My library has a hidden talent. Its acoustics make it a perfect recording and performance space. Abbey Road, Hansa Studios, and The Power Station (now Avatar Studios) boast their own legends—call it hubris, but I believe my library has similar potential.
Perhaps it’s the vaulted ceilings. Perhaps it’s the ability of the stacks and carpet to absorb sound. Perhaps it’s the octagonal shape. Something in my library allows sound to live fully and beautifully in space. It flutters, it sings, but never booms.
Now, if I were running a library that only valued hushed study, this would be more of a liability than a strength. However, I am interested in promoting connected learning and artistic expression in pursuit of students’ ability to make media and develop multimodal literacies.
This summer I referred to the eerie silence that vacation brings to school libraries. My inclination is to fill that silence with something productive.
Over this past Winter Break, I had the fortune to execute a professional growth award that was granted to me by my school earlier in the year. My rationale was to use the school’s studio equipment to record and press an album. My goal was to get to know the equipment better, but also to discover the potential of the library space.
This work stems from artistic explorations students did during last year’s Unbounded Days, when my wife and I facilitated a week’s worth of workshops in the library, which culminated in students transforming the space into a Psychoacoustic Museum of Art.
Last year’s project and this year’s professional growth opportunity allowed me to follow a passion I have nurtured ever since I was in high school. Every phase of my life has found me making music and recording with family and friends in genres ranging from punk to emo to surf rock to jazz to garage to karaoke to indie pop. Manifold adventures in music making and recording have offered unparalleled opportunities for teamwork, problem solving, and creativity.
Recording during this past break offered many opportunities to solve problems! We set up the studio space on a Tuesday for marathon sessions throughout the week. Drums sat in the middle of the floor between study carrels. Guitars clanged across from the periodicals. We even transformed the stacks into a vocal booth using moving blankets and clamps. By extremely late Saturday night, we had 12 full songs recorded.
Having this experience under my belt, my excitement inspires me to help students utilize the library in a similar way. My library has the potential to transform purpose with relatively modest effort. Good pro-grow not only helps you develop competencies, it also motivates you to use them for the benefit of your community.
Although they may seem like an odd pairing, libraries and recording studios are not far-flung. If libraries are to become spaces for multimodal production, they should be outfitted with the means to produce a wide array of media.
In fact, many teen spaces in libraries include studios and music production facilities. These studio spaces have been cited in research as sites of possibility (Vasudevan, et al., 2008) that have the potential to promote connected learning (Ito, et al, 2012). Connected learning allows students to pursue passions and interests, while receiving support and recognition from friends or adults. In turn, these interests can lead to personal and academic achievement, professional success, and civic participation.
Mimi Ito’s report Connected Learning: An Agenda for Research and Design describes the YOUMedia learning labs at the Harold Washington Library in Chicago and notes how mentors help young adults utilize studios to bridge interests and garner recognition. Leif Gustavson’s chapter in Media, Learning, and Sites of Possibility describes the creative practices and pedagogical possibilities offered by a side room converted in to a haven for a fifteen-year-old turntablist. And although the Bubbler at Madison Public Library operates by emphasizing staff over stuff, it also boasts a media lab with tools for recording and audio production.
These are just a few examples of libraries and schools making the most of audio production. What secret talents does your library hold? How are you utilizing studio spaces in your work? Leave your ideas in the comments below.