Starting A Library Guitar Collection

In case you haven’t heard (read) me mention it on Twitter or Facebook I’m putting together a collection of circulating guitars for my library. If anyone is interested, here is some background on this project, what I’m planning, and how we’re moving forward.


Fender DG-8S Acoustic Guitar Value Pack  While working at Lincoln Public Library my director and I had a discussion about various innovative collections we could start at the library. We had a great space and some good ideas but we weren’t sure how to implement them. Some of our ideas included video games, tools, and other musical instruments. The biggest barrier to us starting this collection was that we just simply didn’t have time. We were running a 40,000 square foot joint use building with a huge circulation number, a large amount of acquisition and cataloguing work, and just about everything else that comes with not only a brand new building, but a new staff and a new library system. Did I mention there were only 2 full time staff members? Anyway… Those are the reasons that Lincoln Public Library doesn’t have a guitar collection.

The good news is that East Palo Alto Library in the San Mateo County Library system where I now work will have a collection of circulating guitars. It was all made possible by my involvement in the Eureka! Program that is allowing me to apply for a five thousand dollar LSTA grant. This grant will be the seed money to start my collection. What follows is the VERY rough draft of some of the information that I compiled for the grant.

    Basic description of the project

The East Palo Alto Library will create a collection of guitars as well as offer two 8-week beginning guitar group lesson programs to include both those individuals who already own guitars and those who have checked-out the EPA guitars. There will also be 4-6 one time programs throughout the year that are focused on music. These will include performances, movies, artist visits, and game nights (Rock Band).


The project was identified as a need due to the lack of music programs for youth in the East Palo Alto community. Music classes are no longer offered at local schools and there are no local businesses that offer music lessons or sell musical instruments. The economic status of a large percentage of East Palo Alto residents makes it difficult to gain access to expensive music lessons as well as the instruments themselves even if such businesses did exist within the community.

However, this community has a long and rich history with music as well as a cultural identity in music. East Palo Alto is home to one of the largest populations of Pacific Islanders in the continental United States and Polynesian music has played a significant role in the culture of East Palo Alto with performances by local groups at churches and various community gatherings. There is also a significant Spanish speaking population that performs various forms of Spanish music. The African American Population in East Palo Alto has had a significant effect on the music since the early 1950’s when this population became the most prominent. Each of these stylings of music has led to a blended genre of music that is being performed locally by such bands as the Vintage Music Collection and the Hip Hop Orchestra. (Two groups brought to my attention by Sereptha Strong who is one of my librarians named)

These are not the only groups in East Palo Alto. In fact, there have been a number of self-taught musical groups that have arisen from within the community. The most prominent of some of these groups are primarily rap and hip hop groups such as Totally Insane, Sean T, S.I.C, Mac & AK, The Youngen, Chunk, Bigg Rigg, Band-Aide, Scoot Dogg, Ad Kapone, and Mac-10.

Many families gather to play instruments that have been handed down from generation to generation, and there are some residents who offer their backyards to local performers as a stage. There are also few homemade musical venues such as the House of Bigger Girls and some churches allow musical performances.

Moreover, music has been cited as a way for youth to express themselves in a positive and creative way. There have been numerous studies that have shown that music can act as a deterrent to violence. This, coupled with the understanding that EPA was the murder and violent crime capital of the United States throughout the 90s shows that there is an inherent need for a musical outlet.

    Anticipated outputs and outcomes

For the Community
Patrons who check-out guitars and participate in the 8-week group music lessons should have a basic understanding of tuning, parts of a guitar, major and minor chords, a few chord progressions, a number of strumming and picking patterns, a number of scales, and few basic songs.

Many other larger community benefits of music have been identified however, the measurements of such benefits can be difficult to quantify. A list of the potential benefits to the community with supporting documentation can be found at;

Some of the outcomes listed from various studies include

  • Improved reading comprehension
  • improved math grades
  • Improved standardized test scores
  • Improved social Skills
  • Many of these outcomes are difficult to measure, and in no way am I making the argument that this program alone will have the ability to accomplish all of these things in a short 8 week program. However, this program could be a small contributing factor in the growth and improvement of our community.

    For the Library
    Increased Circulation
    Increased level of programs and services
    Increased number of partnerships with EPA organizations

      Some identified community partners

    We have identified a number of organizations that have expressed interest in partnering with the Library to provide these programs. There are a few local bands/artists who would like to volunteer to teach group lessons. Other organizations who have expressed interest include

  • Sassy
  • JobTrain
  • YMCA
  • Ravenswood school district
  • Stanford
    • Budgeting

    This is the part that I’m most excited about right now. Just the fact that I’m thinking about the budget because I’ve made it this far gets me pretty excited so here is how the money will break down.

    The majority of the grant funding will be used to purchase guitars and supplies. We would prefer to find ways to have the guitars donated to the program. However, guitars may need to be purchased. Guitar starter packs from Guitar Center typically range from $150-250 depending on quality. I would like to begin the collection with 15 guitars and spend approximately $3,750 of the grant money on these guitars. That means I can spend about $250 on each guitar. I wanted to make sure that this was even possible and that I could even get a halfway decent guitar for this price so I walked across the street from my house to Guitar Center on Sunday (Guitar Center’s close proximity to my living space has not had a beneficial effect on my finances BTW) and started to ask them some questions about what kinds of discounts I could get if I bought 15ish guitars with a starter pack from them. I don’t want to say what the discount is, but the unofficial offer was very significant and might allow me to do even more. However, since the offer was unofficial I’m going to keep my $250 estimate and hopefully wind up with more money in the end to offer more classes or more learning materials.

    Happily playing guitar badly in my front yard in Santa Cruz
    Next I need to buy some of the supplies that I need to display the collection and to keep the collection going. These are just basic necessities like extra strings, picks, straps, and other general maintenance supplies. I think I can get enough for the first year with around $300. But then I still need to purchase a way to display the guitars and I think that I can get wall mounts (before the discount that I’m going to ask for) for around $20 each so I need about $300 for that. So now I’m up to about $4,350

    What I have left over is about $650 that I’m going to use to refresh our music learning collection. I want to purchase books, dvds, cds, magazines, etc… that will help people learn on their new instruments. I should also mention that the starter packs come with an intro to guitar DVD and I think that I will keep that DVD with packs when the patrons check out the guitars.

    The last purchase that the library will be making will be the cost of the instructors for the program. I don’t want to take this money out of the grant money because it is an ongoing cost. So I’m planning on paying a guitar instructor about $30 per hour for the group lessons and I have already found some teachers who are willing to do it for that price. Even more exciting, I’ve found some teachers who have offered to do it for free! However, I’m wary of these offers because I’ve my previous experiences with flighty volunteers and I don’t want the students to miss out because the guitar instructor is a flake. So I’m budgeting $480 for two one hour, eight week group lesson sessions. I’ll let you know how that goes.

      Fines and Fees

    Just so you know, I’m totally against fines and fees. However, we do need to be able to maintain our strings and picks and we do need to repair any damages to our guitars, and I need to ensure that we get these guitars back. So, depending on what kind of price I can get on all of these things, I will be charging some kind of fine/fee structure that is yet to be decided.

    While I don’t have the grant approved yet, I am very excited about even the possibility of having a funding source for this collection. If, in the end my grant is not awarded to me, I at least have the foundation for writing more grants! Not matter what happens with the grant, I’m pretty sure I can get this off the ground in a number of ways.

    Purchases from The Library Advocate Support Library Advocacy Projects

    Show your support of libraries!
    Awesome Library Gear
    Great Staff Gifts!