Monday, June 20, 2011

So You Want to Work With Me...

Background: we’re hiring, but calm down, unemployed librarians, and there are a lot of you, because it’s for a part time position. Initially my place of work (MPOW, because why not) conceived of this job as an intern position. It’s paid, and intern doesn’t quite cover what the people in this role do. They are often the senior staff in the library. Under my leadership I haven’t been able to expand full time staff (someday, someway), but I have been able to double the number of part timers. I suppose in this way, we mirror the rest of higher education. Think of them as library adjuncts, and yes, that sounds better than “intern.”

Posting a library job in this economic climate leads to a lot of applications. For two intern positions MPOW received over 65 of them, and quite a few of the applicants had more experience than I. Then again, quite a few did not. All in all, the (virtual) pile of resumes and cover letters paint a depressing picture of the job market for librarians and library science students.

More depressing, however, is the picture of the applicant pool. Many lacked cover letters, one otherwise qualified candidate misspelled her location, right below her name on the top of the resume. That prospective employee did not make the cut, simply because of that typo. I have thick enough skin to be called shallow, but attention to detail matters in a library. We’ll teach the person in this position how to catalog, for example, and if there’s a glaring error at the top of a resume, I’m not letting you near a MARC record.

About that cover letter, read these first. Then, it’s not about you. Your resume is about you. The cover letter? That’s about us, in that, “what can you do for us?” Answer that and you’re well on your way to a call back.

We don’t score the applications, mostly because we don’t have to. It’s obvious to library staff and I who we’d like to interview and who we wouldn’t, often within about 15 seconds of opening the application package. We showed one of our interns this process, going through about 10 resumes in under 4 minutes, and she was mortified, but then again, she passed the eye test, and the interview (more on that below). I told her to tell her MLIS friends: know that this is what’s happening with employers. You’ve got about 15 seconds of my time, and if I’m not interested after that, you won’t be considered. This doesn’t mean you have to resort to gimmicks (and they're out there), but it does mean you need to be qualified and competent at presenting yourself on paper, which means you’ve checked out the library website, thought a bit about the library, and how you might fit in, among other things.

The people we’ve offered the job to had a clear narrative in the interview. They stuck to that narrative and presented themselves in terms of what they could do for us. They asked questions of us, about my management style, about the future of the library, and about a world without books, among others. And yes, I asked about retail experience, which netted us some great stories about the life of a flight attendant (job offered and accepted!), and how working at the Smoothie Hut isn’t really about smoothies.

In sum, folks in libraryland looking for work
  • Be competent. Just by doing that you’ll separate yourself from the pack.
  • Show interest in us. We may be just another library to you, on your 4th cover letter of the day, but your application doesn’t have to reflect that.
  • Sell yourself in the interview. What can you do for us. Ask questions, be curious.

Best of luck out there, recent MLIS grads. Those of us with jobs, we’re rooting for you.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011


Saturday, June 4th I had the good fortune to attend the second evening of SAVOR. I was able to get the tickets, which sold out in something like 20 minutes, thanks to a librarian friend who’s also a member of the Brewers’ Association. It was my first time at SAVOR and I had a blast, although it was a bit overwhelming. My thoughts follow.

SAVOR bills itself as a place where fine food and craft beers are paired, but very few people are there for the food, which was fine. Think high-end wedding Hors d'oeuvre (what, you’ve never been?) getting lukewarm and you’re in the ballpark. That being said, a few pairings really stood out. Serving Alaskan Brewing’s Smoked Porter with smoked salmon doesn’t win any points for originality, but it was delicious all the same. I went back for seconds, then thirds. Odell Brewing Company’s sour fruit beer, Friek, was paired with Carr Valley bread cheese, and the vinegar-esque sourness from the beer cut through the dairy fat of the cheese. Like Greg Kitsock, who writes for the Washington Post, I paired Moon River’s Swamp Fox IPA with pork belly on a biscuit instead of a tiny mushroom tart. The dank woodsy flavors of the beer, rosemary is a featured ingredient and this beer does taste a bit like fresh forest floor undergrowth (this is a good thing, trust me), complimented the spices in the biscuit and the earthiness of the pork belly. This pairing had something like terroir, an impressive feat.

Each brewer pours two of their beers at SAVOR, and because I’m a guy and I’ve read High Fidelity, everything not only can be ranked. but must be. The best breweries, based on each brewery's two offerings,
were Yazoo Brewing (a rye saison and a porter named Sue) and Captain Lawrence Brewing (a smoked porter and a tripel aged in applejack barrels). I also enjoyed the aformentioned Friek from Odell, and their second beer, an oak aged quad called Woodcut #5, packed a wallop.

Other standouts included

Avery Brewing Company’s Dihos Dactylion, a spontaneously fermented ale that’s hard to describe, but easy to drink. If you like red wine, maybe, just maybe, this will get you into beer. And if you like beer, but aren’t sure about sours, maybe, just maybe, this and Odell’s Friek will convince you.

Funkwerk’s Wit, a Belgian-style white ale brewed with lemons, oranges, ginger, with ginger dominant. You could drink this with brunch, you could drink this with Southeast Asian food, you could drink this by yourself.

Tank 7 from Boulevard Brewing, a saison infected with brettanomyces, which creates a slightly funky aftertaste that really does taste a bit like a farm, the origin of this style of beer.

