Little Things

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I have written  in the past about the little things and how I believe that they are extremely important when it comes to libraries. Here’s my own personal example of how the little things bring a smile to my face and help me enjoy the library experience more.

Almost every Monday, my six year old son Finn visits the library for the Kids Quest program, which is a program where 5-8 year olds take part in “mind-boggling experiments, challenges and hands-on projects using fun technology and books.”  It’s an amazing program and every time Finn goes to the program he builds something that he is extremely proud of and always shares what he learns with my wife and I.

At the beginning of the program, the participants all write their name on a different name tag. Not only is this a good way to remember names, but it also gives all the kids a chance to practice writing. What a brilliant way to slip in a little bit of learning to the program!  At the end of the program, Finn always gives me his name tag and asks me to put it on my desk at work. I’ve amassed quite a collection as you can see above.

Something as simple as writing your name on a name tag is an act of learning and engagement. It also gives a proud parent like me a souvenir to proudly display on my desk at work.  I see it every day and I think about my sons and how quickly they are growing up and learning about the world. I also see it and am reminded that learning happens everywhere and at all times.  We don’t have to reinvent the wheel with learning. We just need to connect with each other.

The little things mean a lot.

Small Towns

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Yesterday, my family and I visited South Pittsburg, TN (yes, no “H” at the end) to attend the National Cornbread Festival. It was a great festival full of great food, games, events, and more. The weather was absolutely perfect as well so we also had that going for us. All in all, it was a wonderful day.

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It felt great to be in what I’d call a small town. South Pittsburg, according to my observations, reminds me a lot of Meadville, PA.  That’s the town where my wife Haley and I met and lived in for about 3 years. There’s a “downtown” area, a few major side streets, and it’s surrounded by nature. The whole town felt rather clean even though there was a major festival with thousands of people running around.  The people that live in and around South Pittsburg, TN had a sense of pride about where they lived. They were locals and they seemed to be proud of it. They lived where they lived, ventured out when they needed to, and that was it.  There was something oddly out of touch with the modern world about it all. I think this hit me when I saw their local grocery store was Foodland, a store which I remember existing all throughout my hometown of Pittsburgh, PA in the 1980’s.

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I think I am out of touch with the modern world. I don’t feel that good living in the modern world. I think this is why my trip to South Pittsburg, TN and the discovery of this Foodland store hit me so much. I think it’s also one of the reasons why I look back on my time in Meadville, PA so fondly. I think I function best in a small town. Not only are they cheaper to live in, but they’re also a bit out of touch with the modern world.  When I lived in Northwestern, PA, a good friend once said that you could be immensely popular and well known in that area by emulating all the cool things that happened in “the real world” about 10-20 years later in Northwestern, PA.

I think I work best in small towns.

Our Third Place

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Young. Twenty-something. Full of energy, excitement, and the strong desire to change everything that you see around in the world. That’s why I got into this library thing and that’s how I started on this path.

But time passes, moves forward, and things change. I’ve started to slow down a bit. I’ve stopped thinking about the big things all of the time and start to look up and see little things like birds chirping, grass growing, etc. I watch my two sons Finn and Aero as they grow from little babies to dapper young men who have unique personalities and ideas about the world. I see the energy that I used to have in them. I see them thinking about the big ideas and how they can possibly change them.

IMG_0760I grow older with my amazing wife Haley. She’s my best friend and my partner in everything that happens from day to day. We make the big decisions (where do we wanna live?) and the small decisions (do we want to get rid of all of our couches and get bean bags for our whole house?) every day. We grow together and we have fun doing it. There have been ups and there have been downs. But we do it all together and it is an amazing ride. I now understand the whole best friend thing.

IMG_0769What has happened to the librarian part of my brain is kind of remarkable…it kind of went away. That’s not to say that I’m done with being a librarian. I still have a lot in me. But that ever nagging feeling to be the best librarian in the entire solar system is….well it’s gone. It’s been replaced by a steady sense of calm and understanding. I am just a human being whose is first and foremost a husband and a father. The librarian thing? It’s a great way to connect with the community and have an impact on the world. It also pays the bills, and that is very important too. It is not everything. But it is something.

IMG_0790My best “library programs” these days happen at my home with my family. We watch movies together. We record songs together (see the photo above). We cook, clean, and eat as a family. We learn together. Our home has become not only the place where we rest our heads and hang out hats, but our library/school/college/community center/etc. It is our “third place”.

11035621_10100380350901200_2881243827750549727_nI am really enjoying this chapter of my life.

