What Does a Library Director Do?

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As I enter my sixth week at the Benson Memorial Library, I think I can say that I’ve somewhat successfully made the jump from a Youth Services Librarian to a Library Director. I’ve had two board meetings, was involved in some internet outages at the library, and a few other things that I can’t remember but trust me they were kind of a big deal. Everything is a big deal at the library!

I’ve put a lot of my focus on the actual building these days. I look up, I look down, and I look all around to make sure this place is in tip-top shape. I see a spot on the carpet and you know what I wanna do? I want to find a reasonably priced carpet cleaning service to get rid of that stain. I noticed that we have a broken gutter in the back of our property that may or may not have led to some water damage last winter. You know what? That gutter needs to be fixed or we’ll be in bad shape if it continues to get worse.

I am finding that I am a library director that thinks about things a lot. I think about how we can improve and better serve our community. I think about the little details that our every day users and staff encounter at the library. I think about what it takes to create a fun, relaxed, and positive work environment. I think about how we need to take care of our building. After all, it is one of our most important assets. And isn’t it just SO beautiful?

IMG_1672I think one of my proudest moments as a library director has been working with a local plumbing and heating service to figure out why our basements were so cold. At times, our Board Room and Story Time Room were hovering around 50-55 degrees. It was not an ideal temperature to have any kind of event! We were confused. The air conditioning was set to 70 degrees. Why would these rooms be so much cooler than everything else? It turns out it was a simple fix. Our two dehumidifiers were working overtime this summer. For some reason, they had been set to 50 degrees. They were running constantly. And guess what else? The dehumidifiers also acted as our basement air conditioners. The cool air they were pumping out was pumped back into our Board Room and Story Time Room. That’s why it was so cold! After looking at the settings, we increased the temperature on the dehumidifiers to find the sweet spot and VOILA! We had a temperature that both the patrons and the dehumidifiers could live with. Awesome.

Sometimes, the best things you can do for a library involve things like temperature, dehumidifiers, and the quality of the experience.

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Two of my grandsons, ages 10 and 13, seem destined to suffer some of the negative effects of video-game overuse. The 10-year-old gets up half an hour earlier on school days to play computer games, and he and his brother stay plugged into their hand-held devices on the ride to and from school. “There’s no conversation anymore,” said their grandfather, who often picks them up. When the family dines out, the boys use their devices before the meal arrives and as soon as they finish eating.

Taken from the New York Times article “Screen Addiction is Taking a Toll on Children” by Jane E. Brody.

It seems like every six months or so an article comes out that talks about the dangers of (insert here) screen time, video games, computers, iPads, etc on kids today. I don’t know if it’s a slow news day or its just something that gets a lot of clicks and likes, but hey, they keep on coming.

I see this argument from two sides: as a parent and as a librarian. I see what technology does to kids AND adults: it kind of totally mystifies us! We want to use it, we want to have it in our hands, and we want to play with it. I think it’s important to realize that this argument doesn’t just apply to kids. Adults too get sucked into technology. I see parents (myself included sometimes!) lost inside of their smartphones. It’s an escape from the world and sometimes a nice 5-10 minute break.

I also know that too much technology can have an effect on a person. I find myself getting tired and worn out if I’ve looked at my computer or my phone too long. I see my own kids getting cranky and bored when they’ve watched way too many toy review videos on YouTube.

Technology is awesome. Technology lets us connect and learn in so many different ways. This week, I’ll be part of an interview process at my place of work to hire a new Youth Services Librarian. You know what? We’ll be doing all of our interviews over Skype. Technology helps bring the world together. Technology like video games help us take part in stories and adventures and connect with other like minded people.

What this article, the many others before it, and the many others that will come, should be focusing on instead is balance and the importance of having conversations. Talk to your kids, whether you are their parent, their teacher, or their librarian. Talk to them about how important technology can be in their lives. While you’re at it, also talk to them about the importance of balance in their lives. It doesn’t have to be all technology all the time. You need balance. You need variety. I like to tell my sons that it would be AWESOME to have ice cream all the time but in the long run I’d probably die really quickly and that would suck. They get it. Don’t have ice cream all the time. Spice it up. Have some lima beans in there too. It’s that way with technology/video games/iPads/etc: sprinkle in a walk, play a musical instrument, have a conversation, etc. Balance is awesome.

Shifting

Shifting. I have been shifting for many years. Here. There. Everywhere. Physically and mentally. I have worked hard to unite the head, the heart, and the hand. Am I there? Nope. Will I ever be? I doubt it. But all that one can do is keep trying. We all have ups and we all have downs. Balance is an amazing thing. Balance is a very difficult thing to achieve. However, I believe that if you have the goal to of achieving balance at the forefront of what you do then that is the right path to be on.

