Political Song-a-Palooza | Peer-to-Peer Review

Our initial goals were to create a unique outreach event for our communities; give students, faculty, and staff an outlet for creativity and civic engagement; and provide student internship opportunities grounded in experiential learning. We felt that a live concert would be a great format, as music is an accessible art form and allows diverse voices to be heard.

Political Song-a-Palooza logo: graphic hand holding guitar neckWhat does outreach look like at a large academic library? Most often what comes to mind are efforts to showcase the resources and services available to students, faculty, and staff that will support teaching and learning, the nuts and bolts of the college experience. Libraries are also incubators of discovery where exploring new ideas, fostering creativity, and informing how an individual can be an active part of their community are central to the mission. A recent outreach initiative by the Penn State University Libraries aims to engage students, faculty, and staff in the discovery of political and protest songs through a live performance event.

Political Song-a-Palooza, which we cocreated as Music and Political Science subject specialists, highlights political songs of many nations and time periods that have contributed to political dialogue in those countries and shaped their cultural landscapes. Our initial goals were to create a unique outreach event for our communities; give students, faculty, and staff an outlet for creativity and civic engagement; and provide student internship opportunities grounded in experiential learning. We felt that a live concert would be a great format, as music is an accessible art form and allows diverse voices to be heard.



Political Song-a-Palooza was originally planned as a single event, but as we advertised for internships, other campus units reached out to us about possible collaboration. This led to the creation of the Penn State University Libraries Political Song Series with two events in partnership with the Center for Performing Arts at Penn State (CPA) and another partnership with the McCourtney Institute for Democracy. The song series kicked off in November 2022 with “Hope: The Healing Power of Music, a Conversation with the Soweto Gospel Choir.” This event was a great prequel to the choir’s concert, part of CPA’s season, which featured South African freedom songs and music of the American civil rights movement.

In January, Michael Mwenso, the leader of the artistic collective Mwenso and the Shakes, led an “Ancestral Communal Listening Session” exploring Black roots music using vinyl recordings from the libraries’ collections. The session was part of his weeklong residency with CPA and coincided with Penn State’s Martin Luther King Jr. Week of Commemoration. A collaboration with the McCourtney Institute for Democracy, “Research at the Intersection of Music and Politics: A Panel Discussion,” is scheduled for early April, and will highlight the current research of music scholars.

Political Song-a-Palooza is scheduled for April 20 and will be an exciting event to close the series. The partnerships formed for these events have added to the richness of our outreach efforts and enhanced the potential for future collaborations.



Political Song-a-Palooza has provided several great opportunities for experiential learning. In total, three students were hired for the event to work as a team to plan, promote, and host the concert this spring. Job responsibilities included research to provide important historical and social context for political songs; the recruitment of performers for auditions, scheduling and running auditions, the selection of performers; and marketing of the event. We felt that the research component of this project would help us to understand what defines a political or protest song, as well as generate a list of material that potential auditionees could use for song ideas.

The event assistants have worked in groups and independently on all phases of the project. They engaged with other library and academic departments, local Penn State media outlets, and various community stakeholders. Interns had fun while sharpening their research skills related to the history of political and protest songs and gained a greater understanding of project management, event planning, and marketing skills. They took ownership of all social media initiatives, including design and direct marketing to student organizations. Input from interns based on their perspective as students was crucial in moving the project forward. The opportunity to be part of a creative group endeavor has been a transformative learning experience, contributing to student educational goals and interests and preparing them for continued, meaningful contributions to their local, national, and international communities.



Political Song-a-Palooza began marketing for auditions in November 2022 and submissions opened on December 1. Participants submitted audio and video files, and we received 15 submissions before the auditions closed in late January.

While some submissions reflected our vision of showcasing political and protest songs of many cultures and time periods, we were most surprised by the number of original songs, displaying that the desire to share political and protest views through song is important to our university community. In all, the final production has the potential to provide a full evening of dynamic narrative and quality music.



Hosting Political Song-a-Palooza at an off-campus venue provides the University Libraries, and in turn, Penn State, an opportunity to enhance our footprint in the State College community and showcase the work of our students, faculty, and staff. The State Theatre, just off campus, was eager to be our venue partner; they loved the concept, have a desire to build relationships with various Penn State groups, and have the capacity to attract audiences from the greater community.

The State Theatre hosted 13 live auditions in late February, and we will have a full lineup of music for Political Song-a-Palooza including some classic American protest songs, a new protest song from India that became popular in 2019, and some incredible original material written by the auditionees. The expertise of the State Theatre’s staff ensured a smooth audition process and will provide a professionally produced final event.



From the beginning, the Penn State University Libraries have been supportive of this large endeavor. Funding was made possible through specific library endowments for programming and internships. The University Libraries Public Relations and Marketing group aided in the design and development of logos and in several promotional news pieces for the entire Penn State community. The Open Publishing group within the libraries has supported a related project, The Database of Notable Political Songs, to be published in early 2024 on their platform.

Political Song-a-Palooza will offer a unique outreach experience for all. It will highlight the educational impact of the University Libraries through live performance, as well as the experiential learning that is key to the event’s success. We hope to truly host a memorable evening and feel the concept and depth of content could have us hosting Political Song-a-Palooza events well into the future.

For more information, follow us on Instagram and Facebook, @politicalsongapalooza.

Andrew Dudash is the Librarian for Political Science, Policy Studies, and Government Information at the Penn State University Libraries, University Park, PA.

Rebekah Hill is the Librarian for Music and Performing Arts at the Penn State University Libraries, University Park, PA.

The authors would like to thank our student interns Margaret Matous and Benjamin Rhine for their excellent work from beginning to end on the Political Song-a-Palooza event.

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