Traverse reimagines the district library’s possibilities

May 19, 2019 GMT

TRAVERSE CITY, Mich. (AP) — The gamut runs from Jane Austen to Leo Tolstoy and Lewis Carroll to George Orwell. But guitars, theremins, projectors and banjos also line the parchment-scented shelves of the Traverse Area District Library.

“It’s almost a reimagination of what a library can be — it’s not just a repository for books,” Aaron Olson, director of TADL’s Sight and Sound Department, told the Traverse City Record-Eagle.


The 30-some piece collection includes a wide array of musical instruments and sound and projection equipment. It became available to patrons after a late 2018 open house, and now anyone with a library card is welcome to borrow.

“We have telescopes, mini-synthesizers, theremins, keyboards, a percussion instrument called a cajon, a mountain dulcimer, all sorts of interesting stuff,” Olson said. “The idea is, you don’t know how to play the xylophone, but you take the xylophone home and learn something with it.”

The collection is housed in the library’s Sight and Sound area, which touts fitting visuals like murals and a side space dubbed the transfer station.

Interested patrons can briefly test an instrument in Sight and Sound’s halls, but the librarians ask you to keep it on the quiet side.

“You can take a look and see if it plays how you like but sitting here kicking out ‘Stairway to Heaven,’ that’s not going to happen,” said Librarian Keith Schwartz.

The program is something librarians have long sought after, he added — they were inspired by similar projects and collections at other libraries.

“We did what libraries do best — give what patrons need,” Schwartz said.

Honing a focus, Olson added, is a priority at every library. Unique offerings, in the past, have included audiobooks, music collections — including vinyls — and films. TADL stepped it up with cameras and things like puppets in the past few decades, but Olson aimed to make Sight and Sound something more.

“It was pretty much my baby from the beginning,” he said.

The collection started with a first piece — a telescope gifted through a partnership with the Grand Traverse Astronomical Society. It was made available to patrons around August 2015.

Now, instruments can be rented for a week at a time and the Sight and Sound Department offers a waitlist for those interested in checked-out equipment. Projectors and AV equipment, Schwartz said, can be rented for a day at a time.


The growing collection’s cost, Olson said, wasn’t too unmanageable.

“When you’re paying $60 for a copy of a season of Game of Thrones, it’s no stretch to buy a $60 keyboard for kids to take home,” he said.

About 80% of the collection was purchased with library funds — Olson said the library kept an eye out for cost-effective, durable additions. Some pieces were donated as part of collections and another small portion came from others, like Library Assistant Tom Szafranski, lending a hand.

He donated one of the collection’s first guitars — a spare lying around unplayed at home.

“I love it — every time someone checks it out, I think it’s great,” Szafranski said. “They’ll get a taste and see what it’s like before buying their own.”

The plan is to keep collecting and slowly grow the Sight and Sound Department’s wares, Olson said. For now, the set offering gets plenty of interest.

“You can discover something you haven’t discovered before,” Olson said. “It’s pretty unique — we hope they’ll be relevant to people’s needs.”


Information from: Traverse City Record-Eagle, http://www.record-eagle.com