Thursday, August 29, 2013

Asking For Allies: How to Win Friends and Influence People

Too often, in my experience, academic libraries operate on an island, divorced from the rest of campus, from faculty, staff, and academic administration. This has a number of negative effects on the library and its staff. To wit:
  • A lack of feedback channels or institutionalized processes, or ones that atrophy 
  • Feeling disconnected from the campus community
  • Feeling as if the library and its staff are not stakeholders in the community (yes, that word)
  • While any successes, however defined, the library experiences are their's alone, so are the failures, however defined. 
For this academic library, allies and library stakeholders (again!) are valuable and hard to come by. Enter the ex officio library committee, made up of faculty; academic administration, such as deans and associate provosts; a representative from student government, where applicable; and perhaps even adjunct faculty, which now make up seventy-six (76!) percent of all faculty.

No doubt there are downsides to yet another committee, including more hands in the library's precious cookie jar, and the inertia and in-fighting that make academia such a wonderful place to be, but for an isolated library (intellectually, spiritually, emotionally, not physically), it is a net benefit.

Sayre's Law:'s_law 
No doubt a committee that provides feedback to a library is obvious at larger and/or less (ahem) dysfunctional colleges and universities, as well.

I am asking for the formation of such a committee because I want feedback on what we're doing, and I want it via a regularly occurring process. I am asking that the success, or failure, of this library not be charged solely to library staff, but to the community it supports and is a member of. I am asking for allies.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Orientation: Outreach Starts Here

One of the colleges at my place of work (MPOW) had an orientation fair yesterday. For two hours, I got to pretend to be an extrovert, giving elevator speech after elevator speech to students new to our campus.
There are 369 incoming students in the college. In the first hour I talked to 38 of them as they made their way through the room, collecting stickers that are affixed to passports, later exchanged for all sorts of MPOW swag. Asking students what their favorite sticker color was a good ice-breaker, and I learned that people who like purple are very enthusiastic about it.

Lest one get the wrong impression, that this library is just dead tree storage, I brought a laptop, projector, and screen so I could demonstrate the library website. Students will be using that much more than print materials.

This is the first time we've done an orientation fair, with a variety of campus services all in one place, so I have no baseline to compare, but I'm pleased to have met with a tenth of the new students right away. Library staff will catch the far majority in library instruction sessions. I think it's important for the students to see a smiling, helpful face, to let them know that the library isn't an intimidating place, and that it's okay to ask for help.
The most common question first-year and transfer students asked was what kinds of books the library has. Our display was geared towards new releases that I'd label as "pop-academic." Nothing too heady, nothing that would make our academic administration blanch, as was the case when I suggested we buy The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants books.

Seriously. People do not like the pants that travel around here.

Quite a few students asked about comics and graphic novels, and I had a five-minute chat with one about Jeff Smith's BONE series.

Other popular questions concerned fines and services co-located in the library building, such as tutoring, the math lab, and the writing center.

Finally, here is some social science.
Always bring food. Always.

Here's to a productive semester. Cheers.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Beer, Museums, Archives

On Monday, August 9th, as part of DC's Beer Week, a homebrewer and DC Brau premiered a recreation of a pre-prohibition beer once brewed by Christian Heurich. The launch party doubled as a fundraiser for the Heurich House Museum, and yours truly was there.

Image of the Heurich house via the Library of
Congress and the Museum.

Image via the Washington City Paper.
The beer itself is an impressive feat. One might expect a late-19th century/early-20th century lager to be a bit rough around the edges. Instead, though it checks in at 7% alcohol by volume (ABV), it is smooth, crisp, and easy drinking, and appears a shade of gold. At a slightly higher gravity, the density of water and grain prior to fermentation as compared to water, it might qualify as malt liquor today, needing only a bit more sweetness from corn in the grain bill. As is, it drinks like a Kolsch-style ale, albeit somewhat "imperialized." Corn sugars, and lemon and straw notes from Czech hops, popular at the time, dominate the front end of the beer. The finish is semi-dry; a haze of lemon and corn syrup that quickly dissipates. It would be easy, but a mistake, to drink a lot of this as corn sugars and citrus hide the alcohol well.

Local homebrewer and DCBeer contributor Michael Stein put a lot of work into researching and recreating this beer, utilizing the Heurich archives as well as those of the Smithsonian and Library of Congress, which was then commercially brewed at DC Brau Brewing Company. We'll never know if the beer is a true replica, two-row barley is now far more popular than it was a hundred years ago, for example, but as a reinterpretation it works quite well.

L-R: Jan Evans, Christian Heurich's granddaughter; Ed McMahon;
Michael Stein; Director Kim Bender; DC Brau's Jeff Hancock; Asst Dir. Rachel Jerome.
A happy coincidence: the archivist of the Heurich House Museum is a recent graduate of my place of work. We recognized each other, always a good sign when a former student recognizes a librarian, and it was nice to catch up.

Heurich beer labels.

The bierstube, or drinking room.

Because every house should have a walk-in meat smoker.
For more of me drinking in museums:

At the Library of Congress, in April. Devils Backbone
Vienna Lager. 
Heavy Seas Loose Cannon on cask at the Air and
Space Museum in March. Source.