Category Archives: Libraries

Please Stop Calling Me

Téléphone ancien by Frédéric BISSON via Creative Commons License

Téléphone ancien by Frédéric BISSON via Creative Commons License

The most difficult and frustrating thing about being a library director thus far is dealing with what seems like a never-ending array of phone calls from various vendors and salespeople who want you to buy something from them. I know it from the moment I pick up the phone that this is gonna be a horrible sales pitch followed by a NO from me followed by a very desperate plea to reconsider. It doesn’t end. The shtick is the same every time. You want me to buy something. I don’t want to buy something. You try to pressure me into buying something. We both get a little bit grumpy. It never ends well.

Please stop calling me.

I do not want your product. My library does not need discounted coloring books from last year’s summer reading theme. I know that some kids may dig them but I don’t have hundreds of dollars to spend on just that. I’d rather spend that money on something my community or staff can really use. You know, I’ve also got a really great building to keep up with and repair. I also do not need you to scare me into buying your product. This makes me feel horrible and I bet it makes you feel horrible to scare someone into buying something. Let’s just stop doing this.  If I want to work with you, I’ll find you on the internet and then I’ll call you. Maybe we’ll just email each other. That works really well too!

Once more, I ask you kindly….please stop calling me. I’ll call you. Maybe.

Work Environments, Happiness, and Human Beings


Two really great articles about work environments and employee happiness came out this weekend, both via the NY Times:

When You’re in Charge, Your Whisper May Feel Like a Shout

Inside Amazon: Wrestling Big Ideas in a Bruising Workplace

I liked these articles a lot as it really jives well with what I’ve been thinking these past few months: leadership sets the tone of the workplace, and that tone is KEY to the success or failure of the organization. Success and failure are very loose terms and ideas that have varying definitions, but to me success means that you have happy employees and happy library users that have positive experiences in the library. Failure, in my opinion, are library employees and users that are generally unhappy to be in the library.

These articles also make me think about how I say things and what I say to my employees. I think openness and honesty are two great practices to put in place. Talk about what’s going on behind the scenes and how board meetings are going. Talk about grants, budgets, and more. Be open and be honest. Don’t paint a horrible picture of doom and gloom even if things are tough in the moment. We work in libraries, and what a great place they are to work at! We let people borrow things! We share things with our community! It is a great job.

I don’t believe in the whole “competition leads to great innovations” idea fully. Yes, I think competition does lead to innovation but I think it also leads to employee unhappiness and burnout. That is something that I think should be the focus of our conversations. People and their lives and happiness are much more important than innovation. Humans adapt to so much. Sometimes that change takes awhile but we always get to where we are going. Unhappiness and depression caused by stress can have lasting and devastating effects. Depression is a horrible thing that no one should have to experience, especially depression that is caused by a work environment.

You are not your job. You are an awesome human being.

What Does a Library Director Do?


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.


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.



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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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)