Library reference desk areas transform to live music stages with VIBES concert series

While the library might be a place to check out CDs or albums of your favorite musicians, now it’s also a setting where you can see and hear music live. Expanding upon its curation of Michigan-made albums available for borrowing and download, the VIBES Reference Desk Mini Concerts bring musicians into the space to perform for Kent District Library (KDL) patrons. 

Hennie Vaandrager, programming manager, oversees programming for KDL’s 20 branches. “I work with staff to create systemwide programs that encourage literacy, spark creativity and engage our patrons,” she says. “Often we work with partners to bring specialized programming to our branches.”

Spotlighting local artists

One of the newest specialized KDL programs brings live music to the forefront. Greg Lewis, KDL programming specialist, was also involved in the behind-the-scenes ideas that led to the creation of VIBES Reference Desk Mini Concerts.

The pop-up concert series aims to shine a light on the many talented artists and groups from the greater Grand Rapids area. 

“I worked with Greg and the branches to create a vision and a plan to bring these concerts to our patrons,” Vaandrager says. “We wanted to highlight our Vibes collection and, at the same time, promote and bring visibility to some of our wonderful local artists.”

Lewis has been reaching out to local musicians, gauging interest and lining them up with participating branch locations. The series highlights the Vibes collection, a diverse array of musical styles featuring 40-50 albums of local artists’ licensed music. They are available to the public for free streaming and to Library cardholders for download. 

“We want to highlight our KDL Vibes collection, a streaming service available to our patrons that features West Michigan musicians and gives artists another avenue to share their music with the community,” Lewis says. “We are lucky to have so much great local music — it’s an honor to give them a platform to shine.”

Vaandrager says the idea for the series came from colleague Jaci Cooper’s idea of doing concerts in the same vein as NPR’s Tiny Desk Concert. “Due to copyright, we changed up the name and put a Library spin on the idea,” she says. 
Variety of genres
This is the first year for the series but, heading into 2023, KDL already has plans to continue the concerts. Lewis says the lineup of artists and genres provides something for everyone. All of the bands have been selected for the KDL Vibes platform. 
“The acts span a variety of genres and are a great representation of the talent we have here in West Michigan,” Lewis says. 
Previous performances have come from Max Lockwood, Jes Kramer and Rabbit Fur. Upcoming shows include Adrian Wright, Chris Cranick, Jim Spalink and Myra Maimoh. 
VIBES Reference Desk Mini Concerts take place four or five times each season on Thursday nights from 7 p.m. The shows are held at different KDL branch locations. All shows are free, and no registration is required. Events are also livestreamed.
Lewis says attendees can expect “a wonderful and engaging show in an intimate setting.” “These are short, 20-30 minutes … plenty of time to also check out some materials and discover a new KDL branch.”
Jes Kramer, a singer-songwriter who mixes in electronic sound layers and pop sensibilities, has been playing music as a solo artist for 17 years. Kramer heard about the VIBES collection from other local musicians involved in the first round of submissions. 
“I got to play a pop-up show at the Plainfield branch earlier this month,” she says. “Not only was it exciting just to play a show again after not playing many the last few years, but I was particularly excited about playing a free show in a space that is often much less intimidating for nontraditional show-goers, whether that be people with kids, older folks or people who do better in smaller crowds and quiet environments. Playing shows for as long as I have, I've really learned to appreciate accessible venues and bringing music into community spaces like libraries. It also challenged me to rework my usual instrument setup and get creative with the songs a little bit.”
Kramer appreciates KDL and the way the Library reimagines what resources it can offer the community beyond books.
Performers who are accepted into the KDL VIVES collection can apply to participate in future mini concerts. The next submission period is February/March 2023. For more information on submission, visit the Vibes webpage.
Looking ahead, Vaandrager hopes the series can continue to grow. “We would like to build attendance at these mini concerts and contribute to feature local talent,” she says. “If successful, a larger concert series may be in our future.”


Literacy Matters is a series focused on the importance of knowledge, community resources seeking to remove barriers to access, and the value of our library systems to society. Literacy Matters is supported by Kent District Library. 

Sarah briefly lived in Grand Rapids years ago before moving back to Lansing, but that West Michigan love never really left her heart. Through her coverage of small businesses, arts and culture, dining and anything mitten-made, she’s committed to convincing any and everyone just how great the Great Lakes state is. Sarah received her degrees in journalism and professional communications. You can find her in a record shop, a local concert, or eating one too many desserts at a bakery. If by chance, she’s not at any of those places, you can contact her at [email protected]

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