The ChurchHouse HouseChurch Project


Google Photos applied a filter to this photo which makes it snazzy and artistic and totally share-worthy on a blog and/or other social media websites on the WORLD WIDE WEB.

People have asked me why I left Chattanooga TN and the Chattanooga Public Library. WHY JUSTIN? Were you so very unhappy there? Was it not what it seemed? Why would you leave such a rad place to live in the middle of nowhere Western Pennsylvania? I hate to burst your bubble and dampen all the gossip but here are the four reasons why we left Chattanooga TN and the Chattanooga Public Library.

  1. I got a great job offer at a very cool library in Titusville PA and they wanted me to give this whole being Executive Director thing a shot and I was totally ready to give it a shot after learning from some of the best library leaders in my career. (run on sentence yes)
  2. I was born and raised in Western PA and had the chance to live relatively close to all of my family members for the first time since 2005.
  3. Grandparents/Aunts/Uncles/Cousins are great people to have around, especially when you have two awesome kids yourself. Family is one of the most important things in the world.
  4. Haley and I had the chance to buy an awesome house THAT CAME WITH AN OLD CHURCH.

For the sake of this blog post, we are gonna focus on REASON #4…THE CHURCHHOUSE HOUSECHURCH PROJECT.

I’m not gonna bore you with the history of the building and the property, but you can knock yourself out by clicking any of these images below for bigger versions:


Simply stated, there was a church and a parsonage for sale because it was no longer being used for a church and a parsonage and Haley and I, looking for a place to live in our new community said, “HEY! We should probably just go for it and buy this thing.” So we did, and thus began THE CHURCHHOUSE HOUSECHURCH PROJECT.

Let’s knock out some FAQ’S first:

Yes. When presented with the opportunity to go all out and try something radical, the Hoenke Family goes for it.

Nope. We are two adults between the ages of 29-35 with two kids and massive student loan debt. I am a librarian and Haley is a stay at home homeschooling mom teacher artist wife superlady. Plus, the whole property was only $60,000.

ONLY $60,000?!?!?!
We may not have all the fancy things like a big city like NYC may have, but we have a great cost of living that makes it totally possible to raise a family, enjoy life, and try something neat-o like buying a house and church. I am happy to trade the fancy things for the easier cost of living.

Time to resume the blog post.

We live in the parsonage. It’s a great house that needs some work but you know what? Everything need some work? The house needs some work, so we do that work and we live with it. In the meantime, we have a roof over our heads, running water, heat, and all is well in the world.

The old church came to us in pretty good condition. There was a bit of a soggy basement, some spotty electricity, and a heating system that may or may not work at 100% Slowly but surely things are getting fixed. The electricity is back (thanks to Penelec with the speedy customer service), we know what’s up with the heater (turn it on, let the heat rise, and wish for the best), and the water is mostly gone thanks to some leftover gutters and duct tape.

The plan? It isn’t easy to describe in one or two words, but think of the space as a community center where weddings, birthday parties, meetings, lectures, music, movies, and more can happen. Imagine a yoga instructor or massage therapist looking for some space to rent for a bit while they get their clientele built up. We have that space and if you are a cool human being who is all about making the world a better place, well we would like to chat with you.

I think that’s what it really boils down to: good people coming together with a positive energy to do great things for their community and surrounding areas. It sounds like a library, doesn’t it? There’s a reason for that. Blame it on my career as a librarian and my wife Haley’s mom being a librarian. Having libraries all around you in your life kind of rubs off on you. But it’s a good thing. Libraries are all about helping people with their needs. Want a book? Sure we have that. Need a computer? We have that too? Just want to chat with someone? We are awesome at that.

At the same time, there are some things that nag me about public libraries. We can’t do this. We can’t do that. We’re still not the best at communicating who we are and what we do. The ChurchHouse HouseChurch Project is an attempt to, in my own little world, work around those things that nag me so that I can accomplish (along with my wife) some amazing things for the community. Public Library World, don’t fret…I ain’t going anywhere. These two things (Public Library plus ChurchHouse HouseChurch) go hand in hand. They are both things in a community that are all about giving back and being as awesome as possible in general.

That’s everything. Will this work? I have no idea. In our eyes, the worst thing that can happen is that nothing works out and in the end we move into the church building, live there, and rent out the house. That’s not a bad scenario either. It will look kind of like this.

In the end, I’m pretty sure we all get to live one life. Why not have fun, take some risk, and try something new? ChurchHouse HouseChurch is our attempt at that in a physical form. Here we go.