My music habits shift. Sometimes it’s just a mood that I am seeking out. Other times the world around me influences what I want to hear. The Grateful Dead fills the room for me these days. This year they are celebrating their 50th anniversary. This is a joyous occasion. I have not paid much attention to the band before. I blame this on living in Western PA and going to college at the apex of the jam band resurgence. I didn’t want to be in that scene. But I knew the music was good. I did not know that I could have balance though! Oh! How great it is to grow up!

I love how the notes that the Grateful Dead play swirl together in harmony. I love how a group of individuals come together to form a solid unit. I love seeing their history and how the band has shifted so many times over the course of their 50 year career.

I learn a lot from the history of many popular music acts. I see that they have ups and downs. I see that they shift. It’s not always pretty along the way, but what remains matters most: the music. I think about this in terms of how I approach my family life and my library life. What are those things and how can I remember to focus on them when I am in a moment where things are not “pretty”. I believe that I will leave behind happiness and togetherness. I am OK with that.

Things will shift. I may not feel this way in July 2016. This is part of the journey. I will keep up with these shifts. Everything is awesome.

Managing the Future: Supporting Your Youth Services Innovators ALA 2015

First and foremost: I’m sorry to everyone who came to this awesome event and to my fellow colleagues Abby, Cory, and Kendra for missing the presentation! I was convinced that the presentation was on Sunday June 28, 2015 at 8am PST. Turns out I was very wrong and it was Saturday June 27, 2015 at 8am PST.  I will blame it on two things: my brain is so full of moving these days and also general Justin Hoenke forgetfulness. I am sorry about my no-show and I hope the following makes it up to you….

My presentation! I believe I was actually recording my presentation at the same time that the actual in person real time presentation was happening. Anywho, here you go and once again I am sorry that I could not be there in person and/or in real time via the Skype/Facetime/Hangouts train.

Titusville

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Chapter Five of my professional life begins. Who knows what chapter I’m on in my personal life. No longer will I be focusing on kids, tweens, and teens. These days, my thoughts are focused fully on the entire community, the employees, and the physical space of the Benson Memorial Library. My view of the world has become wider, and with that I grow a little bit. I am excited to go on this adventure. I think about how we can make the library a better place for all the community. I think about the big things (what can we do to better everyone’s life?) to the little things (how can we repair the cracks in our steps?). All of these things matter. The little things and the big things work in harmony to create a great experience.

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We’ve moved from our first real home…an orange house with a lot of heart and soul…to a new home that needs some love and attention. We have many repairs to do. The carpet must go. The bathroom needs an overhaul. Like the old house, this one needs some gutters and some paint.  We’ll get there.

The new home has double the space. Over the years we’ve simplified our lives so much that we just don’t know what to do with this space! In time, we’ll fill it with all the special kinds of things that our family needs. It will be our base of operations. It is our new home, and it will be our home for a long time coming.

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With the new home comes…wait for it…a second building. An old church. This is one of the big reasons why we decided to make this leap. The second building (what do you call a church that’s no longer a church?) represents the future for our family. We want to turn it into a community space or a bed and breakfast. We’ll see what it takes. Who knows what it will be. But what we do know is that we have an amazing opportunity to take something that was not being used and turn it into something amazing.

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Right now the church sits empty. The house doesn’t have too much inside of it. There’s a lot of work that needs to be done. Old pipes need fixed. Roofs need repaired. Everything just needs a nice cleaning. It’s going to be a long and difficult process. How will we pay for the heating bill in the winter? That’s what a lot of folks ask us. I don’t know just yet. But I do know that this was a move that our family had to make. We’ll figure out all the details later. But we’re all in right now.

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Moving makes me anxious. All of the housework that needs to be done makes me anxious. All of the stuff that I want for the library to be to this community keeps me up at night. I have to constantly remind myself to take it slow. Everything will be alright in the end. I like looking out the window. I like to see the trees and the gardening. I like knowing that the world that we’re building around our family will be amazing.

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I live five blocks from the library. I can walk down the street from our home to the library in just a few minutes. There’s a woman who’s always sitting on her front porch reading books. I say hi to her a lot. I walk by a small creek called Church Run. The water flows and the sound is beautiful. I walk a little bit more and I’m in Downtown Titusville. It’s good to be in a small town. I’ve enjoyed my time in big cities but my heart has always been with these small towns.

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It’s very important to have fun in all that we do. We have to laugh and enjoy every step of the way. That is the most important thing I’ve learned in my 35 years on Earth.

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And love. La la la la love. Always love.

Chickens in Chattanooga

IMG_2147For most of our time in Chattanooga, TN, we raised four chickens in our backyard. Blaster, Leia, Skittles, and Clara were the tenants of a pretty wonderful little chicken run in. Their rent? They gave us 3-4 eggs per day. They also gave us a lot of love.

