Instrumental music program hits city’s Free Library

The Free Library launched a pilot program to rent instruments to the city’s residents.

Perry Genovesi, a 2008 English alumnus, hangs a guitar in the Free Library of Philadelphia, which is planning to offer instrument rentals. This would be the first free instrument rental program in the city. | MARGO REED FOR THE TEMPLE NEWS

Brandon Waddington said he first started to play the drums when he was just a kid.

“[It was] just to help me sort through my emotions and the benefits I don’t even think I can quantify,” said Waddington, a former English major at Temple who plans to return next semester. “And I just wanted that same feeling and benefit, you know, for other people to feel the same way that I felt.”

Waddington, a digital resource specialist at the Free Library of Philadelphia’s Nicetown branch, recently had an idea — stemming from his experience with musical instruments — that sparked a pilot program at the Parkway Central branch.

On Sept. 26, the Parkway Central branch’s music department launched the Musical Instrument Collection, which allows people to rent out instruments from the library free of charge.

It began with a contest, Hatching Innovation, held each year for library employees to voice their ideas for new programs, which are proposed to the strategic initiatives department. The department was developed to help serve the growing needs of an urban community. Each year, it receives grants from donors in order to create engaging library programs.

“The main library put out a call for suggestions and new ways we could benefit the community and reach people,” Waddington said. “Really just [to] try to be a positive influence, and so I thought about ways music could be beneficial to people.”

Waddington’s winning idea, proposed in 2015, allows members to borrow musical instruments from the library.

After the funding was in place, Perry Genovesi, a Parkway music librarian and 2008 English alumnus, helped design the program with Waddington.

“We talked to some other librarians who were lending [instruments] in the [United States] and in Canada … just to feel out some of the problems they encounter, how they announced it,” Genovesi said. “So when we applied for the grant, we won the money and opened up a round of instruments, all of which are kits.”

To rent out an instrument, library card holders must be at least 18 years old and in good standing with the Free Library, with no significant fines on their account.

Genovesi said each instrument comes with everything necessary to play — an electric guitar kit, for example, will contain an amp and guitar picks.

“The philosophy behind this is, we want somebody to be able to borrow [instruments] and more or less be ready to go, be able to play a show, be able to practice with friends, be able to learn a song,” Genovesi said.

Currently, the collection includes string instruments that can be rented for up to three weeks, like an electric guitar, electric bass, mandolin, acoustic guitar, banjo and ukulele.

The Free Library also provides self-teaching resources, including a collection of sheet music, music theory books and online video instruction.

Waddington said he hopes the program will give people who otherwise would have never had access to instruments, the opportunity to play.

“I would say [the program] skews heavily towards beginners, like folks who are just so excited to play electric bass for the first time,” Genovesi said. “You can come in and play this instrument for the first time without having to, you know, spend money.”

The program originally began with six instruments and will soon be up to eleven. Waddington said he hopes to expand the program to different neighborhood branches and to keep growing the library’s collection of instruments — specifically, Genovesi said the Free Library is in need of left-handed instruments.

The library accepts donations of any instruments still in good shape, he added.

“There has been a lot of public support, from what I hear there’s been a lot of offers of donations and things like that, someone even offered to donate a piano,” Waddington said.

“We’re very plugged into the Philadelphia music community, a certainly very versatile community,” Genovesi said. “It is certainly excellent to take this relationship further by providing the tools for the community and for Philadelphia at large to use and benefit from it.”

“We have the tools for folks to learn whatever step they’re at,” he added.

Lindsey Glassberg can be reached at

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