LIANZA 2015

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I’m happy to announce today that I will be attending the LIANZA 2015 Conference in Wellington, New Zealand this year from November 7-11 2015 to speak about youth services, kids, tweens, teens, and everything awesome that can happen in libraries. I’m honored to be a part of this event. I’ve always enjoyed following the LIANZA conferences on Twitter (#lianza15 this year!) and cannot wait to learn and share with many librarians from New Zealand, Australia, and beyond. They’ve got a great lineup this year (Sarah Houghton, Ned Potter, David Lankes, and more!) and I am also looking forward to hanging out (and in some cases, meeting for the first time!) with some wonderful library colleagues.

November is going to be a most excellent month full of libraries and learning.I can’t wait to meet everyone. If you see me while I’m in New Zealand, please say hello and give me a hi-five! (here’s what I look like these days)

Think About The Little Things

"Ladybug": Photo by Gordon Wrigley. Used by Permission with a Creative Commons License.  http://www.tolomea.com/2010/08/28/ladybug/

Blog posts are always better with images. Ladybugs are great little things that live on Earth. “Ladybug”: Photo by Gordon Wrigley. Used by Permission with a Creative Commons License. http://www.tolomea.com/2010/08/28/ladybug/

The little things matter….a lot…or so I have come to believe over the past year of my life.  When the little things are a bit out of order, the world can quickly become chaotic and overpowering.

I had this thought once when I was doing the dishes. There have been times where I have worked myself up into a rage because the dishes were just so overwhelming. I thought about them. Why are these dishes driving me crazy? I realized over time that they were a little thing that bugged me so very much that added up and got to a point where it was now no longer a little thing but instead a big and overwhelming thing. The path to clarity? It was realizing that if I did the dishes on a daily basis, at least once per day, that they would then not become a big and overwhelming thing. Anything more than once per day would be a bonus. The dirty dishes did not all need to sit around. They could be done at least once per day and everything could all alright and manageable in the world.

I think about these things a lot in my life and then I try to apply them to my work in libraries. What little things can I think about in my day to day work that can overall improve my mood, my work flow, and make me a better librarian for the community? Here are some things that I have learned as I think about the little things in libraries.

PATIENCE
No matter what public library that we work for, we all have to deal with how slow change can come. We are an excited profession.  We want to try new things all the time and that gets us excited!  But in the public library world, there are some barriers that just exist that makes change a bit slower to happen than usual. This is ok!

Patience in our day to day work helps. Understand that the public library is like a work of art….it is never truly completed. It is in a state of constant change and growth. The ideas and changes you have will happen eventually. Keeping focused and positive on what you want to accomplish is key.

Things do not happen in a day. I sometimes wish they did, but they just don’t. It would’ve been great to have The 2nd Floor up and running on day one (Monday April 22, 2013) but that isn’t realistic. Things need time to change and grow. Patience helps with that.

SETUP
When you walk into your library space, what is the first thing that you notice? Is it an unpleasant looking table that’s out of place? Or is it a smiling employee waiting there to help you? What you see around you and how these things are setup in a library matter quite a bit.

These little things in the public library space matter. There’s a reason why supermarkets usually put the milk and bread at the very back of the store. They want you to walk through the store and purchase more stuff that you “need”. We can take a similar approach in libraries.  Recently, I visited the Darien Library in Darien, CT. When I walked through the door, I was greeted by employees and materials on what the library calls Main Street . All of the materials and employees were customer facing and inviting to anyone visiting the library.  The library also had large and  clear digital signs that talked about library programs, upcoming events, and more. All of the little things that came together to make up Darien Library’s Main Street created a great and unique experience. The little things become HUGE when they work together. They can be used for a positive experience.

GOSSIP
Let me paint a picture that may happen in your place of work: Wednesday afternoon. Everyone’s around the water cooler/coffee pot/tea kettle. There’s a bit of a lull in public service before the after school crowd comes in. Everyone’s at work so it’s natural that everyone talks about work. People begin to talk about the things that are happening at work. They wonder “why are things going this way or that way?”. They wonder what other employees are up to and where they are going. They talk about things they see around them at work. There are tidbits of information passed around, conspiracy theories presented, and speculation all around. These little things can add up over time and create a not so pleasant working atmosphere.

Don’t get me wrong: I love a good conspiracy theory (see my Facebook Timeline for more) and I love speculation (I read Star Wars blogs obsessively trying to figure out where the new movies are headed). Information, conspiracy theories, and speculation get our minds humming and our hearts racing. It’s kind of fun. But over time, especially in the workplace, these little things can create a paranoid and unhealthy atmosphere.  It’s not possible to get things done for the community if you’re spending a good chunk of your time at work worrying and thinking about something that may or may not be true or something that may or may not happen. Look, I’m not saying that we’re going to completely eradicate gossip and conspiracy theories from our lives, but instead what I’m saying is this: cut back on engaging in that pattern of behavior. Use that energy, those little bits of energy, for something else more constructive.

