The Person Behind: The Silent Disco

Dancing seems to transcend culture and time; we can see it spanning back thousands of years in every corner of the world. But what’s the purpose of moving our arms and legs around to music? And why do we enjoy it?

We can see evidence from ancient civilizations that dance has accompanied humanity in one form or another for a long time. Psychologists have explored different theories as to why we like to dance; perhaps it’s due to the sense of community it inspires, or maybe it’s because of the sensory reward our body feels when it moves with rhythm. Whatever the reason, it seems as though dance will continue to evolve alongside humanity for long into the future.

So what does dancing have to do with Albany Public Library? Coming up on April 12th is APL’s very first Silent Disco, created in partnership with Albany YMCA at the North Albany branch. Designed for teens, this program was conceived by Community Programs and Partnerships Manager, Amy McLaughlin. Amy was kind enough to sit down with us and tell us all about why the idea of a silent disco appealed to her…

Can you tell us about your background

My title is Community Programs and Partnerships Manager. Before that I was the Programs Manager, and before that I was the Reader Services Department Manager. I started as a children’s librarian, so I’ve been with APL for 20+ years now in various positions. I’ve worked at several branches in that time – I’ve been everywhere & been involved in everything!

I feel like my current role merges all of my previous positions: my history in adult services, children services, and programs. Now my focus is on working with the community to develop programs.

Why did you choose this profession?

I went to school and got an English degree with a theater minor, and figured now what? Basically the degree led me perfectly into a masters. I chose library science -at the time my father was teaching it, so it was a good fit.

I know it’s a cliche to say, but I love reading and books! I love the idea of libraries being a public space, built for their community and used by them. Everyone has equal access to the same level and quality of materials and resources.

It was a good fit for me and continues to be a good fit. I’ve had the unique luxury of being able to move my career within APL as the organization needed, combined with what was fulfilling with me.

What’s your favorite thing about your job?

One of my favorite things about what I do is linking the right people with the right resource. I like seeing a need and being able to direct someone or an organization to what’s available. The people are also my favorite thing – both the ones we serve and the ones I work with.

Today, we’re talking about the Silent Disco, how did you come up with the idea?

Silent discos have been around for a while, but I don’t know how many libraries have been doing them! For me, it just seemed like a natural fit –
and a fun idea.

There’s a traditional idea that libraries have to be a quiet place – which we know isn’t the reality. We’re partnered with the YMCA in North Albany & have a relationship with the Albany High School librarians, so we wanted to put all these piece together to have  fun, different event. Large cities have plenty of opportunities for these kinds of programs, but we haven’t had one as far as I know for this age group. We’re trying to give our teens a something cool and different to do.

What can the teens expect from the disco?

Well this is the first time we’ve done it so I’m not sure! We’re all a little nervous and excited, but we’re teaming up with the Y and they have some solid teen programming over there.

There’s three stations available; each teen puts headphones on and listens to one of those three channels. If everyone is listening to the same channel, everyone is dancing to the same thing – but you won’t hear anything because it’s all in the headphones. Visually that’s going to be fun to watch. They will be in their own world, but somehow also connected.

We’re also having someone MC the event, and the Y will be providing some light refreshments.

So who will be in charge of the music?

The music will be preset , it has its own transmitter. We’ll put some lights up and decoration, it’s in the gym so its a big space. It’s like a chill high school dance – we’re taking the stress out of it and adding something a bit different .

This program is in partnership with the YMCA can you tell us a little more about how that happened?

Well the branch is in the same building, so we’re always looking for opportunities to work with the organization. There’s no programming space at the North Albany branch so whenever we want to do anything large, we work with the Y. They share a wall so its an organic relationship.

What do you hope the participants will get out of the experience?

That it’s a safe space to be yourself. This isn’t a school event, but it’s in good proximity to being like a traditional school dance without being one. That’s a lot of what the library is for school age patrons; an out of school experience still with an element of safety.

“That it’s a safe space to be yourself”

Have you ever been to a silent disco before?

I’ve never danced in one, but I’ve seen one before at a LEGO convention. It was adorable because it was both kids and grown-ups dancing. I’ve always wanted to, so by doing this program I get to go too! Though I’ll be working, so not sure how much dancing I’ll be able to do.

How would you describe the program?

I guess it’s the best example of how you can dance in a library!

How do you come up with ideas for programs?

Sometimes its in response to a perceived need in the community, sometimes its just one of those things that happen. You’re in a conversation with somebody and it just comes up. The Silent Disco came because I was talking to Stephanie Anderson, who used to be at the North Albany branch. She said she really wanted to do one, but she couldn’t get a rental company to get back to her. I knew one, so it just organically happened.

What usually ends up being the most successful are the organic ideas and responses where the community comes together and it just seems to happen.

Do you think the internal grant is a good idea?

I do, because of that idea of organic beginnings. When they have such origins, chances are they’re going to have a more successful result. I don’t know if we’ve studied the outcomes but someone should.

You asked me earlier what the goal was – sometimes we just want to afford an opportunity for fun, which was can’t afford on our own. The rental equipment was expensive – the grant didn’t fully cover it but it made it possible. When  it works it works, you can’t really ask for anything more.

If you think the Silent Disco sounds like fun for your teen, make sure to sign up here.