IMG_2178On the weekends we’d scramble most of the eggs and eat them as a family for breakfast. Sometimes Finn would join in with the cooking. It was absolutely amazing to watch a 6 year old cook. I myself never really learned how to cook until I was in my twenties. It was a joy to see my son learning skills that had taken me so long to learn. Other times Haley would make what we call “Toad in a Hole”, a nice egg dish that involved toast and egg-y goodness.

IMG_2139The lovely ladies were lovely indeed. Chickens may not be the smartest animals out there, but when you bring them into your family and show them love and attention they quickly become your friends. The girls would often times be out in the backyard with my sons Finn and Aero. They’d chase each other around. When my wife Haley and I called for the chickens or whistled at them, they’d follow us around. They knew what to expect from us. We feed you and you feed us. We love you and you love us.

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The weird part, and kind of the reason why I’m writing this blog post, is that chickens were illegal in backyards in Chattanooga, TN. While no one ever complained about the chickens, there was always the threat of “oh my gosh what will we do if they take our ladies from us?”

Just two miles away from our home was a chicken processing plant. I don’t know what they made there, but they had hundreds of chickens going into the plant daily. It had a smell of chickens and industrial meat processing hanging over it. Our backyard? It smelled like grass and happy, well kept chickens. But for some reason, our chickens were illegal. I understand what’s most likely happening here. The chicken processing plant brings in money and jobs to the community. I am all for that. If our city didn’t have it, somewhere else would. I’m glad we were able to give people jobs.

I wish it could be different for Chattanooga residents and other cities that don’t allow residents to keep chickens (or goats!) on their property. Our lovely ladies were amazing for our family. They brought us not only eggs but a whole lot of love. They taught our sons how to take care of animals and how food comes from things all around us.

Personally, it taught me to slow down and enjoy the little things in life that we don’t always talk about. Birds are always flying around us, chirping away. The grass, the plants, and the trees are always growing. Your family and friends are growing up and getting older. These are the things that matter. Clara, Blaster, Leia, and Skittles helped me realize that.

Before chickens, there was a big part of me that was determined to be the best goddamn human being and librarian ever. I wanted to show the world that I could do it! I wanted to travel the world, push boundaries, and blow people’s minds! I wanted to be the best. After chickens, I want to go home, cut the grass, hang out with my family, and take care of our home. I still want to be an amazing librarian but you know what? That’s way down there on the list.

It is amazing when you finally see what matters in real life. A couple of egg laying beasts taught me. Life is bizarre. Life is awesome.

Chattanooga and other cities….make those backyard chickens legal!

(All photos by the amazing Zachary Cross)

Thank You Chattanooga

As you read this, my family and I are heading North through Tennessee, Virginia, and West Virginia on our way to the next stop in our journey…Pennsylvania. A moment in time like this…a moment of great change and growth…lends itself well to looking back on growth and transformation.

I’ve loved every moment of my time in Chattanooga. I have watched my family and I grow in so many different ways. We’ve become more of a solid Hoenke Family Unit than ever.  We know what we want to do in life, how to do it, and how to stick together through it all. We’ve watched our boys grow from little dudes into even bigger dudes with great imaginations and ideas. They have friends that they’ve met here in Chattanooga that have greatly influenced their lives. These are the kinds of friends they will have through their whole lives. The South has been super kind and amazing to our family. When people ask me what makes Chattanooga great, I tell them this: It is a town full of good people who want to do the best for the community.

Aero, April 2013

Aero, April 2013

Finn, April 2013

Finn, April 2013

In April 2013 I had no idea what it took to be a manager and a leader. Over the past two years, I have dove headfirst into these topics with the help, guidance, and mentorship of all of the folks I’ve worked with at the library. I’ve learned to take my ideas, harness them, craft them, and collaborate to make them work. I’ve learned how to delegate, a VERY important thing that all librarians should learn. I thank the Chattanooga Public Library and everyone that I’ve worked with over the past two years for the great experiences we’ve been through and lessons that they have taught me. As a librarian, I think I’m at my best these days because of these great opportunities in Chattanooga.

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Day Three @ the Chattanooga Public Library. The 4th Floor. With the great Mary Barnett.

All in all, Chattanooga and my experience in the Chattanooga Public Library have once again reinvigorated my belief in that the public library is the epicenter of the community. It is the place where amazing people come together and share an amazing experience. The photo you see above was taken on The 4th Floor of the Chattanooga Public Library on my third day working at the library. The entire space was turned into a disco, a librarian party and get together for the Tennessee Library Association Conference. It was quite a beautiful experience where great people came together over something they are passionate about….libraries. I connected with some of amazing co-workers (like Mary Barnett who you see above) for one of the first times. These connections were key to the work that we all did in Chattanooga. We came together, go to know and understand each other, and we gave the community the things they needed.

I’ve learned a lot in my time here in Chattanooga and I will always remember these times. It has been great and now it is time to move onto the next journey. Here we go.

Thank you Chattanooga. We love you.