Arts and Culture

This Minneapolis library has a hidden gem for record lovers

Woman looking through vinyl records
Natalia Toledo at the Vinyl Revival Listening Room inside of Hennepin County Library.
Mike Madison for MPR

Natalia Toledo | The Current

There’s an impressively extensive vinyl record collection located in downtown Minneapolis that not many know about. Available by reservation, the Vinyl Revival Listening Room is a free listening space open to the public located on the third floor (room N-301) of Minneapolis Central Library.

The collection contains more than 15,000 albums, including about 5,000 LPs and singles donated in 2021 by the estate of Minneapolis-born DJ and producer Matthew Marvel. While living in Brooklyn, N.Y., Marvel accumulated records of all genres including electronic, disco, hip-hop, R&B, reggae, soul and more.

Each month, local musicians, DJs and library staff pick a selection of albums to feature in the listening room that can be found right outside the actual room, in the reception area of the same floor.

Record player on table
Library locations across Minneapolis also host Vinyl Listening events. Natalia Toledo will be a part of one on Aug. 12.
Mike Madison for MPR

As a part-time DJ in the Twin Cities, I was invited to be one of the curators earlier this year. To complete the task of curating selections for the Vinyl Revival Listening Room, I met librarian James Leonardo — a former DJ as well — at the Minneapolis Central Library on a recent Saturday.

I am embarrassed to say it, but I had not visited this library before. For a lot of us, technology has taken over as our main source for information. But the library continues to be an incredible resource.

The entrance from Hennepin Avenue is huge — with lots of space for folks to gather and rest, along with a café on the side as you enter. I took some time before Leonardo arrived to browse some of the books available and what else the library has to offer, including plenty of cookbooks and CDs.

Vinyl Revival Listening Room door
To learn more about Hennepin County Library’s upcoming Vinyl Listening Parties, you can go to their website.
Mike Madison for MPR

Leonardo has worked at the library since 2011 and has been a witness of many shifts and changes. In 2008, Hennepin County merged with the Minneapolis Public Libraries due to financial difficulties.

The Vinyl Revival Listening Room was an effort started by former employee JayCee Cooper, also a DJ, who hoped to inspire more utilization of the library’s big record collection.

Leonardo facilitated the front end of the Marvel donation and began helping with programming events such as workshops held by local producers and DJs. Marvel’s widow and mother went through extensive work to individually label all of the records. “They did this very important work that made it very easy for us to accept the donation and really make it immediately functional,” says Leonardo.

Man holding vinyl record
James Leonardo holds a vinyl at Hennepin County Library.
Mike Madison for MPR

During the pandemic, the events and workshops shifted into online livestreams with community DJs and discussions about different albums. “It’s really just a way to start a conversation and make a connection to music fans and the library” says Leonardo.

During my visit, Leonardo walked me to a secret back area of the library. We passed through many shelves, and then through yet another door to another room that felt like a secret dungeon.

The records are carefully stored and organized by genre on moving shelves. I was surprised by the sheer volume of records. As a music lover, invited curator, and regular record shop attendee, it’s safe to say I was feeling excited at all the possibilities.

Woman holding a vinyl record
Natalia Toledo looks through vinyls Hennepin County Library.
Mike Madison for MPR

I went immediately to the hip-hop and R&B section and found some of my favorites, such as A Tribe Called Quest, Pete Rock, Madvillain, Roy Ayers, George Benson, among others. The collection expands through many different genres. I picked what I recognized at first glance and began piling them up. I had limited time, and there are so many to choose from, so the pressure was on.

Once I got home, I listened through all my picks and returned another day to switch out some of the records that I was not super interested in. (This was my process as one of the curators, but the records are not available for the public to take home.)

Over the course of the program’s existence, the library has engaged with local DJs and producers such as Medium Zach, Shannon Blowtorch, and more recently, DJs affiliated with KRSM Radio including Jam E.Z., Drunken Monkeee and myself.

Vinyl storage
Minnesota Music. Vinyl Revival Listening Room - Hennepin County Library
Mike Madison for MPR

One of my favorite parts of being a DJ is being able to introduce people to new music and showing a little bit of who I am through my musical choices. In all, 40 of the records I have selected will be available in the Vinyl Revival Listening Room between Sept. 1 to Oct. 31.  

The selections for each featured DJ, along with one to two staff picks, are available for the public to hear during a two-month window in the listening room.

Library locations across Minneapolis also host Vinyl Listening events, which I will be a part of on Aug. 12. The events usually have a performance or community artist, along with the DJ who will play the records they picked.

Close up of record
The collection contains more than 15,000 albums, including about 5,000 LPs and singles donated in 2021 by the estate of Minneapolis-born DJ and producer Matthew Marvel.
Mike Madison for MPR

To learn more about Hennepin County Library’s upcoming Vinyl Listening Parties, check out their site here for all events and search “Vinyl.”

Whether you’re attending one of these events, or just reconnecting with your local branch, it’s a great time to stop by discover what the local library has to offer. I’m glad I did.

Event info: Community Day at Hosmer Library, 347 E. 36th St., Minneapolis. 12 p.m. to 4 p.m., Saturday, Aug. 12. Featuring: Exploding Science with Teen Tech Squad, Illustrator 101 with Emiko Rainbow, Screen Printing with Dante, DJ TaliaKnigh and more.

Woman holding up vinyl record
Natalia Toledo poses with a vinyl at the Hennepin County Library
Mike Madison for MPR
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