades but hadn’t bought any records since the 1990s, Cole said. There was discussion of selling the collection or donating it to an archive, none of which materialized.
A couple of years ago, JayCee Cooper, one of Cole’s colleagues, learned that the collection wasn’t being used and thought of bringing it back out to the public.
Using grant funding, the library bought turntables and headphones to listen to the albums. Cole would play some of them during library events. “It became this conversation starter,” she said.
The Vinyl Revival series is being funded through a legacy grant from the Minnesota Arts & Cultural Heritage Fund. The inaugural artist curator was Toki Wright, a hip-hop artist and educator from Minneapolis who is now the assistant chair of professional music at Berklee College of Music in Boston.
Inside a common room Saturday, people flipped through the records that Wright hand-picked from the library’s stacks. They included albums from Bob Dylan, St. Paul rockers Hüsker Dü and singer Alexander O’Neal.
Later, behind a turntable, Wright spoke to patrons about the records his family would play at home. “We used to always love going up to the record player and being able to touch the music,” he said.
For Wright, having the library’s collection open to the public is a way to build community around music.
“Having access is really what it’s about,” he said.
But you can’t check out any vinyl records to take home — at least not yet. “That’s the dream,” Cole said.