Monday, March 5, 2018

Ukulele: Starting a Circulating Collection

At the end of August 2017, I made a proposal to start a small circulating collection of ukuleles at my library. We finally got everything together and ready to go in February of 2018 and it has been a big hit so far! I'm hoping the collection maintains its popularity. I know many libraries have circulating ukulele collections, but I wasn't able to find a lot of information online about how they got their collections started. Fortunately, I was able to get some advice and assistance from a number of people from the Librarians with Ukes Facebook group which really helped me out! I wanted to pass on some of what I learned so I can hopefully help anyone else who is wanting to start a collection too.

My proposal focused on three main questions: why, what, and how? Those are the questions I would encourage yourself when you are thinking about starting a collection of your own.

Click read more for more information about the whys, whats, and hows for starting a circulating ukulele collection.


Why Ukuleles? 

Music transforms and enriches our lives. Learning to play music has been shown to have a significant impact on childhood development. However, many people cannot afford the initial investment in a musical instrument and so do not get to experience this for themselves. Ukuleles are a relatively inexpensive instrument and are easy to learn to play even for complete beginners. They are also experiencing a resurgence in popularity. Providing a circulating collection of ukuleles will give patrons a zero-risk way to try out this new trend and will let families share music with their children without worrying about the potential cost investment.

Why Now? 

Libraries all over the country starting ukulele collections of their own. The collections are extremely popular and are always checked out. Salem, Oregon started their ukulele program in 2016 and a search of their catalog shows that nearly all of the instruments are checked out. Other libraries that have started ukulele collections include Portland, Maine in 2013; Athens, Georgia in 2014; The Highland Park Public Library in Chicago, Illinois in 2014; and the Gretna Public Library in Omaha, Nebraska in 2015. Libraries providing ukuleles for checkout is an emerging trend and it would be wonderful if your library could provide this service for your patrons.

Why My Library? 

This is a question you'll have to answer for yourself, but I can tell you why I thought my library would be a good fit for this collection. Many libraries across the country currently provide circulating ukulele collections with great success. However, though ukuleles are incredibly popular in Portland, Oregon and the surrounding areas, the closest library that had a collection was in Salem. My community is small, but we are easily accessible by a number of larger communities in the area. A ukulele collection at my library provides convenient access to people in our city and the many surrounding communities. Though I am a beginner, I also have some experience playing the ukulele myself. Having a librarian who has familiarity with the instrument at the library providing the collection is important to offering patrons the best service possible when answering questions about the ukulele.


What are the Educational Benefits?

There have been many studies about how learning to play music benefits children. Some of the librarians on the Facebook group mentioned above were kind enough to direct me to some studies they found. A quick internet search will reveal many studies about how music is important in child development. These are just a few highlights:

A study published in the Journal of Neuroscience found that “Learning to play a musical instrument produces such profound changes in children's brains that kids actually can hear and process sounds they couldn't hear otherwise.” (USA Today, September 2, 2014)

Other research indicates that “learning music could improve the concentration, memory and focus of children in the classroom by improving their neural functions.” (BBC August 9, 2014)

Another study published in the Journal of the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry, stated “that learning a musical instrument could help children to reduce feelings of anxiety, gain a greater control of their emotions and give a stronger focus to their attention.” (Medical News Today, December 29, 2014)

What is the Cost?

The cost of starting a collection is going to vary greatly depending on what ukuleles you decide to purchase. I was fortunate enough to build a relationship with a local company in Bend, Oregon called Outdoor Ukulele who produce durable polycarbonate ukuleles that are wonderful for circulating. Their ukuleles are $95.00 for the soprano size and $145 for the tenor size. However, they offered me a 40% discount if I purchased multiple ukuleles for the library collection so soprano ukuleles were $57.00 and the tenor ukuleles ere $87.00. I proposed buying three of each size to start. We also needed to purchase carrying cases and I wanted to provide a tuner and instructional book with each ukulele as well in order to make a complete ukulele learning kit. Tuners are about $10 each. Good cloth cases can be purchased for around $22. Instructional books will run between $10 and $20 depending on which books you decide to purchase. If you purchase ukuleles at the same price as I did, the total cost of six ukulele kits would be around $684-$744 excluding potential shipping costs for any of the items.

What About Maintenance?

The libraries I researched who offer ukulele collections have had minimal expenses related to maintaining their circulating ukuleles. Purchasing ukuleles from Outdoor Ukulele will make damage from use even more unlikely since their ukuleles are much more durable than a standard wood laminate ukulele that most libraries offer. I anticipate needing to replace strings and batteries in tuners, but these are both low cost items. New strings cost around $10.00 and should not need to be replaced with great frequency. Once the initial investment is made, maintaining the collection should have minimal costs.


How Can You Fund this Project?

I proposed that we use a small amount of the budget for children’s materials to purchase the items needed for this collection. The total cost of six ukulele kits was less than the monthly budget for children’s books. By spending just a small amount less per month on children’s books throughout the year, we were easily able to fund this collection with no additional money added to our budget. If this is not an option for you, a ukulele collection would be a great project for a grant opportunity.


Ukuleles are a fun and easy introduction to playing music for people of all ages. Unlike many other instruments, ukuleles are relatively inexpensive enabling a library to provide them without making significant changes to their budget. Offering ukuleles to patrons will give them a creative outlet in a way that many of them have not experienced before. Having ukuleles available at the library may also inspire new programming, like ukulele clubs, that could attract a new demographic. Research continues to highlight the benefits of learning music for children. Learning to play music can help children learn, concentrate, improve memory, and control stress. Helping children become bright and active learners should be the goal of every library. Providing ukulele kits for children to learn with can only help with this mission. 

Hopefully you found some of this information useful and it inspires you to try circulating ukuleles at your library if you don't already. If you have any additional questions, I'd be happy to try and answer them for you!

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