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#OnTheRoadULC: Featuring Spokane Public Library // Two Librarians & A Microphone Podcast

Live from the Urban Libraries Council Annual Forum, we’re interviewing Jason Johnson and Andrew Chanse from the Spokane Public Library about their success with Lilac City Live.

Move over Jimmy Fallon! Lilac City Live is a “late” night talk show hosted in a custom-built performance space in the Spokane Downtown Library. Featuring musical performances, stand-up comedians and interviews with local authors, artists, and celebrities, Lilac City Live as transformed the Downtown Library into a lively, multi-generational community destination, attracting an average of 300 people to each show.


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Learn more about their innovation here

Lilac City Live 2018 Highlights. Source


Jim Heuer [00:00:16] Hi everybody, this is Jim Heuer, host of the Ingram Library Services podcast, Two Librarians and a Microphone. I'm here with librarian number two, Donna George. We're in Baltimore, Maryland, and we're excited to be recording live at the Urban Library Council Annual Forum Annual Forum. Ingram Library Services is a proud sponsor of the Innovation Awards that the ULC bestows upon its members. Today we have two members of the Spokane Public Library, we have Executive Directors, Andrew Chanse and Jason Johnson. Jason's going to talk to us a little bit about the innovation, they were awarded as a Top Innovator in the Customer Experience category, something they call their Lilac City Live. Jason, can you tell us a little bit about that program, how it came to be?

Jason Johnson [00:01:01] We were looking for ways to position the downtown library as a cultural anchor and community destination for downtown. We really wanted to bring the arts into the library in a more meaningful way. We tried thinking about what's an event that can have arts, and music, and poetry, and comedy, and all these things in one type of event that people actually will attend. I thought of this idea, there's something that already does that, it's a late-night talk show, so I kind of leveraged some relationships with local comedians and musicians, and kind of cobbled this thing together and it has been wildly successful.

Donna George [00:01:39] This is a new twist for us since we've been here. What we've heard from most libraries is how they are surveying their communities, the members of their community and looking for gaps and filling those gaps. What you've done here is surveyed your library facilities, and you've found a gap there, and you're trying to figure out ways to get patrons to an underused facility. What has been the community reaction? How is the attendance, and how's it all going?

Jason Johnson [00:02:04] The attendance has been pretty much off the charts. We average 300 or so people for this event. This event has been the gate to people getting their eyes on this new space. We used to have magazine racks blocking the best view in the city of the waterfall and now we have a stage. That's your backdrop for the city skyline and the waterfall. We have people approaching us all the time now about using the space or partnering with us to host events at the space, and we do these six-month goals. Our last one, we had 1,000 people show up for events at that space, most of which were adult programs, which is kind of…flips everything on its head.

Andrew Chanse [00:02:41] It's really great to attract the 21 to 40 crowd, that's a really hard target for libraries to hit, and that's the majority of the folks that are coming. Of course, it is multi-generational, we do see folks that are in their 80s showing up and having a beer or wine in the library, which has its own unique feeling. They're interacting with each other, and they're enjoying Spokane, and what Spokane has to offer, which is really rewarding for the presenters, but also for the library to be a part of that is pretty cool.

Jim Heuer [00:03:19] Other staff members, is this a good shift to work, if you're working the Lilac City Live, are people wanting to work that?

Jason Johnson [00:03:26] I have a few staff that are dedicated to it, I have my Music Education Specialist who has a degree in Audio Engineering, so he's forced to be there, because he has to run all the sound.

Jim Heuer [00:03:36] We call that volun-told.

Jason Johnson [00:03:37] Volun-told? Yes. I have a couple staff that work on it really hard, especially. So, there's two, aside from me, that are really the leads on it, but they're…people volunteer to be there for it, because it's actually a really fun thing to do. So, I think every one of my staff members has been there for one or two of them.

Jim Heuer [00:03:54] Running the gambit of kind of acts, you said some local comedians, people singing.

Jason Johnson [00:03:59] Yeah, we've had authors, we structure it just like a talk show, so you have the big first guest, and usually that's more or less been an author.

Andrew Chanse [00:04:06] The mayor.

Jason Johnson [00:04:07] Or the mayor was on, or we had Kris Crocker, who's a weather person for a local news, and then we've had artists, visual artists, and we display their work and talk about that.

Andrew Chanse [00:04:20] Painting on stage.

Jason Johnson [00:04:20] Yeah, there was live painting that we gave away at the end of the first show.

Jim Heuer [00:04:22] Oh, nice. Yeah.

