Oil City Becomes the Latest Library to Champion Music

In 1890, Scottish-American industrialist and philanthropist Andrew Carnegie donated $44,000 to build the Oil City Library. That's equal to approximately $1.24 million today. This gift meant that like so many other communities across America, the residents of Oil City would have guaranteed free access to knowledge, learning, and ideas when they walked through the doors of their brand new library.

That same building is still in use today, however, a further gift has allowed for a very significant and appealing change to be made to the entrance of this well-loved library that patrons so depend on.

When, in 2020, PMC Bank chose to move its business offices elsewhere, they left a parting gift that funded the construction of a music garden outside the city’s library. The choice may seem at odds with a library’s purpose: to lend books, supply information, provide a quiet place to study or read and maybe even watch movies. But, like many libraries across the country, the Oil City Library has worked hard to adapt to changing times.

Keen to develop and diversify the library's services, director Dan Flaherty points to a renewed energy in the last five to ten years. “We’ve stopped wasting our breath on what once was, and focused instead on what we have and what we could be.”

He’s overseen a host of programming to attract more people to the library and remind everyone it’s no longer just about books. Dan has said: “We check out fishing poles and tackle boxes, STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) kits, and even stud finder tools, we have take-and-make activities and video games with the latest technology headsets. Added to all this, we host a local film festival and have regular concerts in the library.”

In an age where information can be summoned at the tap of a phone, the value of the Oil City library has shifted to its status as a community gathering space, and this is where Dan saw the value of a music garden in the front courtyard.

“When we focused on what we have and what we could be, it’s the outdoor natural amenities: we have great woods, we have amazing waterways, hiking, canoeing, kayaking, camping, a good local community feel that has helped us rebound and rediscover what we are.”

The new music garden comprises a collection of Percussion Play outdoor musical instruments: a Rainbow Cavatina and Music Book, Cherub, Harmony, Colossus Chimes, and three different types of drum; Cajons , a pair of Tumbadoras, and a large Babel Drum (engraved with the PMC logo).

Ever since the garden’s construction by supplier Recreation Resource USA, Flaherty is always hearing music: “We think church is in session, because we hear this faint lullaby in the distance.”

Many of the instruments are tuned to easy-to-play pentatonic scales that make them so ideal for the outdoor space: with people inside the library quietly engaged in their activities, it was important that the music garden produced a calming beautiful sound.

Supplier Recreation Resource USA and Percussion Play provided the library with a 3D projection of how the garden would look with the instruments in place: a floral nook in the library’s front yard and designed to provide wheelchair accessibility. Constructed near a statue of a girl dipping her toe in a lake, today it looks like she’s dancing to the music.

“It’s been amazing”, Flaherty said. Built between the YMCA and a local coffee shop, the garden attracts families, dog walkers, and people on their way to the library or anywhere else. “This spring we’ve had two-second grade classes come to get their library cards. After that, we let them play with the instruments.”

Places like Oil City especially understand the importance of community and local gathering spaces. Few places are more crucial than the library: “Libraries are about making connections: connect to information, connect to each other, and connect to the local community.” It is a wonderful thing to watch these spaces evolve to meet the community’s needs, whether that is by hosting concerts, renting out new technologies, or simply providing a place where families can come and make music.

About Recreation Resource USA

For over 30 years, Recreation Resource has been providing Pennsylvania and the surrounding areas with the industry's most reliable and sought-after brands in recreation equipment. Their experience has led them to be the trusted resource for a wide range of clients, ranging from parks, schools, and churches to architects, landscape designers, and municipalities. With varying needs and requirements, they evaluate each project individually to deliver the best results.

Further reading on the evolution of Libraries 'Could Libraries Be the New Champions of Music'