Here’s an idea that’s been waiting to happen since needle touched groove and people packed dance floors. The Vinyl Library is a place to share, experience and borrow second-hand records. Located in Foulden Road, Stoke Newington, with a growing team of enthusiastic volunteers, a rapidly expanding catalogue and records donated from as far as Brazil, The Vinyl Library is set to become the first of its kind. But it is no trend; the concept is routed in the community and aimed at youngsters and well-worn enthusiasts alike.
The not-for-profit enterprise, set-up by mod librarians Sophie Austin, 29, and Elly Rendall, 27, relies on donations from members of the public. Anyone can join and get access by donating vinyl or paying a membership fee. “We want to create a sharing space for people to learn from one another by exploring vinyl”, says Austin and Rendall.
Their aim is to have the vinyl catalogue viewable online, but for the sharing to be face-to-face. Research is underway with Discogs and library cataloguing software for the best representation online. The library will also host mixing lessons, sets by DJs, and a series of music shorts and documentaries. Several record companies and music professionals will be providing free mixing lessons directed at making vinyl more approachable to young people.
Music plays out all day at the library, and as you step off Stoke Newington High Street, to enter via the front terrace, you reach a chic urban space through a hallway art exhibition. A stalwart set of decks sit in the middle of the room surrounded by shelves of records and speakers; the records are categorised in rustic fruit crates, which Rendall mentions were a stroke of luck from a family connection in the apple juice industry. “These are as earthy as they come, dusted off and straight from the orchard.” The crates make sturdy housing for such cherished contents. The atmosphere is inviting, fresh and ordered. “It’s the place to store memories,” Rendall comments.
Starting out as two girls with a dynamic concept, their passion and perseverance has seen The Vinyl Library attracting its first wave of volunteers. Rendall says: “As a community interest company, we’ve had to draw up a constitution, which has meant asking for people to come forward as a committee. The response to the concept has seen a diverse group of people come forward, whether [it be] local café owners, music industry heads or friends of the family, we now have the resources we need to move forward.” Austin adds: “We want a crowd as eclectic as the music.”
Austin says that as a collective, whether enthusiasts or donators, volunteers or vinyl amateurs, the library sets out to collaborate with the music industry and record shops. “We want to act as a bridge, the place to meet; listen and share music. If new to records, the library allows you to try out new music before facilitating a more informed purchase when starting your new collection.” Rendall adds: “Libraries are always there; the collection forever-changing, people sharing and learning – longevity is what we’re looking for.”
Talking with the founders, there’s inspiration from recent documentaries such as Last Shop Standing and the ubiquitous closing of local libraries and independent record stores. Their focus is on the importance of physical archiving during technological times. With roots firmly in musical history, the girls are keen to preserve the future of analogue.
Having been open since Monday, the organisation is building momentum. “This week we had visitors who read about us on a Brazilian website under: ‘London, something to do that’s not touristy’. There’s talk of a library in Brazil and we’re expecting an influx of Bosa Nova to amplify the catalogue,” says Rendall. “We’ve had music sent in unmarked parcels from Germany, Dublin and New Orleans this week and a mysterious parcel with rare sessions from deep inside the chasms of the music industry – it’s great to receive anonymous donations from people,” says Austin.
Grand concepts are not without their fair share of criticism though; constructive or otherwise, and in the comments section of a recent Guardian feature there were a number of challenging questions.
Commenting on this, Austin responded: “The point is that this is a new concept for London that is not commercially-orientated, more cynical people might have a fear of sharing; there were comments that were worried about lending and what might happen to the records etc., but we’ve experienced nothing but good faith.”
However, a positive comment left on the Guardian article by beatloaf read: “Get each piece of vinyl valued (this is easy online) and take credit card details when you hire out valuable pieces. This could also cover you for damaged returns.”
Austin and Rendall have been encouraged by this type of practical advice and are taking their criticism constructively. Even though it’s community based, the founders still mean business; opportunists might gain a handful of records, but they’ll be shut out of the collective, permanently. The collective will still own the records, so donators will have access to their wider catalogue and a world of records available at all times.
Austin and Rendall hope to be involved in taking the concept nationwide, and although in their first week, a visit to The Vinyl Library shows that the founders, volunteers and enthusiasts are all in the groove.
The Vinyl Library is now open at Unit 1, Foulden Road, London N16 7UU, from 11am-9pm, Monday-Sunday.
Visit their Facebook page for more information or email email@example.com.