When Madison hip-hop artist Rob "Dz" Franklin lost the race for a seat on the Dane County Board of Supervisors this spring, he didn’t feel sorry for himself for long.
He lost the election on April 5, and was told on April 6 that the Madison Public Library was in the running to win the prestigious National Medal for Museum and Library Service.
“I didn’t have much time to get down in the dumps about losing the election,” said Dz, an employee and volunteer at the library, as he was immediately hopeful the library would win.
On Wednesday, Dz saw that hope come to fruition as First Lady Michelle Obama awarded the Madison Public Library the nation’s highest museum and library honor at the White House. The award is given to libraries for outstanding community outreach and public service. Only 10 libraries were selected nationwide for the honor.
Dz received the award with library director Greg Mickells and library board president Tracy Kuczenski.
Kathryn K. Matthew, director of the Institute of Museum and Library Services, which gives out the award, attributed Madison Public Library’s honor to its innovation and creativity. Matthew pointed to the library’s literacy programs and services to the homeless as examples of its inspiring community involvement.
Dz, who is currently employed as a library monitor and teaches classes at the library as a volunteer, has been on the receiving and giving end of that community involvement.
A professional hip-hop artist, Dz had run out of money to record his music, unable to afford typical studio rates of $50 to $100 an hour. He went to the Central Library to do research and found the Media Lab instead.
The Media Lab is a free digital media production lab in the Central Library, equipped with a soundproof booth, a green screen, cameras and video and audio editing programs. Even better for Dz, there were people like Media Lab manager Nate Clark willing to teach him to how to use the programs and equipment.
Dz committed himself to taking advantage of all the Media Lab had to offer, and eventually learned to use Photoshop, record and mix music, shoot and edit video and even design his own promotional materials.
“I spent about a year learning all the programs,” Dz said, noting he can’t even comprehend how many hours he spent in the library that year. “Probably the only program I haven't learned in the Media Lab is the video game design.”
Thankful to the Media Lab and determined to pay it forward, he began volunteering at the library to teach middle and high school students about hip-hop, audio engineering and personal branding.
Dz also became involved with the library’s Making Justice program, a community program where artists and teens in the court system work together to help the teens express themselves. Dz served as the Artist-in-Residence for the program twice, taking his expertise to the juvenile court detention center and the Shelter Home for youth.
Dz said he is passionate about giving a voice to the marginalized, including low-income individuals, the homeless and people of color. He believes his role with the library teaching youth to record their songs and thoughts has enabled teens to make their voices heard, even if it's not for large audiences.
“You can talk about the issues, the challenges that you face. You can get it off your chest without having to bottle it up. Not everyone’s going to be the next Drake or Lil Wayne,” Dz said, noting that it’s valuable “just for them to be able to make a CD and bring it to their mom and have them listen to it.”
Dz has seen the program help teens express themselves in new ways. One youth in Dz’s workshop had psychological problems, and a teacher had been working on counseling him all year. He came to two of Dz’s sessions. During the first session, the youth simply sat and listened.
“The second week he recorded, and it was really mind-blowing. The teacher shared with me that he had probably opened up more in the two weeks in this program then he had opened up all year with her,” Dz said.
To see this kind of progress is very rewarding for Dz.
“That brings me more joy than selling any of my records that I’ve sold,” Dz said.
Meeting Michelle Obama didn’t hurt either.
“I’m single and Michelle Obama said I looked good, so when I come back I’ll be ready to talk to anybody,” Dz joked.