Celebrating Five Years of the Musical Instrument Collection at the Free Library

By Perry G. RSS Fri, November 26, 2021

The Free Library’s Musical Instrument Collection is now as old as the number of lines on a musical staff—on September 25, 2021, the MIC turned 5!

It was an ominous trek leading up to this milestone. That goes for other instrument lending collections in libraries around the world, too. The pandemic paused all our unique lending for about 17 months, from March 2020 to September 2021. In the lockdown’s height, we adhered to CDC recommendations to refrain from lending tools like instruments. We used this time to update our behind-the-scenes cataloging and processing.

We also spent time researching other libraries. We wanted to find out how the other libraries which we’ve helped in their instrument lending programs were surviving. We contacted Brooklyn Public Library, Ann Arbor District Library, Pittsburgh Public Library, Lafayette Public Library, and The Musary. In Canada, we talked to the Fort Eerie Library, Carleton Library, and Joe's Instrument Lending Library. You can read these 8 short interviews at the end of this blog post.

We also used the CDC’s recommended hiatus to revamp our Collection. We adopted a new cataloging system to improve our catalog records. Call numbers now show you the specific instrument you are borrowing. A 12 string right-handed guitar used to be just MIC 89. Now it’s MIC 12 Guitar 1002. This new system accounts for an instrument's size, handedness, voicing, and more. We owe huge thanks to library workers Leanne, Jessica, Radiyah, Denise, and many others! They helped brainstorm and execute this program. You can view all these new entries in our catalog.

If you’d like to help build the MIC, we’re still accepting instruments. Donations must follow these two criteria:

  1. You should be able to fit the instrument on a SEPTA bus, and
  2. You don’t put your lips on the instrument (so no brass or woodwinds.)

If you want to take an even deeper dive into the Music Instrument Collection or are you a library worker who’d like to start an instrument program, read our past blog posts on the topic.

Happy Birthday to our community collection!


September 2020 Dialogues with North American Instrument Lending Libraries

Brooklyn Public Library (Brooklyn, NY)

"We have suspended the BPL Instrument Lending Library due to COVID and also due to construction taking place at the library. The Orchestra Collection is also suspended temporarily for the same reasons. 

Currently, we are quarantining all materials when patrons return instruments and books for 96 Hours (4 days). Then the instruments and books get checked in. We then have the instruments returned to our division and store them away for another 4 days for safety. Then we clean the instruments and inspect them afterwards. We are encouraging patrons to keep the instruments longer. Due dates are being extended with no late fees. When we clean the instruments, we use wipes, rubbing alcohol, and spray on instruments with wood, and we also use wipes on the straps and cases as well. This is a procedure we decided on while we were away from the library for the last 5 months.

3 Years is successful for [the Free Library of Philadelphia’s ] MIC. We were in our 2nd year last year. We will probably resume the MILL (Musical Instrument Lending Library) after we reopen to the public and when our Administration feels it is safe for us to do so."


Ann Arbor District Library (Ann Arbor, MI)

"We resumed loaning Art Prints a few weeks ago. (Art Prints are considered tools by our system and handled by the Tools Processors, but they are a lot easier to process). We are resuming tools lending in early October, focused on smaller items, and none of the lawn games will go out until spring.

We have a service model we call Contactless Lobby Pickup, and that's the only access to our buildings or collections. So it's pretty easy to add tools back into that, and we have some ideas on how it can scale over time. But this is one of the few things we're not currently doing that we've been having demand for, so we wanted to get it moving.

As for cleaning, we won't be handling these any different from any other materials. It's very clear now that surface transmission is not a significant vector. We just let all returned items, including tools and art prints, sit for 72 hours before further handling, and that's sufficient for staff to not be worried about handling them.

Let me know if you have any other questions about any of this, and best wishes to you and your program!"


Fort Erie Public Library (Ontario, Canada)

"I have no idea what they are doing with their circulating ukulele [collection]. Before I left, the ukulele circulation was doing well! Most of the circs came from kids who had signed up for a ukulele class at the library but couldn't afford a ukulele of their own. I was glad that we could remove a barrier for them.

At the library that I currently work at, all unique lending has also been paused. We don't currently circulate instruments here, but if we did, it would be paused.

I know that Kitchener Public Library, also in Ontario, started up a huge musical instrument lending library thanks to a big donation. They have an impressive selection."


Pittsburgh Public Library (Pittsburgh, PA)

"We have put instrument lending on hold. It's gone the way of toys, puzzles, magazines, and other difficult to clean things. We still have a few instruments checked out that are slowly being returned. Congrats on the 5-year anniversary! Hopefully, we will be able to lend again in the not too distant future."


Lafayette Public Library (Lafayette, LA)

"Yes, we have started to check out the instruments again just as we have been checking out books. Use of all of our services haven't picked up too much since we reopened, which has helped. Here in Louisiana, we have moved to phase three, which keeps with social distancing, mask wearing, and groups gathering. We haven't started in-person programming but patrons can browse."


Joe’s Instrument Lending Library (Kingston, Ontario, Canada)

"We have been fortunate in our area that COVID cases are fairly low. We were closed from mid-March to mid-July, mainly because the complex where we are located closed due to COVID by order of our local Health Unit.

We reopened in mid-March by appointment only (again, by order of the local Health Unit) and were able to open up for walk-ins in August.

We do have COVID protocols in place:

  • In our region, masks are required indoors, so our librarians and borrowers must wear a mask.
  • Social distancing of 6 feet (2 metres) is required.
  • We have a disinfecting protocol—all surfaces are disinfected regularly.
  • Only one borrower allowed in at a time (or two if they are in the same 'bubble', i.e. parent/child).
  • We no longer allow borrowers to play an instrument before borrowing it.
  • Visual inspections of returned instruments only—we do not handle returned instruments until they come out of quarantine.
  • Returned instruments are quarantined for 72 hours before they are returned to our inventory."


MacOdrum Library (Carleton, Canada)

"To be honest, I have not been following the progress of our musical instrument lending library at Carleton. I work in inter-library loans and my involvement didn’t really go beyond pitching the idea to our collections librarian, and I then left it in their hands.

With COVID, our library building was closed up until August and is only open as a study space—there is no access to any material in the building itself. We did start book lending in July via curbside pickup / mail delivery service and it covers board games and DVDs, etc."


The Musary (Hamilton, MA)

"[Instrument Lending] is still going but has certainly been different during COVID. The lending is a bit more difficult and we are being a bit more selective. With that said, there is still a lot of interest. We also put together some lesson options as another program we can offer. Schools are cutting back and not doing in-person learning, so we figured this would be a good option."

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