Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Library and Craft Beer Bullies

I have the strange fortune of being in two industries, one as an employee, the other as a blogger, that perceive themselves as being bullied. The former is librarianship, the latter is craft beer. There's no shortage of ink, digital and actual, spilled over this in librarianship. We're the victims of budget cuts, subject to the whims of vendors. We're not in control. When we exercise what agency we have, we might think we're driving, but the correct analogy is probably closer to downhill skiing. We're heading down a path, dodging trees, trying not to fall, but we think we're going to end up in the valley regardless of what happens on the journey. "Yes, there is a teleology here."

Or so the story goes. I find a tension in the discourse around this subject: that libraries and librarians are agents, are superheroes, and yet at the same time find themselves objects, acted on, then perhaps reacting. I prefer to think of it as complexity. Agents at one moment can be structures the next, and the opposite is true as well.

Craft beer defines itself, in large part, by what it's not. It's not bland, light, made with adjuncts, not made in fifteen locations. It's not macro beer, made by Bud, Miller, Coors. And yet what it's not is a myth. Craft beer can be all those things, though perhaps in two rather than fifteen locations, and even owned by the large companies mentioned above. Like libraries, craft beer has a chip on its shoulder, feels oppressed, and, perhaps like libraries, with good reason. To wit, a document that purports to show the incentives offered by one distributor of beer, Reyes Premium, to remove Devils Backbone, a Virginia craft beer, off of local draft lines. 

If this document is genuine and accurate, this could be considered evidence of a distributor paying its employees to remove a craft brewer from a draft line in favor of Blue Moon. It’s my opinion that Blue Moon sucks, as does Shock Top, which is also mentioned in the photograph. These beers masquerade as craft, but are made by MillerCoors and InBev, respectively. The best thing I can say about them is that they might get you to move up to Allagash White. These beers are to craft beer what “useful idiots” are to Lenin.* 
That being said, selling beer is the job of any distributor and its employees. Distributors are paid to put products in bars, restaurants, and on the shelves. These bonuses (if genuine) are incentives for a sales force; this is a common practice in other industries and businesses. People who love craft beer have a tendency to romanticize this industry while forgetting that it is also very much a business. People strive to make good beer for a living, but without turning a profit on that beer, we’re left with hobbyists, not an industry. 
On the other hand, bonuses, incentives, and commissions that involve cash introduce the potential and possibility of kickbacks. One can easily envision a situation in which an employee of a distributor splits his or her bonuses with people who work in bars, restaurants, and stores that sell alcohol, or even that the bonuses come from brewing companies themselves. MillerCoors and InBev have deeper pockets than any craft brewer. DCBeer is not suggesting that this is the case here, nor do we have evidence that such practices are occurring in this or any instance. We merely have a photo posted to Twitter. However, there have been discussions of this behavior in the past, and no doubt there will continue to be more in the future.

There's more information, and speculation, here.

Both in libraries and beer, much of any alleged bullying happens behind the scenes, away from the public. The paying public doesn't see the how and why of that draft line moving from one beer to another, or the how and why of an ebook or journal that's no longer available. It our job in both those fields to acknowledge, publicize, and fight that bullying without coming across as whiny or shrill. The solutions are also similar: education, outreach, marketing. We're targets; let's adapt.

* The initial DCBeer.com post attributes this quote to Marx. I have corrected it here. Photo credit to twitter user @wort2yourmom.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Why We Hired Who We Hired, The Aftermath

Because more people read posts than comments on posts, and because hey, more content, I'm going to do something like a Q & A using feedback about Why We Hired Who We Hired, one of the more popular things I've written on this site.

K Lowry wonders how I feel about thank you notes. Answer: I like them. A lot. It's a little gesture, but a meaningful one. And yet that being said, two of the people we brought to campus sent us notes (one, handwritten!, arrived after the initial post), and these two people weren't offered the positions. As for whether they should be handwritten or not, I have no preference, though getting mail at the library that isn't an invoice or vendor junk mail is always exciting (it's the little things, people). I get the convenience of emailing and don't understand why more job seekers don't do this. It takes maybe a minute, it's polite, it signals increased interest, and is the right thing to do. UPDATE: a 3rd thank you note has arrived, also handwritten (1:58pm, 8/22/12).