Jason Johnson [00:04:25] Not every artist is comfortable with completing a painting in 45 minutes, so that doesn't work for everyone. We wanted to cross all boundaries here, so we do have a band every…there's a musical guest every time, and then they play two songs, one at the middle, one at the end. There's been a stand-up comedian every episode, and that's a really big part of it, and talking with them afterwards, because I'm so grateful these people are willing to do this thing. But everybody's so excited about having a crowd of 300 people who are actually engaged with what they're doing, listening, people that never would have gone to see this comedian or this band or seen this artist, but they're getting in front of those people. We film every one of these, so the artists and the comedians and the bands come away from it with really high-quality video production, and the sound production's great, so…

Jim Heuer [00:05:11] A couple questions, who's Johnny and who's Ed, right? Are you the host?

Jason Johnson [00:05:15] No, no, I'm not the host, I actually, we lucked into it. I am friends with a guy who tried to do a similar sort of talk show at a bar, and just couldn't get the momentum going on it, but Ryan Dean Tucker is a local comedian, musician, renaissance man, so he's the host. Then there's Sean Glasow, another comedian that is the co-host, so they do a lot of the writing for, most of the writing for the show. I give them a lot of freedom because they know what they're doing, and we organize everything and book the guests, and make sure the lights are on and all that stuff.

Jim Heuer [00:05:53] You're recording it and you're putting it out on YouTube? Is there a social media component to this?

Andrew Chanse [00:05:56] We have it up on YouTube, we do post on Facebook, and it's also on city cable, so that the city will broadcast it a couple times a week. We're working on a partnership to try to get a bigger audience locally, as far as the recordings go.

Jim Heuer [00:06:16] Oprah started as doing local stuff out of Chicago, right? You never know. All right, so if somebody's listening to this, and they say,"Hey, we can do something similar to this!" What are some of the things that they should try? What are some of the steps they should take? What would be your advice to them?

Jason Johnson [00:06:34] Well, having the space to do it was probably the most difficult thing, just because we had to move everything and renovate the building on a very low budget. I'd say the space was a hard thing, but I feel like you could figure that out. People can move stacks around, you can make a temporary space, you can use your meeting rooms. I guess maybe that's not a huge obstacle. On the scale we're doing it, it was a very, very big undertaking, but I'd just tell people to go for it. Every community has, even tiny towns have people, like you can have the guy who grows the grain, or he can come out and talk about his new tractor, or you can have the teachers at the school come out and talk about what they're doing. The format could work for everybody. It's a very familiar format for people, people understand what a talk show is, so when they come, they'll know what to expect. So, that's what I think is what made this work so well, is people came and were like, "Oh yeah, I know, I understand this," and they're engaged the whole time. But I would recommend other people try it, cause it's a great way to showcase your community, and showcase the people doing amazing things.

Jim Heuer [00:07:43] Did you guys have to buy any new equipment or was it kind of existing equipment that you had at the library in terms of recording stuff?

Jason Johnson [00:07:49] We did get a bunch of new equipment for that space. I'm a musician, so we cut some corners that I knew we could cut, so we didn't spend as much as we would have if we hired some company to come in and do it, but we have really high-end sound equipment and lights.

Andrew Chanse [00:08:08] The whole space for 85,000 dollars.

Jason Johnson [00:08:11] That includes carpet for 30,000 square feet, so the carpet was the biggest chunk of that. Our facility's crew built a stage, we mounted the lights on plumbing pipes that he fixed in there, not working plumbing… actual pipes… but there's no water going through them, so there's no code violations there.

Jim Heuer [00:08:33] I bet electric and the water didn't…doesn't mix usually well, right?

Jason Johnson [00:08:35] We've slowly been making upgrades. The show, as we said, we sell beer and wine, the foundation does, it raises money that way, and then we can use those funds to make improvements to lights or to buy new furniture and things like that. It's a really beneficial thing for a lot of people.

Jim Heuer [00:08:53] Now that's really some interesting stuff. I can see why, you know, you guys were named the top innovator, that's really cool. Hopefully that goes viral and I can watch this on my television in Cleveland, Ohio or something.

Jason Johnson [00:09:07] Yeah, you can just Google Lilac City Live, it should show up.

Jim Heuer [00:09:10] Two Librarians and A Microphone is brought to you by Ingram Library Services, it is a division of Ingram Content Group. Our producer/director is Rachel Cope, sound engineering by Craig Simpson, special assistance by Essence Brisco, and Elizabeth Wilcox. The research done by our librarians, Trisha Bengel and Donna George. I'm Jim Heuer, thanks most of all to you for listening. Please follow us on Instagram at @thelibrarylife, tag us in your #thelibrarylife moments, because we've got some cool stuff going on, on that social media platform. We're going to be giving away some exclusive books, ARCs, perhaps a signed copy. In order to make sure you're staying tuned to this podcast, we'd love for you to go to our landing page, but most importantly, the best way you can show your support for us, is we'd love some reviews on Apple iTunes. If you can go on there and leave us a positive review, that would really help. We'll see you in your libraries. Thanks everybody.