Buckbean Brewing Company’s Orange Blossom Ale, a pale ale with a sweet and honeyed, but not syrupy or cloying, aroma of orange blossoms. For some reason it’s sold in 16 oz cans. Yes, craft beer in tall boys.

Trinity Brewhouse’s Decadence, a double IPA aged in Woodford Reserve barrels. Based on that sentence you should be interested. (Note: I feel dirty for linking to Beer Advocate. It won't happen much here. Promise.)

RJ Rocker’s Son of a Peach Wheat Ale. An American wheat ale, but with peaches.

If you’re noticing a trend above, there were an awful lot of excellent beers with fruit in them this year. I, for one, welcome our new fruit overlords.

The dark side of SAVOR is that too many breweries ran out of beer, often only half-way through the event, while the kitchen didn’t fare much better.

Also, an observation: it’s probably not a surprise to hear that the far majority of the attendees were white males between the ages of 25-50, but wow. With about 2000 people in the building, that’s a lot of white males.

Finally, it was great to be able to talk to the brewers themselves; with only a few exceptions they were the ones pouring the beer. That’s not something you’ll find at most other festivals, and many of the brewers I talked to were genuinely excited and appreciative of my interest and support. Well done, SAVOR. Until next year, cheers.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Staying Pretty in DC, or, In Which I Attempt Journalism

At a time when pulling out of markets is the new black (IPA), I’ve got some good news. “Gypsy” brewer Pretty Things, based out of Cambridge, MA and brewed in Westport, MA (for now) is coming to DC via Legends Ltd as early as next week.

I spoke to Erin Tyler at Legends, and a certified cicerone, who reached out to Pretty Things about eight months ago, before withdrawing from territories was all the rage, and to Dann Paquette, Pretty Things’ brewer. The first two beers DC will see are Baby Tree, a Belgian style quad brewed with plumbs, and St. Botolph’s, a rustic brown ale that tastes like Newcastle, if Newcastle was handmade with care rather than by a heartless multinational corporation. By late June (via Legends) or mid-July (via Pretty Things) we’ll see their flagship beer, Jack D’Or, a saison hopped with citra that’s a personal favorite. We won’t see any of their offerings on draft, though, so you’ll have to settle for bombers, the only bottle size that Pretty Things uses.

I first had the pleasure of drinking Pretty Things Jack D’Or at Deep Ellum in Allston, MA in June, 2009 and was immediately hooked. I’ve been bringing their bottles from New York every time I’m up there. In the meantime, Greg Jasur at Pizzeria Paradiso has taken advantage of strange DC regulations that allow retailers and restaurants to self-import, so some Pretty Things’ products are already available at the two DC Pizzeria Paradiso locations.

Nice to know that more good beer will be available down here. DCBeer also has some information on this, and should be the first place you turn to for any and all beer news in DC. Stay pretty, DC beer drinkers.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

QR Codes: Quick, Easy, Cheap

A quick and easy use for QR codes at the library: take your online serials to the print serials. Here’s how.

1. You’ve got a master list of all print serials you subscribe to, right? If not, make one.
2. For each print serial, use your link resolver (my place of work doesn’t have one of these, which is a problem. I’m working on it) and/or database and/or OPAC (yeah, I just used that term, I'm old) that holds the online version, and get a stable URL for each title.
3. Use these URLs to create QR codes, for free, at Feel free to pretty them up.
4. Get yourself a smartphone, even if you’re borrowing one from another staff member. Install the free app ATT Scanner on an iPhone, or the QR Droid app, also free, on an Android phone.
5. Quality control: make sure even first generation smartphones, like my 3G iPhone, for example, can read the QR codes. Expand or contract the size of the codes as needed.
6. Print out the QR codes, and make sure to protect the paper, which might include laminating (expensive) or well-deployed packing tape (cheaper). Perform more quality control.
7. Place the corresponding QR code next to where each print serial is shelved. Post instructions in clearly visible locations. Don’t forget the details; at some libraries patrons may have to join a wireless network to access online serials.
8. Shamelessly promote it. Library blog posts, table toppers, posters... you get the idea.

Why do this?

1. Having the ability to search past issues of a title next to the more current paper issues can help patrons conduct research.
2. QR codes are hip, modern, and interactive. Making your library a hipper, more modern, more interactive place to be will pay off for you.
3. Many of the patrons at MPOW (my place of work) don’t have internet access at home, except for smartphones. It’s a tool that they’re comfortable with. We as librarians should be comfortable with it as well, and as we see smartphone use on the rise, I hope that vendors begin to design easy to use mobile sites alongside more traditional interfaces. In the meantime, let's bring the library to our patrons, via QR codes and mobile computing.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

How I Got Over

Radio silence on the library front since March 22nd. Wow, how did that happen? Here’s how.

At home we’ve been on a mad dash to upgrade and repair. Carpets, bathrooms, bedrooms, and oh yeah, iTunes crapped out during a hard drive failure, so I’ve been reorganizing 143 GB of music into playlists (ever the librarian!).

On the work front, I went from something titled Acting Senior Library Manager, to Director of Library Services. How’d I do that? Glad you asked. Both those positions above report to our Provost, also the Vice President for Academic Affairs. The person in that position, who I get along with quite well, took a medical leave, and I sprung to action. I presented to faculty on some of the many alternatives to textbooks, I invited the university president to the library to see what we had been up to (she came by when the library was busy, always a plus), and as it turned out, I was being watched, if not groomed. I'll expand on this later.

So what’s next? Glad you asked. Stay tuned.