Students work side-by-side in Enterprise Library’s DJ studio. | Photo by Krystal Ramirez

DJing by the Book

Librarian Salvador Avila moonlights as a mentor to aspiring turntablists

There’s a tendency to get Salvador Avila mixed up with somebody else. Stocky build, smooth-shaven head, salt-and-pepper beard—must be a biker. Or a mechanic. Or maybe one of those mentors from Beyond Scared Straight.

So imagine our surprise when we asked him about his profession.

“I am a die-hard librarian,” says Avila, who’s been the branch manager of Enterprise Library for more than a decade, and with the Las Vegas Clark County Library District for 20 years. “An educator,” he adds.

Salvador Avila | Photo by Krystal Ramirez

Salvador Avila | Photo by Krystal Ramirez

Avila speaks highly of the job now, but his early experiences with libraries weren’t always pleasant. While pursuing his bachelor’s degree at San Diego State University, Avila says he encountered terrible customer service at the university’s library. The experience left a lasting impression: “From that point on, I knew that I needed to assist people,” he says.

Avila went on to get his master’s degree in library and information science at the University of Arizona. Upon moving to Las Vegas, the librarian soon heard the call of a far louder passion: DJing.

It was born out of a love for loud music. Avila, frustrated with blowing his speakers out every three months, hit up Guitar Center to purchase club-quality speakers. There, he met sales associate John Stevens, who took him down a technological rabbit hole.

“[Stevens] reinforced the art of DJing, and he sort of brought it to light [for me],” Avila says. The librarian has been DJing for five years now, spinning at community events, parties and more. But he’s too much of an educator to let it stop there.

Photo by Krystal Ramirez

Photo by Krystal Ramirez

Three years ago, funding from a library grant helped Avila launch a free Learn to DJ program for teens. Leaders at Enterprise Library (25 E. Shelbourne Ave.) knew they needed a way to engage youth in the community. And as a long-time teen advocate, Avila had just the thing.

“We knew that [the program] had to be interactive, include technology and be fun,” he says. “After much brainstorming, the [DJ] billboards across town became an ‘Aha!’ moment.”

Photo by Krystal Ramirez

Photo by Krystal Ramirez

From 3-5 p.m. every Tuesday and Thursday, teens gather in Avila’s DJ studio for a crash course on the decks. It’s hard to wrap your head around this when you think of a traditional library, but that’s where the magic seeps in. Nightclub strobe lights flicker in time with the beats. The ceiling and walls tremble under the force of speakers. Hundreds of dollars’ worth of DJ controllers and vinyl-scratching turntables circle the room. It’s another world.

One particular Tuesday session draws a handful of teenage boys, one of whom is accompanied by his father. “I do get a lot of positive feedback from parents,” Avila says, “especially when they see that their kids are, maybe for the first time, focused on something that they might be passionate about.”

Focus is key at Avila’s studio because each lesson is preparation for a public performance. As teens progress, they get a chance to spin at an event, from a benefit for the Girl Scouts to a 70-person library “rave” (as Avila and his students put it) in Laughlin or Mesquite.

Any compensation the teens receive for their performance is theirs to keep. The one condition is that they try to spend it on DJ gear. “If they end up buying something else, that’s OK. But I would encourage them to [spend it on] DJing, because that’s what earned them that money,” Avila says.

One student, DJ Django, played at First Friday in March. Avila says the 14-year-old travels all the way from the northwest part of town to attend the sessions at the Enterprise Library (far south of the Strip). During one session, footage of Django’s First Friday debut plays in the background, a reminder of where hard work can take any one of the young DJs in the room.

Photo by Krystal Ramirez

Photo by Krystal Ramirez

Avila’s students work quietly at their DJ stations, already aware of what they’re pushing themselves to accomplish on the machines. If they want to record their sets for later playback, they can. If they prefer to go unplugged and play a remix loud, they’re welcome to. It’s a safe environment. “It’s not a next-day or overnight concept,” Avila says. “It took work on my part to earn their trust. And libraries need to do more of that; educators in Las Vegas need to do more of that.”

Avila sees an educational component often lost on many people. DJing, he says, unlocks transferrable skills teens can use later in life. The practice of DJing develops social skills, teaches teens how to network and market themselves, and enhances their cognitive functions. This would all sound like lip service if not for one of Avila’s best students, DJ Deadgoat, who is also autistic. “He does a lot of DJ gigs for me and he excels,” Avila says. Public speaking isn’t Deadgoat’s strong suit, Avila says, “but you give him a microphone and he will proudly say, ‘This is DJ Deadgoat. What’s up, Las Vegas?’”

“Those are really emotional moments,” Avila says. “It goes to show that the program does carry some merit.” As a teen advocate, this is just the beginning for Avila. He says he’s dedicated to helping teens succeed, even if he’s only able to truly reach a few. “They are a hard tribe,” he admits. “But we cannot give up on them.” 

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