Sounds Among the Shelves

Imagine wandering into your local library for a quiet evening, expecting the familiar hush of whispers and the rustle of turning pages, only to be greeted by the soulful strains of a jazz band, luscious R&B, or the rhythmic beats of Indigenous melodies. That’s exactly what we’ve been bringing to our branches—where the lines between literary haven and cultural hub blur harmoniously.

Across our 14 branches, a musical revolution is hitting a crescendo. Far from simply housing our diverse collection, many of our branches have become stages for diverse performances, offering community members not just literary enrichment but also cultural immersion.

On the Central Stage

Central to this initiative is our 'On the Central Stage' series at Halifax Central Library. In just a year, the Central Stage has witnessed 57 free performances, drawing an audience of over 10,000. From the 2nd Chances Spring Concert with Jazz Big Band to the powerful renditions of Alan Syliboy & The Thundermakers, each performance adds a vibrant note to our evolving legacy—which has always been shared.

"The series, being totally free and open to the public, has received a ton of feedback about its amazing impact,” says Owen Day, Audio Visual Specialist at Halifax Central Library, underscoring the Library's commitment to making arts and culture accessible to all. “People walk up wondering where to buy tickets, only to find out the concerts are entirely free.”

Going big

Drawing on his past experiences working in concert halls, Owen (who recently celebrated his one-year anniversary with Halifax Public Libraries) brings something new to Central Library.

“Before, it was difficult, without my role, to lean into doing bigger concerts. Now, we can offer larger, more engaging concerts,” says Owen. “It's great to offer people, who might not be able to spend on concert tickets, a professional audio and lighting experience."

Owen notes, "Across North America, there are very few concert venues that exist within a library institution. It's a unique resource for the public."

There have been many memorable experiences. Owen fondly recalls a Tom Waits tribute concert with Graham Howes (a personal favourite), “It’s cool to be able to share music you love with people and be a part of that experience.”

A perfect pitch

The community's reception has been overwhelmingly positive, with audience members taking to the stage themselves (post-concert) for the opportunity to engage with performers, a unique experience compared to most venues.

"They've been stoked, honestly. I feel like every concert we've had, there’s been such a positive reaction from the audience,” says Owen. “It's fun to also have a unique experience compared to other venues where there's a bit of a separation between the audience and the performers—everybody's just having a blast."

Artists also find value in this initiative. The Library's all-ages, family-friendly approach means artists can reach a wider audience. Owen mentions, "One artist recently commented on how excited they were about having an all-ages show, which is rare in the industry."

Best of all, bringing music and artists to our branches is 100 percent in-step with our mission to provide resources for the public without monetary constraints.

“The Library is all about doing things for the public and just being a great resource for people where they don't feel like they need to spend money or buy things,” echoes Owen.

More music to come

Looking ahead, the horizon is promising with even more artists, like ECMA-winning Mi'kmaq/Indigenous artist Morgan Toney, scheduled to hit the Central Stage (at the time of writing this article) in Fall 2023. Meanwhile, Owen expects to see a growing roster of performances, "I'm building relationships with artists, making the Library a viable venue for concerts,” he says. “I see it snowballing into a bigger concert series year over year."

Through our performance-based programming, particularly On the Central Stage, we continue to redefine our role in the communities we serve—standing as a testament to the power of merging culture, beats, and entertainment with our traditional offerings.

Explore more

This story was originally created as part of Halifax Public Libraries' 2022-23 Annual Report. Read the full report here.

Check out all upcoming music & performances on our Library stages.