Record Numbers: You Can Still Check Out LPs at S.F. Library -- But Not Many Do

Categories: Local News
A Peanuts comic strip from the 1950s features Charlie Brown pushing a vinyl record with a T-shaped stick like a hoop -- listening to records and pushing hoops are both things kids used to do -- before bitterly complaining about library records' poor sound quality.

You can still get LPs at the Main Library -- you hear that?
"I think," said San Francisco Public Library music program manager Jason Gibbs, "that Charlie Brown has gotten access to many of our records."

If ever you were hoping to not be bothered for a few hours at a stretch, loitering in the Main Library's LP record section wouldn't be the worst thing to do. Between July of last year and this year, library records were checked out only 1,614 times -- including a mere 68 times in July of '08. That's only 0.06 percent of the Main Library's transactions for that yearlong period. In any event, only around four or five of the roughly 4,000 records are checked out each day. You'd think LPs had gone out of style or something.

Gibbs notes that the library has adamantly refused to restock its record collection for the last 20 years -- which brings up an interesting conundrum. Since the number of records can never grow higher, and every klutz or thief brings about a reduction, the collection will eventually dwindle to zero. But, if records aren't checked out and played -- and many of them are not -- they can last until Doomsday.

"Records are a much better long-term format than a CD. CDs eventually self-destruct," says Gibbs. "But if you handle it with care, an LP will last forever."

Obviously Gibbs and his staff aren't sinking much time or money into the upkeep of their archaic record collection. But they have managed to "recycle" a trove of hard plastic sleeves that keep records from being cracked or broken. Imagine, manufacturing sleeves for library records was once a viable industry in this nation.

And, no, not everyone checking out library records is a golden oldie hauling a wheeled cart. "I think there's a certain hipster element there," said Gibbs. "People who've rediscovered the turntable. But it's a pretty select group."

Glancing up and down the 4,000 or so titles, very few are more than 40 years old -- and, it's true, "what we have in the collection is basically what nobody managed to steal over the years." The stylings of the Hungarian Army Men's Chorus? Well, you don't hear that every day. Still, a number of albums you've heard of are there, too ("Revolver" is missing, but "Help!" is in!).

It was old-school librarians like Gibbs who fought for records to even be included in the Main Library's new building in 1996, and he assures us that LPs will be in the branch "as long as I'm here to fight for 'em."  You won't find music tapes, however: "tapes get unplayable pretty quickly. It really isn't a good library medium." 

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