Tuesday, March 08, 2011

Found: Salary Serf for Biblioasis Employment (Or, Introducing Tara Kathleen Murphy)

When we put out our call a month ago for a Biblioasis Salary-Serf, we were not quite sure what we’d find. Truth be told, our job-description was meant to frighten away the wrong sort of candidates as much as it was meant to attract the right. We didn’t want someone who would be happy working for Bertelsman, or someone who saw this job as a mere foot in the door, a necessary period of resume and cache building before moving onto some more glamorous multinational existence in Toronto. We didn’t want anyone who thought that this job would be glamorous at all. As several people had commented privately and publicly, our Salary-Serf Call-to-Action was not really even a job description. It was far too wide-ranging and all encompassing and, to any sensible person, terrifying. But I also think that anyone who has spent any time in the small press trenches could have easily identified with what was written there. Indeed, in some ways, it only scratched the surface of what we do here, and what the new hire can expect to be involved in.

What I did not want – despite mentioning the hoped for publishing program experience – was a publishing professional. This is neither the place nor the position for someone who would think of him or herself in such a fashion. Into my seventh year as a publisher, I’m still nowhere near professional status, and don’t expect I’ll ever be so. I’m not sure it’s something I even aspire towards. This is still very much on-the-job training; I am still, on my best days, having too much fun; I am learning too much; I love it too much. And that, more than anything else, mattered to me. Finding someone who might just share the same enthusiasm for the work that I, most days, still have. It’s the only justification one can have for the long hours, the meagre pay. (Oh! That there was even meagre pay!) You must find it meaningful. “Blessed,” Thomas Carlyle writes, “is he who has found his work,” and I consider myself quite lucky to have found my own. More than anything else, I wanted the person I eventually hired to bring the same enthusiasm to the job. I wanted to know that, whomever we hired, they would care for our books and our writers as much as I do. As it was our new hire that reminded me of the true and fitting meaning of the word amateur, I believe that we have found the right person.

We had a dozen or so applications and letters of intent; we quickly narrowed these down to half-a-dozen, then three, and finally two. We wavered near a week between these, switching back and forth. We finally settled on Tara Kathleen Murphy, and not even a week into her involvement with the press we know we’ve hired someone quite special, who has already, in a few days, contributed to the press in several meaningful ways.

Tara comes to us from Western, where she is working on her doctorate in English. Before that she worked at McGill under Robert Lecker, where she finished a Master’s Thesis on the Porcupine’s Quill and Gaspereau Press, perhaps the two presses I most admire (& collect) in the country. She worked at the Word bookstore in Montreal under Adrian King-Edwards, one of the finest booksellers in the country. Tara has given a lot of thought to the role of the independent press in Canada, to the relationship between the physical book and its contents; she has a solid understanding of the industry and the independent press scene in particular. She’s a very fine editor, copy-editor, poet and artist; she has a good head for publicity; she’s an exceptional reader; and she seems to have solid administrative sense. She’s a bibliophile and book collector (I’ve never really been able to trust book people who are not). And she wants to get that old platen press in the garage up and working again. Bless her.

Just as importantly, she knew our books, bought our books, loved our books. She was familiar with our authors; particularly our poets. And she spoke of a small press life as one, at least in part, of service and community, and of the importance of finding meaningful work. It was as if she had read my mind.

But perhaps it is best to let Tara herself speak. Thirsty readers will be seeing a lot of her around here over the coming weeks and months and years, as will anyone else who deals with the press: at shows, readings, events, conferences. Many of our authors can expect to hear from her directly quite soon as well.

From her cover letter, applying for the Salary-Serf position. When I had read this, I had a sense I may have found my assistant:

"Part of this fastidiousness stems from my love of books as objects. I've been building my library for years, and right now I'm nourishing collections of typography manuals, small-press ephemera, and books about books. I couldn't say which item is my favourite (though my first-edition Memoirs of Montparnasse, unearthed in a church basement sale and bought for a dollar, is high on the list). What I can say is I've always believed that we have a moral obligation to produce quality work that lasts. Whether it's the extra fifteen minutes spent on a press release, or the extra cash spent for a sheet of Zephyr Antique Laid paper, the care we take speaks for itself. It's the best way we have of showing others that the stories we tell matter.

"I have always been personally invested in how books are made, and for this reason I have an enormous respect for the small press world. There's also no question that my interest in printers and publishers has done a lot to shape my own work ethic, which has served me well. It would be a privilege to apply my skills in an industry that I love, and to work for a press that I so deeply admire."

And it is a privilege to have her working with us.

1 comment:

Zachariah Wells said...

Welcome aboard, TKM!