What wine goes with that book?

Sonoma County Wine Librarian Jon Haupt serves a healthy pour of information to all comers.

You don’t need to show your ID to get into the Sonoma County Wine Library. The public library located at the intersection of Piper and Center streets in peaceful downtown Healdsburg, CA, is open to all ages. But there’s just something about the name that conjures an image of bottle-filled shelves.

“At first, everybody seems to think we have something to do with actual wine,” says UW iSchool MLIS alum Jon Haupt, the facility’s newly hired wine librarian. “But it’s easier to think of a wine library existing in an academic context, in which you’re studying viticulture, which is the science of growing grapes, and enology, which is the chemistry of wine.”

“Besides,” he adds, “how would you return wine?”

So just to be clear, there are no bottles of wine in the wine library. Actually, that’s not entirely true: There’s an early 20th century Zinfandel split (meaning half-bottle) on display in a glass case alongside an acidometer, a cooper’s mallet, and other artifacts of the region’s extensive wine-making history. But the library itself is a more traditional-looking collection of material devoted to chemistry, horticulture, culinary subjects and the like, as well as photographs, maps, and quite a number of special collections.

The Sonoma County Wine Library was created in the early 1980s to give the area’s then 150 wineries a local resource, so they wouldn’t have to make the multi-hour drive to UC Davis or some other remote institution every time they needed to research, say, treatments for phylloxera. A collective of wineries pitched in on the project and convinced the public library system to house it. Of course, the advent of the Internet changed that equation somewhat, and like many libraries, the Wine Library needed to adapt to stay relevant. More on that in a moment.

Enter Jon Haupt, who six months ago was on the lookout for something new. Haupt had spent four years as a fine and performing arts librarian at Iowa State University before taking a job as music librarian at SMU in Dallas. After four more years and a promotion to acting director of the Hamon Arts Library, Haupt took stock of his situation: The acting director gig was not long term, as the institution was clearly looking to hire from outside. Meanwhile, he and his wife Laura felt it would be nice to return to the West Coast. And finally, he was just plain ready to do something different — the thought of attending culinary school even crossed his mind.

So when the listing for wine librarian turned up, it was something of a dream job. And not just for Haupt. “It was kind of a Twitter sensation in library circles,” says Haupt, who notes that to this day he receives humorous accusations of having “stolen my perfect job!”

But of course, as with any job, it’s not all perfect. For starters, like many public libraries, there are funding challenges to be dealt with. The Wine Library relies on three sources of funding, principle among them the Sonoma County Library system itself. Then there’s the Wine Library Associates of Sonoma County — this is essentially a friends group that supports the library through events and fund raisers. Lastly, and very importantly, there is also a group of subscriber wineries — hard-core users of the library who pay an annual fee for the privilege. “If one of the subscriber wineries calls with a difficult question, we’ll go to the ends of the earth to figure out the answer,” says Haupt.

Another challenge, as mentioned earlier, is the changing information landscape brought on by the Internet. “To this point our users have been mostly industry people, and it’s been kind of research oriented,” says Haupt. “But we’ve been talking about how, like everybody else, we have to morph into something different to stay relevant in the 21st century.”

One way in which the Wine Library has responded is with winefiles.org, an international index of wine periodicals, as well as the library’s special collections materials — something like 36,000 items that range from articles and clippings to decades worth of independent winery newsletters. Haupt cites the  inefiles.org database as a tremendous asset, but also a tremendous challenge. Its user interface dates from the late ‘90s and is in need of an update, and meanwhile, staffing cuts have left him scrambling to create an infrastructure that deals with the sheer volume of material in need of indexing.

“It’s actually a pretty challenging position, and there’s a lot of pressure involved,” says Haupt. “It’s fun, but it’s also hard. I have to bridge all of these relationships between the public library system and the industry, and the public and tourists, and wineries, and grape growers, and, well, everyone.”

But as for his professional transition from music to wine, Haupt says that part was relatively easy. “The concept of being a subject specialist librarian is kind of the same. You read about the subject, try to learn a lot, figure out who the key players and stakeholders are, and what their needs are. Then cross those user needs against the objectives of the library, and figure out what services and collections you need to support.” In addition, he notes, music and winemaking are both arts that tend to attract similar types of people.

Another issue for Haupt was the transition from academic to public librarian. His official title is twofold: he is both wine librarian and adult reference librarian, with the two roles split roughly 60/40. “I’d been in academic libraries for eight years, but I’d never been a public librarian before, so it’s a bit different.”

Haupt credits his experience at the UW iSchool as helping prepare him for this kind of transition. “When I started library school, everybody said, ‘you’re going to take some classes, you’ll like some better than others, and this will help you determine if you’re a public services person, a technical services person, academic, public, whatever.’ But it turned out, I liked all of my classes, and I felt like I just wanted to do a little of everything.”

And thanks to that dream job listing, Haupt gets to do a little of everything in one of the most delightful areas of the country. “I love Sonoma County so much,” he says. “I mean, the weather is perfect all of the time and everybody’s super-friendly. It’s 40 minutes to the Coast and we’re near the Redwoods. And
of course, you can go out to the wineries. It’s kind of idyllic.”

Plus, every so often he gets a smile as he watches tourists do a double-take. “They’re like, ‘Whoa, this is all about wine?’ ” says Haupt. “It kind of blows their mind.”

Story by Clark Heideger