Vinyl 101: the Toronto Reference Library Unpacks the Vinyl Boom
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Vinyl 101: the Toronto Reference Library Unpacks the Vinyl Boom

"Vinyl 101" offers both vinyl-virgins and longtime collectors a chance to explore the library's 15,000 record collection.

A record from the TPL's vinyl collection  Photo courtesy of DJ Agile

A record from the TPL’s vinyl collection. Photo courtesy of DJ Agile.

2015 has seen a 26-year high in the sale of vinyl records. The Recording Industry Association of America has posted sales of $9 million in vinyl albums in the first half of 2015 alone; the last time the numbers looked this good was in 1989, before CDs had completed their domination of the industry. In terms of revenue, sales have gone up by 52 per cent to a whopping $222 million.

Those looking to get their vinyl fix in Toronto have plenty of retailers to choose from, from local favourites like Little Italy’s June Records to various Urban Outfitter Locations (the company is currently the largest retailer of vinyl records). However, there is one place record-lovers might not think to look: the Toronto Reference Library.

This Thursday, November 12 at 6:30 p.m., the Toronto Reference Library will be hosting “Vinyl 101,” the first of what may prove to be many events hoping to highlight the library’s massive vinyl collection. With 15, 000 albums available to listen to, the collection is often overlooked by vinyl fans.

Event organizer and culture writer David Sax explains why the collection is one of the library’s most overlooked features. “There’s racks and racks of these records, and they’re not really organized the way you would find in a record store,” he says. “They’re sort of arranged in the order that they’re received.” Patrons have to look up what they want on a computer, and then must ask to see the record in question, which they can then listen to at one of the library’s turntables.

Sax is setting up the vinyl event as part of the library’s New Collection, a cohort of young supporters of the Toronto Public Library interested in participating in cultural programming. Last year he, along with music journalist Del Cowie, helped plan a music event for Black History Month that took advantage of some of the library’s formidable vinyl collection. After that event, Sax, Cowie and DJ Agile sat down to discuss the collection, and how it could be made more accessible to the general public.

“Right now there’s this boom in vinyl music,” says Sax. “You’re seeing a consistent annual sales increase of 50 per cent … and it’s young people who are the ones driving the market, not nostalgic baby boomers. We’re hoping to shine a light on this collection and use it to tell bigger stories.”

Sax, Cowie and Agile met up with Eric Schwab, who works for the library and manages much of its arts and culture initiatives; together they came up with a plan. “In the future we hope to do talks, listening parties, concerts … we have over a dozen potential ideas,” explains Sax.

So what can attendees expect from this inaugural event? Well, DJ Agile will be hosting, and using his turntables to play samples from the library’s collection. Speakers will include DJ Arcee, host of the vintage vinyl Cratery podcast, who will discuss crate digging—that is, how to hunt for records at stores, flea markets and record stores. Evan Doyle, audio master from stereo boutique Planet of Sound, will explain the ins and outs of how to properly use a turntable. After the talks, attendees will be invited to listen to different records from the collection, using the library’s glass study pods which will be turned into temporary “listening pods” for the event.

Ideally, the event will serve to educate attendees about the basics of vinyl records (if they’ve yet to become properly immersed), and to provide an opportunity to peruse the collection itself.

Sax says he’s excited to see what people will gravitate towards. “[The collection is] so vast, we only scratched the surface,” he says. In his limited exploration thus far he lists a recording of JRR Tolkien’s poetry and an album of 1980s Toronto street buskers as personal favourites.

So what does Sax attribute to the rising vinyl craze? “People are looking for handcrafted things,” he says. “When everything in your life is pixels on a screen, we look for things that root us in the tactile, in the analog. If you love music, the best way to do that, and a very accessible way, is through vinyl records.”

He goes on to say that in today’s world, we have two main ways of accessing our music: electronically, or through vinyl records. “You can type in whatever you want and get whatever you want. What vinyl offers, and why so many people are gravitating back to it, is the tactile experience, and the serendipity of finding something you never thought you’d be interested in.”

“Vinyl is a venue for storytelling,” says Sax. For those looking to explore some of Toronto’s stories in a new and serendipitous format, 101 Vinyl may just be the perfect starting grounds.