Nicola Franklin asks about resume targeting and specificity of cover letters. I'll address the former here, and the latter a bit later on in the post. I have two versions of my resume, an academic CV, for teaching and such, and a resume for library jobs. That's it. I'm not sure if that counts as targeting. I've applied for at least a dozen jobs over the past eighteen months or so, after all, what's the fun of having a title of "director" if you can't take it out for a spin, and received zero job offers in that time, so make of this what you will. However, if I get a resume from you, it's because you're applying for a library job, and as such I assume the resume is going to be at least somewhat targeted towards that. Even if you have no library experience, and we've hired people with none before, show strengths that apply to libraries, like customer service, problem solving, initiative, and finding information for yourself or others in digital environments, among others. The cover letter should also mention these skills, without being repetitive. It's worth mentioning that Nicola is a library recruiter in the UK, thus knows a lot about the job hunting and hiring processes. She blogs here. Do check it out.  In general, however, I think cover letters are harder to get right than resumes, and I like reading things that flow, so much so that I'll read a cover letter first at times, which brings us to this.

Commenter beckitty asks how I know a cover letter mentioned in the initial post was written in a few minutes? Here's how:
Thank-you for receiving my call today.  I am applying for the advertised Library Intern position at [redacted].  I have several years of experience in an academic environment with through [sic] knowledge of internet searching, teaching, and use of the technologies associated with academic librarianship. Please consider my resume and references as evidence of my commitment to the student learner, faculty, staff, and stakeholders of the incumbent institution. I look forward to hearing from you and discussing the possibilities. 
With Regards, 
That's the whole letter. All of it. In its entirety. Read these posts about cover letters. Then try harder. Give details. Proofread. This commenter mentions that she omits cover letters if a job posting indicates they're optional. I couldn't disagree more. If you're applying for a job and the cover letter is optional, write one anyway. If you're good at it, and it seems she is, it can't hurt. If you're not good at it, it's practice.

Again, what works for me, what I'm looking for, what other library staff are looking for, what non-library staff are looking for, at this institution may not be exactly what other people at other institutions are looking for. I know the job market is stressful, that it's hard to get noticed, that as of right now there's one job posted on the American Library Association Jobs List website for Washington, DC, and only four in Maryland. If you're looking for larger trends, I can say that we, at my place of work, aren't alone in looking for a particular set of knowledge, skills, and abilities, and that while I can't claim universality, I can claim some wider applicability. If you want a larger data pool, read through Hiring Librarians to get a sense of what other libraries and staff are looking for, and do your research on a particular institution or organization before applying. Good luck.

I leave you with this Facebook comment from an ALA JobList fan and my response.

  • Fan: So not helpful. One person's experience and preferences? As if he were thinking the same way as every other place looking for people. All this shows me is how to talk to him, knowing that what works for him could be a total disaster at another place.

  • Me: I'm sorry you didn't find this helpful, [redacted], but to my credit, the post is titled "Why We Hired Who We Hired," not "Why Libraries Hired Who They Hired." I suspect that a post about larger hiring trends would send mixed messages to job seekers; as you note what works for me might not work for someone else, though I know that there are other academic libraries that operate a similar way in terms of hiring. The job search process is stressful enough as it is, and my hope is to offer some insight and transparency into that process at my institution. But thank you for reading all the same, and best of luck.

Monday, August 20, 2012

August Local Beer Roundup

Emphasizing the "beer" part of "Beerbrarian," there have been a few noteworthy developments in Washington, DC beer news lately. In a warehouse not too far from the Takoma Park Metro station, 3 Stars Brewing began to make and sell beer. 

