Last week, we had the opportunity to talk about our work on public music collections at DPLAfest 2019. Read on for highlights from that conversation with librarians from Seattle and Hennepin County.


  • Shannon Crary, Senior Librarian, Collection Management Services, Hennepin County Library

  • Andrew Harbison, Assistant Director of Collections and Access, The Seattle Public Library

  • Jeff Radford, Community Engagement Librarian, Minneapolis Central

  • Kelly Hiser, CEO & Co-founder, Rabble

Kelly started out with a quick history of of public libraries building online local music collections, from the Iowa City Local Music Project to present-day MUSICat collections that are running open submission rounds, licensing music directly from local creatives, and extending their collections to including materials like posters and videos.

We talked about how and why librarians launched the PlayBack and MnSpin local music collections. Andrew noted that before launching PlayBack, they didn't see local culture well reflected in existing Seattle Public Library collections. Shannon and Jeff noted that, like in Seattle, getting the project off the ground was a process that involved getting buy-in over time from staff, administration, and the community.

Kelly asked about who participates on the PlayBack and MnSpin teams. Both libraries draw team members from across their organizations. For PlayBack, that includes folks from the marketing team, a virtual and instructional services librarian, and a community engagement team that does outreach and jury selection. (A special note that a dedicated project manager is a must!) Community members serving in the jurying role are people "typically involved in the music industry in some form," representing radio, labels, youth music programs, and more.

Andrew describes the PlayBack Team - pictured on a slide - to the other three panelists at the Amplifying Artists DPLAfest Panel.

Andrew describes the PlayBack Team - pictured on a slide - to the other three panelists at the Amplifying Artists DPLAfest Panel.

We dug into the technical processes and MUSICat tools that help the submission process run smoothly for everyone involved. Jeff noted that collecting submissions is a "simple process, nicely streamlined" that artists find easy to use. Shannon and Kelly talked about how the Rabble team and librarians work together to make the jurying process configurable so that librarians can adjust elements like ratings and the level of collaboration based on their community's preferences and working styles.

On building representative collections: Andrew said that you must be intentional about getting community jurors who reflect the community; Jeff noted that you have to direct your outreach at all the groups of people you want to connect with. Kelly reflected that both teams are purposefully making the process human by meeting in person and engaging in meaningful conversation about their collections.

In talking about how librarians measure success for non-traditional collections like these, Jeff shared that numbers still matter, but we agreed that success is about much more than usage stats. Librarians also point to engagement in the submissions process, the breadth of communities the collections reflect, and how the collections engage folks who hadn't previously known about or used the library. Stories from participants are also a powerful way to talk about outcomes and impacts.

We talked about a lot more in our hour at DPLAfest, and answered a lot of great questions from the folks who attended. If you'd like to join us for future conversations among librarians running local music collections, or have specific questions subscribe to our news list or reach out directly.