Free musical instruments loan scheme for 12 to 17 year-olds at Dublin City Library

Gillian Colton lending an instrument at Pearse Street Library.
Photo courtesy of Pearse Street Library

Eoin Meegan

If you’re a teenager and you envisage yourself having a future career in the music business, but frustration bugs you because you don’t have, or can’t afford, a musical instrument, then keep reading.

Musical instruments, even secondhand ones, are out of the range of most teens (and let’s face it, it’s unfair to expect hard-pressed parents to always cough up the cash). However, now thanks to a really innovative scheme run jointly by Girls Rock Dublin and Dublin City Libraries, if you’re aged between 12 and 17 you can get a new instrument, learn to play it, and possibly one day end up in a band, all for free!

The idea is the brainchild of one Rossella Bottone the founder and director of Girls Rock Dublin. Rossella, who hails from the beautiful Abruzzo region of Italy, famous for its wine, is a sound engineer by profession, an accomplished musician, and multi-instrumentalist. She established Girls Rock Dublin, which is part of the world-wide Girls Rock movement, in 2016. The goal of the umbrella group is to empower young women in the music industry.

“We all share the same values, such as supporting each other, fighting sexism, sharing skills and resources, and providing opportunities, particularly for girls and gender non-binary people.” She says. How the scheme works is simple: Girls Rock Dublin organises the instruments, including checking the gear after it returns to make sure there is no damage; and the library deals with the lending end.

Back in February, before the lockdown, Pearse Street librarian Gillian Colton took NewsFour on a tour of the basement where all the instruments are stored. Among the gear there are electric guitars, short-scale basses, synths, drums and mixers, along with a supply of plectrums and amps; and a beautiful waterproof ukulele. Gillian says: “The scheme ensures there are no economic barriers to people learning an instrument and getting a band together.

Creating music is a creative experience, but it’s also a community experience and one that brings people together. It fosters self esteem and identity, and allows a valuable element of the communal back in.”

She is truly amazed at how quickly young adolescents today learn to play the instruments. “They go on YouTube and learn from video tutorials, they don’t even need lessons, so it’s cost free!” It all began last September on Culture Night, back in very different times, when Pearse Street library launched the initiative.

That night a group of young musicians literally took over the library and made a lot of noise, and everyone – participants and spectators alike – had a fabulous time. Already a new all-girl band has come about as a result of the scheme. They’re called 17C, after their local bus route, and are one to watch out for. The girls met in school and from there decided to form a band. Gillian says their music is really catchy and they could be the next U2!

More girls are now starting their own groups and demanding to be taken seriously, a trend which Rossella only sees as a positive. Traditionally, perhaps, girls were seen as an adornment only to a band or group.

Naturally, the library lending scheme applies equally to both sexes, and Gillian reports that so far there has been roughly an even number of boys and girls availing of the service. Both Rossella and Gillian have nothing but praise for the young people who use the service.

To date, everyone has taken really good care of the equipment; damage has been minimal, and nothing stolen. Feedback from the parents thus far has been very positive, with many reports of seeing children who were shy, or maybe being bullied, grow in confidence.

“Some people think they are weaker than others, but in fact they are stronger,” Rossella says, “it brings out what is inside them and makes them shine.” Rossella is planning on setting up a similar scheme in Ballyfermot in the near future, as well as arranging workshops in Creative Studio, a free-to-use recording facility in Ballyfermot Library.

She would like to do workshops at some stage in Pearse Street too. In the States, Girls Rock already has a partnership deal with a few local libraries, but the initiative is still very much in its infancy even there.

Norway at the moment is also in the process of starting up a similar lending scheme, and Rossella believes the model will catch on and has the potential to go global one day. “It encourages people to try out different things, to try different instruments, and expands to other parts of their lives.

It encourages young people to believe they are more than they think.” So how is the initiative funded? Well, while Girls Rock Dublin received some instruments donated by bands that have split up, notably the now defunct Le Galaxie, they still had to raise cash with which to buy most of the instruments.

However, through a combination of astute entrepreneurial skills, and a very successful social media campaign, Rossella managed to secure a lucrative deal which enabled her to buy new equipment.

But then a new problem arose. “The instruments were starting to pile up in my home,” she says “which is a one-bedroom apartment, and at one time I had about 50 altogether. It was driving me crazy!” So she hit on the idea to approach local libraries with a view to lending the instruments out. Initially some libraries turned her down.

However, all that changed when she walked into Pearse Street and met Gillian who was very responsive right from the beginning. “It was like meeting a kindred spirit,” she said. Built around the principles of cooperation and friendship, the initiative serves a sector of society that is often overlooked, and sometimes unfairly maligned.

Teenagers face many difficulties and pressures in their lives. If they can be encouraged to develop hidden talents, in whatever area, this should be encouraged. But having talent can seem futile if one is unable to fully nurture it. The gear lending scheme provides practical assistance to those who might otherwise be unable to afford it.

It really is a demonstration of community working at its very best. “We use music to develop as people really, it’s done in a spirit of support and cooperation, and not one of competition,” Rosella says. Something to keep in mind in these unusual times we find ourselves in.

Speaking to Gillian recently, she tells me the gear lending library, after a hiatus of a few months, is operating at full swing again. “It really is a great feeling to welcome people back into Pease Street library – the place has felt empty and lacking soul. I have really missed our regulars and the chats we have at the desk and at library events.”

So if you’re aged between 12 and 17 and have a valid library card you can walk into the library today and leave with a shiny new guitar, drums or synth. All who are involved are to be applauded. It’s an idea that will help many to shine.

If you want to know more or get involved with Girls Rock you can contact them at