The Urban Farmhouse is a saison-style ale that is hopped, but not over-hopped, with Centennial and Cascade. Given that no other local breweries offer this style, Bluejacket’s saison is not yet a local brew, kudos to 3 Stars for product differentiation. Green, white, and a handful of pink peppercorns go into the boil, which also includes a generous amount of wheat. The former is obvious on the nose, and plays well with the spicy esthers from the yeast. The latter is clear in the body and appearance of the beer, which finishes with a vegetal aftertaste, almost like biting into a fresh red pepper. A cask of the Urban Farmhouse had orange peel and more Cascade hops, creating big citrus flavors towards the end of the beer, washing away the spices.
Neither Coleman nor McGarvey profess to like brown ales, another locally underrepresented style, but you wouldn’t know it from the Southern Belle, an 8.7% ABV stunner that tastes much closer to 6%. Toasted pecans were added to the boil, and complement the chocolate malts and delicate, effervescent carbonation. One cask of the Belle featured vanilla beans; the taste was eerily reminiscent of pecan pie, not at all boozy, and vaguely suggested lactose. Another cask used lightly toasted oak, adding hints of white pepper, sourness, and a dry finish.
The Pandemic Porter will probably attract the most attention, and have you hollering “two for $5″ as if you were in Hamsterdam. Both DC Brau and Port City brew robust porters, but 3 Stars doesn’t have much interest in that kind. Instead you get a 9.6% ABV imperial coffee porter, with a gallon of Qualia cold-brewed Yirgacheff concentrate added to each barrel. Vanilla and coffee dominate this beer, but there’s a quick, dry finish that doesn’t linger, and thanks to the skills of both Qualia and head brewer McGarvey there’s very little bitterness. One cask at Churchkey upped the coffee quotient to the point where I got the shakes. Picture Du De Ciel’s Peche Mortel taken to 11 and you’re somewhat close. Another cask utilized heavily toasted oak, which stood up to the vanilla and coffee flavors, drying out the beer and further hiding the alcohol content.

Meanwhile, over in Northeast DC, DC Brau collaborated with another local brewery that doesn't have brewing space yet, Bluejacket, on a grätzer. A hoppy smoked wheat ale native to what was once Prussia, then part of Germany, and now part of Poland. 
this style is functionally extinct in the wild, like a Dama gazelle. If you attended SAVOR in 2011, you may have gotten a taste of something like a grätzer from Bayou Teche Brewing’s “Bouncanee,” a smoked wheat ale, and Choc Brewing in Oklahoma has gone to great lengths (Weyermann smoked malt, yeast from a Polish homebrewer, and water replication) to brew a traditional version. Two of DC’s finest will take a crack at continuing to revive this style, calling it “The Embers of the Deceased.” At just 4% ABV, it joins Ground Wolf and Your Favorite Foreign Movie as sessionable offerings brewed at DC Brau.
In expanding market news, New Hampshire's White Birch Brewing has entered the DC market, initially with three styles.

Crown of Gold (Rye Pale Ale / 4.2% ABV)
From the brewery: English malts, toasted rye for spice, American ale yeast, and whole leaf Cascade hops. Sounds like a winner to me.
Hop Session Ale (American IPA / 5.1% ABV)
Somewhere between a mini-version of an American IPA and a hoppy red ale or American amber, this is the only year-round release the DC market is going to see for the time being. Citrusy West Coast hops playing nicely with caramel malts, finishing with some of that resin-y dryness you kids love so much.
Hop to Wit (Witbier / 5.2% ABV)
Puns! Witbiers aren’t known for being particularly hoppy, but this one is, with an additional juicy kick that comes from grapefruit peel and pink peppercorns (traditional witbiers opt for orange peel and coriander). Let’s thank and reward them for not calling this a white IPA.

Look for both 3 Stars and the grätzer on tap at finer establishments around town. White Birch will be in bottles at stores and restaurants.


Tuesday, August 14, 2012

New Year, New Library: Why We Hired Who We Hired

We have a part-time position open here at my place of work (MPOW), which means reading, and weeding, through applications; interviewing; and making decisions, some tough, some not so much. We advertised the following position on a few listservs, the university website, and a few other places.
Intern Job Opening 12
Within three days our human resources department received thirty resumes and cover letters, twenty-three of which we, the library staff, quickly dismissed, as it was obvious that these applicants were applying just for the sake of applying. Of the seven remaining, three called me to discuss the position. I do not like that. I don't like talking on the phone, sometimes much to the chagrin of friends and family, and I did not give a phone number on the position description for a reason, though I salute the enterprising googlers who found me.
Of these three callers, one submitted a cover letter that looked like it was written in under two minutes. That left us with six. Two we, library staff, were on the fence about. Because we're a small library, we decided to err on the side of caution and not invite these two applicants to campus. This left us with more time to do library things, like showing people how to print, where the bathrooms are, cataloging, and sending out links of squee animals. The other four were invited to campus, and accepted.
Our interview process is iterative. First there's a formal interview, almost always with not only library staff, but also someone from a dean or provost's office. I cannot stress enough how important it is to bring in someone from outside the library and library services when interviewing, at least for an academic library. It keeps the conversation focused on what a candidate can do for not only a library, but also the larger academic community, and it keeps the library jargon to a minimum. It also keeps me in check, lest I say something less than stellar about MPOW's administration, not that that would ever happen.

