Thursday, 24 December 2015

Johnson County Library’s Listen Local Project: An Update


by Bryan Voell

Since its inception in January 2015, Johnson County Library’s Listen Local project has featured more than fifty of the Kansas City area’s finest songwriters, composers and musical noisemakers. As I wrote back in March 2015, the overarching goal of Listen Local is to help educate our community on the breadth of talent in our collective backyards – everything from rock, pop, folk and blues to contemporary classical, experimental, electronic, hip-hop and jazz – and to do this in a way that aligns with Johnson County Library’s strategic plan.

Two questions lay at the heart of this project:

  • When fewer and fewer artists are producing and selling physical CDs of their work, how does the library collection best represent the rich diversity of original music being made locally?
  • In the absence of a dedicated digital platform to provide streaming or downloadable local music, what can Johnson County Library do to help spread the word about these artists and connect our community with their work?

JCL_listen_local2Listen Local is the first step toward addressing these questions. There are serious advantages to offering a digital resource over a purely physical CD-based music collection. We’re able to feature artists regardless of whether or not they have the ability or resources to mass produce a compact disc. We’re also able to provide, through interviews with the artists, some insight into the creators and the experiences behind their creations. A great by-product of this project is that artists often offer copies of their CDs to the Library. This is a great example of how a perceived limitation—not being able to build a satisfactory CD collection of local music—led to a creative solution.

Listen Local averages between 300 and 400 visits a week, making it one of our most successful blogs. Sharing new posts through social media not only alerts library users to new content, but the artists themselves regularly share these updates, bringing their friends, family, and fans to the library website. In addition to an interview and embedded links to music, every artist post features personal recommendations from our catalog, tying everything back to the collection. Another tie-in is our monthly Listen Local performance series, where featured artists perform for an hour or so in one of our thirteen locations.

The response to this project has been overwhelmingly positive. Here are some of the comments we’ve received so far:

“Thank you for this opportunity. Seriously this is a much needed thing you are doing for artists.”

“This interview series is awesome. I loved going back and reading the previous posts. What a great thing for the community!”

“I checked out Listen Local and feel honored to be a part of it! It really helps up and coming artist get their name out there.”

Since January, we have featured a wide variety of songwriters and composers, from high schoolers to senior citizens. For example, immensely talented teens like Grant Sharples, Bailey West, Kate Cosentino, Isaac Barkley, Kate Rose and Gracie Schram, all in the early stages of their music careers, sit alongside more established, and in some cases internationally-recognized, artists like Mara Gibson, Calvin Arsenia, Thom Hoskins and Ingrid Stolzel. We’ve included groups like the Midwest Chamber Ensemble and their Composer-In-Residence Joseph Kern, the wacky-and-educational Electric Needle Room and the highly respected jazz ensemble Shades of Jade. Through Listen Local we are creating a growing resource that strives to represent the richness and diversity of the Kansas City area music scene.


Bryan Voell is currently the Local Arts Librarian for the Johnson County (KS) Library. He received his MLIS from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in 2007 and has worked for public, academic, and research libraries in various capacities since 1997. He is also a collage artist and you can see more of his art here.

from Library as Incubator Project

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