Staff Profile – Patrick Wallace

Patrick WallaceIn each issue of Keywords, we profile a staff member who works in the library or a related department. This issue features our Digital Projects and Archives Librarian, Patrick Wallace.

Greetings, Patrick.  How did you come to be interested in working in libraries? What type(s) of work does your job entail?

In retrospect, librarianship was almost preordained for me.  First, I grew up a poor city kid who loved to read, so naturally I spent a lot of time in the library.  It was safe and comfortable, which was not always true for the environments in which I found myself.  When I was around 6 to 9 years old, I opened up my own, pretty substantial, collection of books to other kids in the apartment buildings I lived in who for the most part didn’t have books of their own.  I kept a card catalog and everything.  So, “librarian” was always on my list of things I wanted to be when I grew up.   I’ve always had a deep personal interest in libraries and respect for the ways librarians contribute to the broader public good through their work.  Once I got to library school, I realized there was a lot in the field that crossed over with other interests and skills, from epistemology and ontology to computer science.

My job at Middlebury is split between two related areas, digital archiving and digital projects. As digital archivist, I focus on how to preserve and provide access to digital content produced by the college, ranging from Special Collections’ scanned books and photos to administrative records, video, and websites.  Some of this work is technical — such as developing software tools to process digital images or setting up repository systems — and some of it is curatorial.  The other part of my job deals with “digital projects,” which sounds vague, but basically means I act as a consultant for digital liberal arts projects, and am generally invited to chime in during conversations about the library’s role in supporting digital scholarship.  That part really predates my work in libraries; I was a web designer and developer for the University of Minnesota’s College of Liberal Arts before going to library school, and started working with data visualization and other digital humanities tools before they “went mainstream” in academia.  Later, I spent a few years working as a metadata specialist for both digital humanities and archiving projects at Academia Sinica (中央研究院, Taiwan’s national research academy), which cemented my odd jumble of skill sets into something like a professional specialization.

What did you do prior to working at Middlebury College and where were you located?

“Home” is Frogtown – a neighborhood of St. Paul, MN, or downriver Detroit – and most of my work history has been there or in Taipei, Taiwan, where I spent a big chunk of my adult life.  I started working when I was 12 years old, so I’ve had lots of jobs: running a roadside fruit stand; selling women’s shoes, used CDs, comics and roleplaying games, floral arranging supplies, and gourmet pet food; working in print shops and warehouses; doing market research and political fundraising; designing websites; college admissions coaching; working odd jobs in Taipei night markets; repairing bicycles and electronics…

Most recently I was the metadata cataloging librarian at Alabama A&M University, a historically black university (HBCU) in northern Alabama. I stayed there for about a year before coming to Middlebury and it was a great learning experience in too many ways to list.

We usually see you with a coffee mug in your hand… how much coffee do you consume in a day and why?

Usually 3 or 4 liters in winter, much less in the summer. It’s delicious and helps make up for the library’s lack of nap pods.

What do you like best about working at Middlebury?

There’s a lot to like about working at Midd, but as a creative person whose past experience has been in large public institutions, I’m most grateful for how agile decision making processes can be here, and how much freedom we have to pursue new ideas and novel approaches in our work.  Of course there’s still sometimes tedious deliberative processes and finite budgets to deal with at Midd, but the difference in time, effort, and resources required to test a new piece of software or implement a new workflow at Middlebury versus someplace like the University of Minnesota (my alma mater and former employer, where the library serves over 50,000 on-campus students and a few thousand faculty) is incredible.  I know all my co-workers, as well as many other staff and faculty, by name even if our paths don’t cross on a day to day basis – maybe someday I’ll take it for granted, but for now it’s still really cool!

Is there anyone on campus or from past positions who mentored you, or whom you feel helped you grow into your job?

There are many!  I’ve been fortunate to have great mentors throughout my life.  Jack Zipes, from the University of Minnesota, deeply influenced the course of my career and my sense of professional ethics and purpose.  Hur-Li Lee and Richard Smiraglia at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee taught me almost everything I know about librarianship and helped me find my place in the field.  Here at Midd, at risk of sounding like I’m sucking up to the boss, I can’t imagine what my experience would have been like without Rebekah Irwin.  She’s always there to provide keen advice or go out on a limb for people she works with, and wields a level of general competence that ranges from inspiring to almost uncanny. And, I definitely owe many thanks to Carrie MacFarlane for helping me settle in to Vermont as a new arrival.

Name the best brand of gummy bear.

As they say, “Haribo macht Kinder froh – und Patrick Wallace ebenso.” My German is rusty, but I think that’s how the slogan goes.

[Translation: “Haribo makes children happy, and Patrick Wallace as well.”]

What are the most significant things happening in your life outside of work now?

I suppose my work with Green Mountain Foster Bikes and other bike-related stuff.  I started working as an apprentice mechanic at Little City Cycles in Vergennes just after moving here; Green Mountain Foster Bikes is the brainchild of Tim, Little City’s proprietor, who refurbishes donated bikes for foster kids throughout the state.  Recently, I have also been working as a mechanic and teaching assistant for Betty’s Bikes, a nonprofit shop in Burlington and, during the winter, a school for mechanics.  They’re both great places to work, with exciting projects and good people, and so utterly “Vermont” in style and sense of community that they’re almost caricatures.

You are also a musician. What types do you like? Can you recommend anything from our collection?

I am never quite sure whether to call myself a musician, or producer, or technician, or what, but I have been making electronic music for a couple decades across all sorts of genres – especially techno, drum & bass, video game music, and more experimental-ambient stuff – but haven’t performed for an audience since I was a teenager.  Recently, I’ve mostly been into making instrumental hip-hop tracks and lo-fi chillout beats.  My dad has a business repairing vintage guitar amplifiers and taught me a lot, so over the years I’ve built up this sprawling mess of a studio from things I’ve salvaged and fixed – mostly synthesizers, samplers, and recording equipment from the ’80s and ’90s.  The equipment sounds a little too dated – and the workflow is too cumbersome – to make modern EDM, but it’s almost ideal for hip-hop production.

As far as recommendations go, my colleague Katrina Spencer (Literatures & Cultures Librarian) and I were discussing black artists in the collection a couple months ago, and our conversation touched on the fact that most people probably think of house, techno, and EDM as “white” music.  To me, that’s a shame, because in reality house and techno were invented by black artists in Chicago and Detroit, respectively, for consumption by largely working class, urban, black and gay audiences – which definitely contrasts the suburban, middle class-to-affluent, white ravers that represent the “typical” EDM fan or festival attendee today.  Early techno producers in Detroit were especially clear about the progressive, explicitly political, Afro-futurist-influenced intentions behind their music and what they were trying to do.  So, I’d encourage anyone interested in EDM and related genres to check out the album “Techno! The new dance sound of Detroit” – its title is the first use of “techno” to describe a specific musical genre – as well as albums by Juan Atkins, Cybotron, or DJ Pierre for a good history lesson (and a great listening experience).