Stacks Records: Westport PL Creates, Records, Releases First Library-Produced Vinyl Album

The Westport Public Library (WPL), CT, recently released Verso Records: Volume One, a 12-song vinyl album—hailed as the first vinyl record entirely recorded, produced, and released by a public library—recorded and produced within the library’s walls. An entirely nonprofit project, all proceeds from sales of the album (available on vinyl or digitally) go to Verso Studios, a state-of-the-art media production hub and venue housed in the library, and to WPL.

smiling man holding up Verso Records album
Verso Records producer and performer Dooley-O
Photo by Verso Studios

It is no secret that public libraries serve as hubs for community connection, learning, and creativity. The Westport Public Library (WPL), CT, offers a powerful illustration of this with the recent release of Verso Records: Volume One, a 12-song vinyl album recorded and produced within the library’s walls. The library celebrated this landmark achievement—hailed as the first vinyl record entirely recorded, produced, and released by a public library—with a June 3 record release party. An entirely nonprofit project, all proceeds from sales of the album (available on vinyl or digitally) go to Verso Studios, a state-of-the-art media production hub and venue housed in the library, and to WPL.

Completed in 2019 as part of a capital campaign and renovation project costing over $22 million, Verso Studios is home to a versatile event space used for performances, concerts, screenings, and more, as well as broadcast, recording, and post-production suites. All of these spaces offer professional-level, cutting-edge technology and have been home to the creation of podcasts, audiobooks, music recordings, and cultural events. The Verso Studios event space hosted the album release party, keeping the entire production and release of the record in-house.

The Verso team has trained dozens of community members on the creation of high-profile, quality events for the community, and locals routinely work at the control board, edit, handle the sound board, or use the spaces to develop their own creative projects. “We deliver cutting edge technology to support intergenerational creators from Westport and all over the region,” said library Executive Director Bill Harmer. “The technology enables us to develop contemporary models of literacy and learning. It is community-based, and focused on interpersonal learning.”



Verso Studios is meant to be inviting and to encourage innovation among the local community, with an expansive approach to creativity that encompasses whatever its users can dream up. “As a woman, person of color, and entrepreneur, I see potential to not just use the space, but to do great work when it comes to showing the different avenues of how the space can be used,” said Sheneta Nicole Walker, one of the artists featured on Verso Records . In addition to recording for the album, Walker has used the studio’s post-production space to make content for and edit a biweekly radio show, and has also worked with the nonprofit LiveGirl as a “Confidence Coach” to focus on “self-awareness when it came to creative expression and the media components in the lives of young adults.”

Brendan Toller, Verso Studios marketing manager, describes Verso Records as “a chance for us to show what a library is capable of with these resources—it’s been a really exemplary practice of involving the entire community.” The album grew out of a desire to showcase the space, as well as to celebrate local artists. “This whole thing wouldn’t exist without community activation and support,” said Toller.

With its history as a destination for artists, Westport is home to many creatives who have donated their time and expertise to the Westport Public Library—Chris Frantz of the Talking Heads and Tom Tom Club is a high-profile supporter of Verso Studios, as is producer and engineer Rob Fraboni, who has worked with the likes of the Rolling Stones and Bob Dylan. This “community activation” still has lessons for those libraries without such high-profile names among their neighbors, said Toller, as the goal of a community space like Verso Studios is to “shift the focus to the glimmering gems in their backyard—local heroes.”

Verso Studios broadcast control suite, with monitors and mixing boards lit up
Verso Studios Broadcast Control Suite
Photo by Verso Studios

At its core, Verso Studios and Verso Records are about nurturing creativity, democratizing media, and lifting up local voices. Verso Studios is “an incredible one-stop shop for crafting more art, music, culture, and making ideas come to fruition,” said Dave Schneider of The Zambonis, a band featured on Verso Records. “To be a part of the first ever public library vinyl release is flattering and got us motivated to create,” he says. “It’s also fun to look at the thousands of colorful book bindings around you while creating.”

Verso Records features a dozen artists from Connecticut and the surrounding region, recorded by the Studio’s award-winning sound engineer, Travis Bell. Recording took about a year—starting during COVID pandemic shut-downs, with no one in the library aside from staff, and artists maintaining social distance—plus additional time to mix, master, and create the physical album. The Verso team also filmed videos of almost every song.

As Frantz wrote in the album’s liner notes, “the tracks were recorded live with minimal overdubs—preserving the human element in music. If you’re expecting to hear pitch correction, you’ve come to the wrong place, but you will hear some fantastic vocals and marvelous music!” The tracks span genres and sounds, but all capture the energy of the independent recording studio and the enthusiasm of the participants. “No judgment. No crowd. Just me singing the first complete song I ever wrote,” said Walker of the experience recording at Verso Studios, performing a song that she first wrote in 2009. Of the unique recording setting, she added, “the fact that I can be LOUD in a library and MAKE MUSIC was the seller.”

“Most record labels, when they start, will start with a compilation record,” said Harmer, “and focus on a diverse array of talent across genres. Libraries have supported emerging writers for decades—so why should musicians be treated any different?” The album, he added, is one more way for the library to “nurture and support” the community using innovation and unique resources. The “community activation” approach extended to the album art, featuring work by local artist Tammy Winser. The library formed a selection committee of local artists, and received about 60 submissions for a cover design—all variations on the theme of libraries.

For fans of Verso Records: Volume One, plans are already in the works for a second album, with a new twist. While the album will yet again be spearheaded by the studio’s skilled professional staff, the goal will be to include the community in the production process—to be involved in the actual recording and production of the record, and to create a short documentary film about its creation.

That Verso Studios is a part of a public library shapes the way that people create in the space, including Verso Records. As Harmer explained to LJ, the term “Verso” is “Greek for the lefthand page of an open book—and is a metaphor for our vision, to evoke fresh starts and the potential for starting a new page. Libraries are not static organizations—learning is dynamic and evolving and so are libraries.” Verso Studios encourages community members to learn from one another and share their knowledge and expertise. “Good things happen when people come together in these spaces,” said Harmer.

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