Lending Lullabies

As the record industry takes the world by storm, Démodé speaks to Sophie Austin, co-founder of The Vinyl Library, about its first year of operation.

In July 2013, best friends and disc jockey aficionados Sophie Austin and Elly Rendall created The Vinyl Library – a not for profit community project based on the sole ethos of sharing rare and classic vinyl records.

30-year-old Sophie runs the London-based library while freelancing at an ad agency, while co-founder Elly also runs art projects in the local community. “We wanted to create a space for music events,” explains Sophie, who has had a keen interest in vinyl records ever since she and Elly bought their first DJ decks. “We got bored of downloading music – there would be all these records stuck on your laptop and you wouldn’t know what was what.

“When you collect a record, you have it in your hands – it makes you so happy listening to a record, looking at the album artwork and then remembering where it’s come from, so that’s how the idea came about.”

So how exactly does The Vinyl Library work? Music owners are invited to donate their old records, which gives them access to the same amount as they donate, to borrow for up to one week. Alternatively, fully fledged members can pay £10 a month to hire records for up to a week, while also enjoying the benefits of in-store events.

“It’s become something of a ritual for some of our members – we have regular visits from guys who’ve been bought record players or a year’s membership for their birthdays. There’s a little bit of the unexpected there too – someone chooses their record for the week and it becomes pot luck.”

The volunteer-run community space, located off the high street in Stoke Newington, has come a long way since its humble beginnings in a jewellery shop last July. “We offer music meditation, a sound bar, mixing lessons, live gigs and film screenings. We’re also starting up our own online digital radio to let people come on down and host their own show. People have been excited by the project and come to us with ideas for collaborating – we just do it!”

The library has certainly been attracting attention in its first year, with gigs from The Boiler Room as well as visits from some high flyers in the industry. “We often see label heads and producers walking through the doors wanting to check out the space. We’ve been getting some great feedback from the press and social media as well as the local community. We even had the boys from Corner Shop paying a visit!”

Sophie and Elly’s hard work has clearly been paying off, then – the library has had an impressive 10,000 donations in its first year, with records coming in from as far afield as Hungary, Russia and the US. “Our collection is so eclectic now. We’ve had a lot of white label records donated as well as some old 78s, things that we’re rediscovering that my mum says were big in her day. There’s some very unusual stuff too – including Mongolian folk singing! We have a radio show playing the best of our new donations each week.”

Another important avenue for the library is getting more women involved, and Sophie is proud of the project’s gender-equal demographic. “We read that only 10 per cent of DJs are female and we wanted to change that. So many of our female friends collect records and we saw a gap, not just in our friendship group but in general, so we’ve had girls coming in to try out our music lessons. I’m pleased to say that our membership and volunteer base is an equal mix.”

After gaining 200 members, 7,000 likes on Facebook and 10,000 records, the pair have also learned a few lessons along the way. “I’ve learned that everybody has a gift to give, no matter who they are. It’s so interesting to see how people use their initiative when they’re volunteers rather than paid employees. Some bring their own ideas for events to the table, while others are amazing at cataloguing the records. You don’t learn much about a person’s talent on face value alone, so it’s great to see what skills they have as they get involved with the library.”

With so many achievements since last July, Sophie and her team have even bigger ideas to help the project grow, including building a library “family”. “I love the idea of having a vinyl library mum and dad – older people who can pass their wisdom on to younger people. We’d like to hold listening sessions with parents and kids, to get them away from their laptops and interacting with the music.”

Further down the line, Sophie even has dreams of branching out internationally. “Elly visited Rio de Janeiro recently – there’s a huge vinyl culture out there. We love the idea of selling our record library blueprint to other franchises around the world.”

No matter how big the scope for growth however, Sophie maintains that sharing in the community will continue to be the library’s sole focus. “It’s a creative space that’s different from commercial projects. It’s been a real journey over the last year watching it evolve and grow, but so long as its core values remain, the directions it can go in are endless.”

Visit The Vinyl Library at Unit 1, Foulden Rd, N16 7UT, or log on to facebook.com/TheVinylLibrary


Katie Lingo
by Katie Lingo
15th July 2016

Project Details

Client: Démodé

Skills: Journalism

Date: 17th April 2014

Project Info

Working for an independent start-up magazine, Démodé, I wrote a series of features that aligned with the magazine’s “vintage” theme. Here is an interview with Sophie Austin, co-founder of The Vinyl Library.