When Heather Lowe came to Dallas a little over a year ago to work at the J. Erik Jonsson Central Library, she realized she was sitting on a gold mine. While the Dallas Public Library system had taken on a series of budget cuts over the years, one thing had remained intact: an enormous collection of vinyl records. The only problem? Few people know it exists. So Lowe decided to try and change that.
Later this month, the Central Library — which was built in 1982 and celebrates its 33rd birthday this year — is throwing a combination party and record sale, dubbed the 33 1/3 party, to help spread the word about its unique record collection. "We have a few regular patrons who check out LPs. It's a closed collection so you have to ask a librarian to go get them for you," explains Lowe, who's the library's manager of the fine arts division. "LPs are more popular nowadays, so we wanted to find ways to get them used more."
The Central Library is the only library in the DPL that has vinyl and, as far as Lowe knows, it's one of few libraries in the country that has such a collection. It's a sizable one, too, with about 38,000 records. "Lots of libraries in the '90s dropped their LP collections as they fell out of favor," Lowe explains. Why the Central Library happened to keep their collection, she's not exactly sure. "Other than the fact that we have a lot of specialized units in the Central Library, many people do favor LP over CD recordings," she points out.
Lowe and the library staff are still sorting through the collection to find out what will be for sale at the party, which takes place in just under two weeks on Thursday, September 17. "We're going through and weeding things out mostly to get rid of duplicates. We've got six to seven copies of some records, which probably isn't as necessary as it was in the '80s" Lowe says with a laugh. "We're still frantically pulling things to get ready."
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She estimates somewhere between 3,000 and 6,000 records will be for sale, all priced at $2 apiece. "A good portion of our collection is classical, as you might expect from a library. There's a good-sized jazz collection and a decent pop collection," Lowe says. As a punk rock fan, she does make one admission: "There's not much punk rock, unfortunately."
The 33 1/3 party will be held on the fourth floor of the eight-story Central Library building from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. There will be "early bird" admission for members of the Friends of the Dallas Public Library starting at 5:30, though Lowe adds that customers will be able to set up memberships the day of the party to get early admission. There will be free refreshments, a cash bar and DJ.
Lowe had moved to Dallas from California, where she'd worked in special library collections at the university level. While her background is in fine arts, getting the chance to spread the word about such a unique collection is just the sort of thing that attracted her to Dallas in the first place.
"It's a gigantic collection, but few people know about it. It's getting less rare; we're talking about it a lot, and we have somebody every day that comes to check something out," Lowe says. "We'll be pulling the pop, rock and jazz portions of the collection after the sale so they'll now be browsable. Part of the reason for the sale will be to highlight the more browsable collection."