Think about the little things. They add up. If managed in a certain way, they can powerfully benefit your life.

INSPIRATION AND INFLUENCES

What do you do to be a better librarian? What music or podcasts do you listen to? Where do you go? Just what do you do for inspiration?

A few years ago, I followed a lot of library blogs and twitterz related to libraries. I got a lot out of them and they helped me grow a lot as a librarian. They were pretty much my only source of inspiration for libraries. It was a great source for inspiration, but I just love to grow and think about things differently.  I wanted to approach libraries in a different way. I knew that only following library stuff wouldn’t take me there.

I started thinking about the things that I enjoy in life. I enjoy music quite a bit. That part was easy….focus on the music that you enjoy and you will be inspired. I also enjoy people that are passionate about what they enjoy. That’s a little bit trickier. You can’t easily find a podcast on people who are passionate about what they enjoy. You have to dig for this.

I’ll start with music….

The-Beach-Boys-–-SmileI talk a lot about the Beach Boys and specifically Brian Wilson quite a bit. The label “genius” has been tossed around a lot with Brian Wilson. Sure, he’s a genius in some ways but what I really dig about him is that he is a guy who just really follows his passions and inspiration. This is a beautiful thing.

His 1966 album SMiLE is the perfect example of this. Brian attempted to create something new and unique in the music world. He wanted to create a beautiful piece of art, a “teenage symphony to God.” That’s no easy task. Many will say that SMiLE was never fully finished by Brian (read up on the history, I recommend this book) and even if it really wasn’t fully finished, he got pretty darn close. Heck, I listen to it and all that I hear is a beautiful piece of art that sounds finished to me.

Brian-Wilson-en-el-estudioBrian composed and recording SMiLE in sections. He’d have about 1 minute of music here, 30 seconds of music there, and another little 15 second link track to connect the two. He didn’t really fully understand how the parts would fit when he was recording them. Instead, he knew that they’d fit somehow in the great grand scheme of things.  He was right. If you can get your hands on the little bits and pieces of SMiLE in an unedited form and put it on shuffle, it works.

To me, SMiLE is the big inspiration for the 2nd Floor. If the 2nd Floor could sing, it would sound exactly like SMiLE. You have pieces and parts of things, what we call “walk up programs” (3D printing, button making, Minecraft, etc) all around the space. You can make buttons first if you want. That may tickle your fancy and make you think about 3D printing next. Or maybe you’ll just wanna move along into our arcade and play Wii U for a bit and relax with some other community members. There is no clear path or program for the community to follow. You put the library on shuffle and somehow, it all links together.

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The other big inspiration in my library career these days totally comes out of left field…Bill Simmons, editor of Grantland and a pretty big podcaster. His passion is sports and in particular, basketball. Weird, right? I, Justin Hoenke, really don’t care at all for basketball.  I don’t care that much for sports (NOTE: Pittsburgh based sports teams are something that I DO CARE VERY MUCH ABOUT GO PIRATES) but there’s just something about Bill and his passion for basketball. He loves the game. He knows the game. He knows what makes it work and how all these things come together to make a successful basketball team. In his book The Book of Basketball, he talks a lot about how chemistry is important for the success of a basketball team. To me, that’s one of those things that can be easily copied/pasted into librarianship. Chemistry is an important thing to have. Team chemistry, with the right people all playing their specific and very important parts, can lead to great success. I think a lot about the team we have here at the Chattanooga Public Library and how we all really work well together in our roles. To me, that’s why we’ve been able to do the things that we’ve done here. Chemistry is huge. Bill Simmons, I may not know what a pick-and-roll is, but damn, I really love hearing you talk about basketball.

Who are some of the people that inspire you when it comes to libraries and why?

I HAVE SOMETHING TO TELL YOU

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My goal in my professional life is to be the best librarian that I can be. In my 7 years as a librarian, I have been lucky to achieve a lot of my professional goals. However, over the past year of my life I have hit a wall professionally. I feel like there’s nowhere else for me to go. Do I ride it out until I retire? Or do I somehow continue my quest to be the best librarian that I can be? These are the questions I have had to ask myself over the past year. Well, I now have an answer. I’ve finally decided to go for it.

I, Justin The Librarian, have decided to enhance myself with cybernetic implants that will allow me to be a better librarian.

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The transformation has been great! I can do a lot more in libraries than I have before! I can do circulation, reference, programming, management, and leadership all in a single day! I can work for hours without a break! I don’t really have to eat (I do require 4 AAA batteries)! All in all, Justin The Cyborg Librarian is kinda working out!

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I don’t really have a soul anymore (Update 3.104X) and my emotions are kind of gone, but you know what, we’ve got more than enough human beings working in the library these days that it all works out. They handle the feelings kind of stuff, I’ll handle anything cyborg related.