Today we are super thrilled to host Patty Conway from Girls Rock! RVA (Richmond, Virginia) to give us the scoop on FRILL (The Free Instrument Lending Library, which is a very cool collaboration between Girls Rock! RVA and the Richmond Public Library. Enjoy! ~Laura

Library as Incubator Project (LAIP): Please give us a rundown of FRILL and what the partnership between Girls Rock! RVA and the Richmond Public Library looks like.

Patty Conway (PC): The Free Richmond Instrument Lending Library is the result of a partnership between Girls Rock! RVA and the Richmond Public Library in Richmond, Virginia. Girls Rock! RVA is a free summer camp for Richmond youth, and our mission is to empower girls, gender non-conforming, and trans youth through music, art, and activism.  You can learn more about the camp on our website.  We have hosted programs and events at Richmond public library for four years, with FRILL operating the last ~2.5 years.  For FRILL, Girls Rock! makes our store of instruments available to youth ages 8-18 to check out for free with their Richmond Public Library card.  FRILL operates at the RPL Main Branch the first and third Saturday of each month, and on an ongoing basis at the Hull Street branch.  We are hoping to expand to additional branches and begin hosting music lessons in the library this year.

The instruments are cataloged in the RPL system, but we have tweaked some of the cataloging to diverge from a typical library item.  First, we don’t charge late fees.  In our nearly three years of operating, we have only had three items go missing, and we decided not to pursue the borrowers beyond a couple of phone calls.  One of the things that makes this partnership work so well is that the instruments are purchased with donations and grant moneys, not taxpayer dollars – so we are only accountable to our funders, and we all want to increase access to instruments for young people in Richmond, not to charge them fines if they can’t bring the items back.  We can continuously add instruments to our collection, so if a couple go missing, it isn’t a big deal to us.  We don’t have to be as accountable for our items as a traditional library – because Girls Rock! RVA is not a library!  Secondly, items can be checked out for two weeks, with the option to renew for another two weeks – and there are no additional renewals.  The item would need to be brought back to the library, checked in, and taken out again if a borrower wanted to extend their time beyond one month.  This makes us feel more confident in lending, because borrowers check in with us more frequently than they would with a four week check out period.  

Library as Incubator Project (LAIP): What was the impetus for starting FRILL? How did the partnership come together?

PC: A few years ago, after the Girls Rock! RVA showcase that we held in the park behind Richmond Public Library’s main branch, several parents approached us and asked how their child could continue to play year-round.  Parents expressed concerns that instruments are unaffordable, that they worried about buying something that their child might lose interest in after only a month or two, and that their child’s public school was reducing music instruction or eliminating it all together.  One of Girls Rock! RVA’s founding organizers, Aaron Kemmerer, discussed these concerns with the other organizers.  I worked at Richmond Public Library at the time, so I got to work implementing Aaron’s idea to check out the instruments for free through the library. Another of our organizers, Celina Williams, is a librarian at RPL as well, and her input was invaluable as we crafted our borrowing policies and procedures, and always ensured that we prioritized access and used the lending library as community outreach for our camp.  I worked with Patty Parks, branch manager of RPL-Main, and members of the cataloging and IT departments at RPL’s Main Branch to get barcodes and catalog records for each instrument.  An artist and graphic designer friend of mine, Annie Warren, designed a logo and letterhead for FRILL for a small fee.  Patty Parks at RPL steered me toward a grant for arts organizations in Richmond called CultureWorks, who awarded us $2k to purchase additional instruments.  Last year, the Harvey Family Memorial Endowment provided us with $7.5k to purchase even more instruments and expand our community presence.

Most of the Girls Rock! organizers and several of our volunteers have staffed the FRILL booth on Saturdays to promote the program.  We have PSAs for the program on the local independent radio station, WRIR.  We have had feature articles in local press to promote the program.  The branch managers of RPL’s Main Branch and Hull Street Branch, Patty Parks and Natalie Draper, respectively, have helped us immensely to get the instruments out into the community.  FRILL’s main volunteer, Patrick Park, has been holding it down, keeping track of our library’s members and logging checkouts when the library is open, on first and third Saturdays.  The circulation staff at RPL has been incredibly helpful and tolerant of our…”flexible” approach to checkouts and returns.  

LAIP: What kinds of instruments or other pieces of equipment are available in FRILL?

PC: Girls Rock! RVA owns typical rock band instruments – drum kits, electric guitars and bass guitars, keyboards, and amplifiers.  We recently won a grant from the Harvey Family Memorial Foundation in Richmond and have added brass, woodwind, and string instruments to the collection, as well as additional keyboards and amps, which has allowed us to expand to a second branch of RPL.  All instruments are provided with accessories – so we have stores of cables, picks, sticks, rosin, reeds, and polish.  Our collection is constantly expanding as people donate items to us and we continue to pursue grants.  All of our instruments come from community donations, grants, and an annual Guitar Center store credit that they issue to Girls Rock Camps across the country.

LAIP: What are 1-2 “lessons learned” you’d be willing to share with our community?

PC: The biggest technical lesson learned for this project – and I would recommend this highly to anyone pursuing a library of things-type lending library – is to not get caught up in cataloging.  Cataloging is not inventory – it has to work for your circulation needs.  Our first round of cataloging was very specific, including details in the item record about each specific item – what color it was, approximate value, etc. We were treating our cataloging as inventory, when for our purposes, our item records needed to be more generalized.  For example, we receive perhaps a half dozen guitar donations in a year, but we also have to remove items from circulation regularly for repair.  We keep our barcodes on removable luggage tags that we tie or affix to each instrument, so we could just have a general “instrument” item type, with a number on each tag that could be transferred between items as they go in and out of the collection.  We didn’t foresee this when we founded FRILL, so some of our item tags are misleading, being attached to the wrong item, etc –  it sometimes creates confusion for volunteers or library staff.  For our latest acquisitions, we are working to create a generic “instrument” tag that can allow us to switch item numbers as needed – this will maximize the number of items that can circulate at any given time, and minimize our pestering of the cataloging staff at RPL.  As a total nerd, I love that cataloging in MARC can allow you this degree of flexibility.  

The biggest ideological lesson learned for this project is that people bring stuff back!  We were so worried about items going missing when we started, and people would always ask, “What are you going to do when people don’t return things?”  While it was smart to draft a thorough policy, and I am glad we were prepared when a few items went missing, people overwhelmingly bring the stuff back.  Our members are invested in the library’s success, and it’s awesome.

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