The second step is a tour of the library, culminating in a viewing of our broken microfilm reader. I have been at MPOW for almost five and a half years and not once has it worked. On the other hand, not once has anyone asked for microfilm except for interlibrary loan requests, which we happily grant. The third step is filling out a formal MPOW job application.

Both library and non-library interviewers were pleased with the four applicants, but to the library staff, two immediately stood out. Both had grade school teaching experience, as well as retail experience, important since librarianship is, in large part, about customer service. One of these candidates name-dropped The Wire, which is always a plus. The other commanded the room in such a way that it was clear five minutes into the interview that we were going to offer her the position. Fortune shined upon us when we found out that we could extend job offers to both of them.

The other two candidates were not bad, both are people with whom we could do business, but were simply less good than the two to whom we made offers. It happens. One of these not-bad-but-less-good candidates has a wealth of library experience, but that experience takes place at a very posh library in a posh area of a posh state. Given that MPOW functions something like a historic black college/university (HBCU) and educates more graduates of the District of Columbia public school system than any other private institution in the country, it didn't seem like the best fit. The other of these interviewees had less library experience, but talked cogently about the digital divide and making information accessible. This candidate would require more training, but an ability to examine oneself vis-a-vis unfamiliar surroundings is something that's hard to teach. All the interviewers, myself included, remain stumped on how to rank these two candidates.

It is also worth mentioning that all four people we brought in for interviews had at least one typo on either their resume or cover letter, and only one wrote us a thank you note, following up after the interview. One interviewee arrived twenty-five minutes early and asked to have the interview upon arrival. Don't do that.

I hope the offers we've extended are accepted, and I can post an update during training.

UPDATE: a related post is now up (2pm, 8/22/12).

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Toward a Unifying Field Theory of Librarianship, Or Not.

 Ahhh, the social sciences; forever concerned with measuring up to the natural sciences. Today's attempt at turning librarianship and library science into physics, or at least (re)starting the discussion, comes from the excellent In the Library With a Lead Pipe, a must-read blog if you're a librarian, which puts posts through something like peer-review, except that it's the same circle of peers doing the review for the far majority of posts. The search for "a philosophy of librarianship" is problematic for many reasons, chief among them is that doing so is a hunt for a moving target. No doubt physics has changed in the last thirty years, but it's still the study of matter (a media) and motion (actions of said media). Large swaths of a physics textbook published in 2012 don't look much different from one written in 1982, nor does a lab. A library, however, with a few notable and forlorn exceptions, looks very different, and the study of information, of making it searchable and accessible by a given community, has gone from the print medium to multiple media, some of which only exist as a spec on a hard drive, mainframe, or server. And so the Lead Pipe article, written by Emily Ford, begins with the sad tale of the Federal Communications Commission's (FCC) "digital literacy corps," for which librarians were apparently not consulted (even though they were). Ford assigns blame for the alleged lack of consideration to the deep cause of a lack of a philosophy of librarianship. The author's goal 

here is not to contribute to the groundswell of victim rhetoric that surrounds the de-funding and de-professionalization of librarianship. Instead, I aim to shine a light on what I think is happening. Namely, we haven’t yet sussed out the philosophy behind what it is that we do.
And yet Ford leads with the very discourse she decries, understandable, since everyone I know in the profession bemoans libraries' and librarians' lack of power. Interesting, then, that the word "should" occurs so often in this article, as a philosophy of librarianship is, by definition, an invitation to argue over norms, normative concepts, and power. Biology is the study of life, not what life should be. The latter is eugenics, a word that, again, understandably, has some negative connotations. This is not only a conversation as to what librarianship should be, but also a conversation about the conversation. 
Sound ideas about what librarianship is and what its goals are permit us to claim a degree of autonomy in institutions where we might otherwise serve as mere functionaries rather than as the professionals we are. Without a philosophical foundation, we lack a basis for making decisions regarding how to change our institutions in response to external forces, with the potential result that we do not play the role that we should in decision-making.
That's a quote from Rory Litwin, approvingly cited in the article, but one can substitute any other group of social scientists, those who practice normative science. A hallmark of any reputable and established social science is putting old wine in new bottles, and so it is with a philosophy of librarianship. James Periam Danton, again cited in the Lead Pipe article, properly historicized librarianship in 1934, arguing that it should be
derived from the predominating ideals of that society. Consequently, before a library philosophy can be formulated, there must be an understanding and recognition of the ideals and purposes of the society into which that philosophy must fit.
I find nothing to disagree with in the above two quotes, which to me seem to lend support to library science as Kuhnian "normal science." Geology took a long time to come around on plate tectonics. We take a long time to come around on library science syllabi, on linked data and the semantic web, and on the angst that comes with measuring ourselves via natural sciences. I wonder if digitization has or is creating a paradigm shift, a punctuated equilibrium, but one that cannot touch the "hard core" of librarianship, if one intersubjectively exists.