All Of This Is Fleeting


Over the next few months of my life I will be visiting Lake Placid New York, Wellington New Zealand, Sydney Australia, and Brisbane Australia to talk to other amazing human beings and librarians about how awesome libraries can be and how that all libraries should be focused on their local communities first and foremost. I love chatting about this! I love meeting new people and sharing inspiration and other stories. This is what life is all about.

It also hits me that this is most likely the last year that I’ll be doing these kinds of things in library-land. This is A-OK with me. I have visited many amazing places, met many amazing people, and shared some amazing stories. It is time to past the torch. What am I saying? There is no torch. I just really wanted an excuse to put the Tenacious D song “Dio” in this post. Enjoy below!

Everything in life is fleeting and nothing stays the same forever. This may scare some people. I know it used to scare me! I am not scared by that anymore. It is all just stuff that when lumped together makes up a life. It is cool!


2016 will be the year of the Hoenke Family ChurchHouse Project. That is the next step in my life. There is something great about wandering outside , walking around, and taking care of things. I have enjoyed attempting to get the heating system to work in the church. I have been painting the door even more red than it has ever been. Our basement isn’t as soggy and moldy as it was in June! Woo! The Hoenke Family ChurchHouse Project is kind of like an extension of the public library. It is a place where great and positive things will happen with great and positive people in the community.

All of this is fleeting. I am enjoying it!

I Am Not Part of Your World (aka Things I Have Learned Being an Adult Child in an Adult World)

I am a 35 year old adult child. I am a-ok with this. I like to go on random spur of the moment adventures with my family. I like to sit around in my pajamas all day and play video games. I also like to do my best at my job, pay the bills, and make sure that my family and I are all well fed and taken care of.  You know, adult stuff. I am an adult child.

I know there are a lot of people out there just like me. Heck, I would argue that a majority of my generation falls into this adult child category. I know I’m not alone in the world. I used to think that I was and I was wrong. I’m glad I’ve grown past that point.

I do not feel like I am part of “your world” or whatever that means. If women are from Venus and men are from Mars I am probably from Europa (one of the amazing moons of Jupiter). And I am very happy and proud to be from Europa.

I like to share what I’ve learned so here goes:

  • Nobody has it all figured out. Everyone you see around you and everyone you look up to is just making it up as they go along.
  • We’re all in this together. Yes, we all have our differences in opinion and those differences make us want to yell and scream and possibly punch each other. But in the end, we’re all in this together and if we fail to understand that we may all be screwed.
  • Follow your heart. Michael Stephens taught me this and there is not one day that I am alive where I do not think about this. Be yourself and be proud. Follow those dreams.
  • You are not your parents. I love my parents. They are thoughtful, kind, and in my opinion, the best damn parents in the world. But I am not my parents and you are not your parents. We share the same biological makeup. We also share a lot of the same habits and tendencies. But when it all comes down to it, we are our own person. We have a choice in who we are and who we want to be. We can fully become our parents if we want to and that is ok, or we can also choose to not be our parents. We can see who they are and learn from that.
  • Money is nice. But money is not as important as we make it seem. Money is not the be-all-end-all of who we are. It is nice to have money so that you can eat, purchase clothes to wear, pay your bills, and exist with little to no hassle. Everyone should have enough money to do that.
  • Education matters a lot, says the boy who did not like school and only went to college because his parents did not and he wanted to be different than them. Education impacts who we are and where we get to in our lives. We need to focus more on providing education to all ages. We need to make sure that this education is free and accessible to everyone. We need to embrace lifelong learning in our world. We may be “out of school” but we should never really be out of school.
  • Love everyone at all times even though we have our differences. An open heart and an open mind lead to a better life.


Change is hard. Change takes a long time. In the moment, change can wear you down like you wouldn’t believe.

I find myself having one of those weeks where I am aware of these two things:

  1. The changes I am going through at the library are good changes and in the long run they will make the library a stronger place for the community.
  2. The changes I am going through at the library are wearing me down mentally in the moment.

I am faced with two possible future paths:

  1. I can continue to believe in the changes I am going through at the library and see the project to its end.
  2. I can give up on the change that I am going through at the library, fall into depression, and not accomplish any goals that would ultimately benefit the community.

The path that I want to take is #1, of course, but it seems so easy to just give up. I think this is one thing that all human beings go through. It is so easy to give up and not make a difference. I don’t want to be one of those people. I want to leave this earth someday knowing that I helped as many people out in my own little way as I could.

Yes Justin. But you can do it.



