Jobs They Love: Wine Librarian
Lucky are they who look forward to Mondays with joy in their hearts! Meet the folks whose talents and passions are happily matched to the jobs they have.
In the pantheon of dream jobs like chocolatier, mattress tester, ethical hacker, and crossword puzzle writer, surely wine librarian holds a lofty position. Is it really a thing? And if so, what are the duties and responsibilities of a wine librarian, anyway?
Your imagination sparkles like a fine champagne as you daydream about such a calling. A cool, quiet, candlelit wine cellar would be your archive. Precious vintages are inventoried and meticulously organized in locked cases along the walls. Card catalogues filled with wine labels, perhaps? Afternoon wine tastings to record individual flavor and mouthfeel characteristics of new acquisitions?
“Yes, I could definitely do that,” you think. “What are the requirements to apply?”
Before you head over to Monster to search for openings, let’s meet up with one of the very few people who actually works as a wine librarian to see how the fantasy squares up with the reality of the job.
Megan Jones has been the wine librarian at the Sonoma County Wine Library for the past five years. The collection she manages is housed in the Healdsburg Regional Library, a public library nestled in the middle of the county that’s considered the birthplace of California’s $44 billion modern wine industry.
Jones received her master’s degree in library and information science from San Jose State
University. Her studies focused on preservation of cultural heritage and records. She also has a bachelor’s degree in history from University of California, San Diego.
It’s safe to say that the collection you curate at Sonoma County Wine Library is not rows and rows of wine bottles, right? But what exactly comprises the library’s wine collection?
There are some bottles! But mainly we have rows and rows of books, about 5,000 all related to wine. Part of our mission is to preserve the history of the local wine industry so we also keep historical materials such as photographs, maps, posters, wine labels, oral history transcripts, ephemera files, and wine bottles.
Who uses the materials in the collection?
Students, researchers, wine industry members, writers, and the public. Wine is a big part of Sonoma County’s economy so that determines the questions we get from industry members (like grape growers and tasting room employees) and researchers and writers working on wine-related projects. We also have a couple of local colleges that offer degrees in viticulture, enology, or wine business, so students use the library to do research. And because we are part of the public library system, any Sonoma County Library cardholder can check out materials based on their interests, e.g. learning how to pair wine with food, planning a wine tasting trip to Australia, or reading wine magazines.
I know there are a few other wine librarians around the U.S., mostly in California, but also in New York and Canada. Do you all stay in touch with one another and share information? Is there like a wine librarians association?
There used to be the Wine Librarians Association, but I don’t believe there’s been a meeting in about ten years. I’ve been lucky to meet in person with the librarians who work with the wine collections in Napa and Davis, and I’ve communicated by email with others. There’s definitely a friendly feeling because what we do is so unique!
What particular qualifications were most helpful for you in landing this job? Knowledge of wines and winemaking or training and experience in information management?
It’s definitely more of a library job than a wine job, which I’m afraid might disappoint some people! So my previous experience working in libraries and archives was the best preparation. But I do try to keep my eye on what’s happening in the wine world. I subscribe to several email newsletters, which has been a great help when researchers come in with topical questions like looking for the latest information on sustainability efforts in the wine industry.
What does a typical day at work look like for you? Or is there such thing as a “typical day”?
A typical day is a lot of normal library work, buying new books, shelving magazines, checking emails, meetings, working with volunteers. But the great thing about this job is when interesting questions fall into your lap. A retired photographer comes in and wants to donate his winery photography collection. A man comes in and asks for help finding out when the grapes on a property were originally planted, perhaps in the 1950s. Searching through the newspaper archives and finding an original advertisement of an early vintner selling one of his vineyards in the 1860s.
It would seem like the Sonoma County Wine Library would be a great place to host wine tastings – wine and books being natural companions! Is that also part of your job?
Sometimes! Our non-profit the Sonoma County Wine Library Association has held tasting events in the library. We actually just had an event a few weeks ago where they were tasting Italian wines and Sonoma County Italian varietals. We’ve also done library programs where we serve wine, and we’re excited to be able to do programs in the library again after so long on Zoom!
What’s your favorite wine?
Champagne. I feel a bit guilty admitting that because it’s not from Sonoma County, but I love sparkling wines in general and will always try one if it’s available.
I heard about a cheese librarian position opening a few years ago. Have you ever met this person? You could team up and give a great presentation together at an American Library Association conference!
No I haven’t! I have met a beer librarian which was extremely exciting. I love hearing about all the specialty library jobs that exist, there are so many interesting collections to manage!
Photos (from top): Megan Jones; a Sonoma County red; some new titles in the wine library collection; Sonoma wine industry ephemera from the collection; Brother Timothy inspecting the grapes; Christian Brothers Winery, 1954, from the library's digital collection.