The Semi-Sovereign Library

The outcome of every conflict is determined by the extent to which the audience becomes involved in it. That is, the outcome of all conflict is determined by the scope of its contagion.- E.E. Schattschneider
Ford and Lead Pipe want to have this conversation. In doing so, they're attempting to determine the scope of the debate, via their audience (of which I am a part). I don't know Lead Pipe's site analytics, but anecdotally the blog is popular on social networks like Twitter and Google +. However, both those, as all social networks are, often function as an echo chamber. This may be an issue with Lead Pipe's "peer review," and it's definitely and issue in those media. Lead Pipe may be preaching to a choir by engaging its readership. I have my analytics and I know how that goes. Any fight for the soul of librarianship, or at the least a discussion over its values and philosophy, won't take place via that, or this, blog. Rather, a larger discussion of a philosophy of librarianship will take place in a world in which not every, and indeed not most, librarians are on twitter. A damning proxy statistic: fewer than one-fifth of dues-paying American Library Association (ALA) members, the very people one would think would have "skin in the game," so to speak, voted in that organization's 2012 annual election. Again, over eighty percent of librarians who pay money to belong to an organization couldn't be bothered to vote to determine that organization's leadership. That should be the real audience here, not the librarians on social media, which are epiphenomenal in the larger scheme of things. Our peers, it bears repeating, may not be our tribe. So I wonder if Lead Pipe's arena, its audience, of which I am a part, is one voice in a void. A welcome voice. Perhaps even a necessary one. But I worry that "a call to praxis" is a call to a praxis. There are many roads to Damascus. Librarianship is multifinal, from a path, from a philosophy, there are many potential outcomes, some of which I may like, others I may not. A call to praxis may limit these options, and may impose path dependence rather than healthy experimentation, may create a situation in which some tactics are more equal than others. 
Librarians are not heroes, super or otherwise. We are agents navigating structures, some of which we helped to create. #libraryontology— Jacob Berg (@jacobsberg) July 11, 2012
As Ford argues, let's continually examine why we do what we do, what works and what doesn't. That's a praxis I can get behind, but it's not the praxis. That Decemberists' song? It's great. But it's vague. It's unclear from the lyrics why we fight. And maybe that's why it works for me. Why I fight might be different from why you do. Let a hundred flowers bloom. Do good, or do less bad, or less wrongMake as much information possible to as many people as possible in as many ways as possible. On this, I hope we can agree. Besides, you don't want to be the natural sciences anyway. None of that stuff can be replicated. Good night, and good luck. 

Friday, August 3, 2012

I Don't Like #IPAday

Yesterday, August 2nd, was something called IPA Day, an event promulgated by two self-described social media gurus who blog about beer. I like IPAs. A lot. But there doesn't need to be an IPA day. It's already the most popular style, in terms of both craft beer sold, and craft beer entered into the World Beer Cup. It's redundant. There are so many IPAs out there, every day is practically IPA day. So I ranted. Hey, it's what I do.
The result is that there are many many IPAs out there, which is nice because having options is nice. But it’s also not nice because a lot of these are crap. Brewers can and do use massive amounts of hops to cover up flaws in the beer (shots fired: I call these West Coast IPAs)....
What should you do instead? Drink a style that doesn’t get enough love. Ignore anyone who describes her- or himself as a social media guru or expert. Reward craft breweries that lager; we need more of them. Patronize the breweries that have beers cold-conditioning, taking up precious real estate. If you like hops, have a Victory Prima Pils. Sour beers are an excellent antidote to summer weather. It’s August, go grill something and pair it with a rauchbier. 
 More ranty goodness here. Whatever you drank yesterday, even if it was an IPA, I hope it was good, and made with love and care. Cheers.

* Extra special cheers to this gentleman, who made the above meme-tastic image.