Our collections needs to be able to breathe, just like the community members that use our space. When our collections get clogged up, they become a mess. We start to lose track of things. We begin to forget what we have because we have way too much of it.

Collections that are able to be viewed and browsed not only look better, but they circulate better as well. I saw it during my time in Chattanooga, and I’ve read about it many times here. This is the goal with the collection at my current library: to create something that can be easily browsed and is open and accessible to the public. For a while now, we’ve had a collection so full that there have been books stacked on top of one another. We were out of shelf space. It was time for a change to happen.

Libraries are also moving towards a new model that blends the old with the new. We have all the information that you need. What we also have now is the space for you to relax, work, and be part of the community. When we weed items from our collections, think about the space it opens up for people to be in the library. Where there were rows and rows of shelves now can be home to tables, chairs, desks, and more. This is where the community can gather.

The public library needs to be able to breathe. That’s what weeding allows it to do.

Connecting the Arcade to Reading (Guest post by Jessica Meyer)

20150826_190149NOTE FROM JUSTIN: I had the great privilege of working with Jessica at the Chattanooga Public Library…in fact, I hired her! Jessica has awesome ideas and connecting the arcade to books was one of her best. I’ll shut up now and turn it over to the great Jessica Meyer…
Arcades are awesome. They are big tween/teen draws, they facilitate trans-literacy, allow socioeconomic groups to mix and make friends, and  are just really fun.
Our arcade pulls in big numbers – it and the button maker pull in delightfully obscene numbers in face. Only, after a while I noticed a trend with our arcade gamers- they don’t check out books or even seem to realize there are books here. As a book addict (yes, predictable, I know) this got under my skin. It ate away at me. I put a display in the arcade, not the most amazing but it always featured cool graphic novels, fiction about video games, and even some non-fiction about game design. When I set this up I was so excited – I just knew this was how I was going to sneak book reading into the lives of this kids.
It didn’t work. I changed the books out about every week and half and when I was in the arcade playing with the gamers I would oh so causally bring the books into the conversation. Only twice were the books taken.
It bummed me out BUT I also saw it as an opportunity to try something new, think of something better. We have only a few rules in on our twee/teen floor but one was that each day a new game was put into each system and that was the game of the day. You didn’t like, come back tomorrow. Then I really listened to my kids – no matter how many times we told them it was one game a day, they asked if they could change the game. That was the answer – they could earn a game change. Instead of telling them same ol’ spiel I told them they could read any book for 20 minutes and get to change the game. 

I posted a sign in the arcade and told  a few leaders of the arcade teens. Then I made one of our comfy chairs next to the desk our the designated reading chair and kept a tab of the Google Timer open on my desktop. Teens started asking and reading right away.

Here’s how it works:
  1. The teens approach a librarian and ask to change the game
  2. Teens pick out a book, OR get some awesome reader advisory for a book
  3. Read for 20 minutes
  4. Pick out a new game and be the first person in rotation to play it
It was so awesome. I had to amend the rules that a game could only be changed every two hours per system so that the reader would have at least two hours with that game. The kids had to read near us but they could read anything they wanted. This facilitates much awesome reader advisory – especially for reluctant readers.

In the summer I put in our least popular games and had readers change the game at least 2 times a day, typically more. At least two kids told me they did their entire summer reading requirements while in our comfy gamers chair. More than once I had teens ask if they could wait to change the game until they finished a chapter or even their entire graphic novel.They wanted to keep reading. It was so awesome.

(Read more from Jessica! Her blog Bathtub Reader can be found here)

This is Awesome


I wish I could give credit to the awesome artist who wrote and created this comic (my eyes must be failing me because I can’t read the very fine print in the upper left hand corner) because THIS IS AWESOME.

(EDIT! This editorial cartoon is by Chris OBrion and you can find out more about Chris and his work HERE!)

The cartoon perfectly sums up everything we’re doing and we’re doing well these days in our libraries. It shows that we’ve survived the “lean years” of 2008-2010 and we’re coming around to a new chapter in our story. We’ve successfully reshaped what we are and what we can do for our communities. Some of us have been rewarded with new buildings that help and support us in our mission even more. We still do have the negative commentators, but as the cartoon shows they are usually solitary, screaming at the wind with no audience to hear them.

Librarians! You’ve done a great job. Let’s keep it up.

I look out of my office this morning and see beautiful things like this happening: someone reading the daily newspaper, 3 folks enjoying our wireless on their devices, one person at a public computer station, and a few others just browsing. It’s a great thing for every community to have a library. It is THE center of the community.