‘Dewey Decibels’ let Livingston librarians get loud to reach youth

Perhaps you think the terms “rocking out” and “library” don’t go together. If so, you’ve never heard of the Dewey Decibels.

With five branches, Livingston Parish doesn’t have the biggest library system around, but it may be the only one that has its own rock band.

The Dewey Decibels — an inspired name for a library band, derived as it is from the system that keeps books organized — began last summer and grew out of a desire to make the library’s children’s outreaches more appealing. Tammy Mulhearn, the library’s head of youth services, had recruited Livingston branch manager J.D. Lovelace on occasion to play an acoustic guitar while she sang children’s songs at puppet shows or at story time.

But, for the library’s summer reading program kickoff, they decided to kick it up a notch.

Mulhearn recruited musicians from library staff members. Luke Ash, who plays in bands and works at the Watson branch, asked his branch manager, Layne Johnson, for permission to take time to practice.

“He mentioned about a keyboard player, and I said, ‘Yeah, I could play chords,’” Johnson said. “I’m not professional. A long time ago, I played regular piano. I had never played with a group, so I’m not used to this at all. I said I can try it out.”

They also recruited Sarah Colombo, head of adult services, who had recently learned to play the guitar and agreed to play bass.

The Dewey Decibels were born. The reading program theme was “Dig Deep,” so the Decibels played songs with an underground theme, like “Working in a Coal Mine.”

“The kids had a blast, and the parents really enjoyed it, too,” Mulhearn said. “We got a lot of good feedback.”

Enough that the Dewey Decibels hit the stage again for the library’s books festival in November, and again at Christmas. The Decibels have no gigs scheduled until this summer’s reading program begins.

“The songs we choose are things we think the people will enjoy,” Mulhearn said. “We haven’t written songs. When we did the Christmas show, J.D. adapted lyrics to ‘The Grinch’ a bit to make it about libraries a little bit.”

Libraries, Lovelace noted, are having to change with the times. “We have video game machines,” he said. “We have game nights. We do a lot of stuff outside the traditional books and research.”

And a band.