There are two questions regarding records I often hear while working at the media desk. The first: WHEN is the Library going to get with the times and get some vinyl? The second: WHY on earth would the Library want to get vinyl again?
To those asking the first question, the answer is right now. As vinyl sales and popularity have surged in the past decade, the Orem Public Library has acquired over sixty titles on vinyl, from classical master George Gershwin to jazz greats John Coltrane and Thelonius Monk to rock records by Radiohead, Bjork, Led Zeppelin, Daft Punk, Velvet Underground, David Bowie, and more.
The Library had vinyl in the past when it was the dominant format in the record industry, but as tapes and compact discs became the more convenient and reliable standard, the vinyl collection was phased out. However, vinyl has made a comeback. A Forbes article noted that in 2015 CD sales dropped while vinyl records saw an increase of 30% to nearly 12 million sold. While vinyl accounts for only 5% of the total sales revenue, it is also the only format on the rise, which leads to my answer for the second question—why get vinyl?
Why turn to a simple, old piece of wax etched with two channels which when passed through a needle reproduce sound? Why return to a musical format our great-grandparents used almost a century ago? Why invest in a physical medium that is so bulky, inconvenient, and outdated? In our age of customized digital playlists, Spotify, cloud storage, unlimited streaming, and subscription services, it’s hard to deny the convenience of the latest music technology. But what is gained in convenience is often lost in quality. Most streaming services do not stream full-fidelity audio, causing compressed files to clip frequencies in the audio spectrum. Furthermore, aspects of the music genre such as album art, linear notes, and the disc itself are gone with the ones-and-zeros of the digital world.
A vinyl record re-introduces a growing generation to album art and notes to view and explore while listening. The “inconvenient” nature of the turntable requires listeners to put time and effort into listening to the album. Skipping tracks by moving the needle arm is rarely worth the trouble, so listeners hear the tracks in their planned order, resulting in a more interactive listening experience with the music.
Vinyl is very durable—if kept clean, stored upright, and away from heat, it will last forever. I have a vinyl record that has outlasted three CD counterparts. Additionally, a vinyl record will not disappear from the Cloud or be lost in a hard drive crash. The digital files we buy from Apple and Amazon are not owned, but licensed, while a vinyl record is a tangible, unique keepsake that can be added to a personal collection and that usually comes now with a free digital copy for convenience.
People will debate whether the pops and scratches on vinyl diminish its audio quality or if the overtones and authentic analog audio of vinyl records are distinguishable to the human ear versus those of digital and CDs. The choice is completely up to the listener. But what is clear is that more and more people are choosing this older, larger, more physically demanding of music formats. If you’re curious why there is a real demand by an upcoming generation for vinyl and why that demand is still on the rise, I hope you’ll check out our collection downstairs and try for yourself this one-of-a-kind listening experience.