Category Archives: Libraries

The 2nd Floor PLUS STEM School Chattanooga

Over the past few months, the Chattanooga Public Library has collaborated with the STEM School Chattanooga on a project with juniors for the Project and Problem Based Learning curriculum. The project that the library presented to the students dealt with 3D Printing: How can we create a 3D Printing station that allows the community to walk up to the 3D Printer, watch a video tutorial that introduces 3D printing, and in the end have the customer leave with a great 3D printing experience and an object.

Over the next few months, the students and their teacher Michael Stone worked on what a 3D Printing station looks like, what it includes, and then spent the time building the station in their school Fab Lab. The end result? Check out the image in the tweet above! It’s a beautiful station like structure that was created by the students. The words 3D PRINTER represent the various stages of 3D printing….from first layer to the honeycomb structured middle to the end product. Using the laser engraver, the students also created a plaque that proudly displays the STEM School Fab Lab logo. Finally, the students put together tutorial videos for customers to watch so that they could get acquainted with 3D printing. You can watch those videos here: Beginner Video and Advanced Video.

I’m super happy with the results and I couldn’t ask for more. The 2nd Floor of the Downtown Chattanooga Public Library is all about the public library as an experience, and the 3D printing station created by the STEM School fits perfectly in with the vibe of the 2nd Floor.  I look forward to working with the STEM School and their students on more projects in the very near future!

For more of my writings on 3D Printing, click here!

For the FAQ’s and details on 3D Printing on The 2nd Floor of the Downtown Chattanooga Public Library, click here!

Transformation and Growth

Me circa 1994. First time I grew my hair out. First time I got a Weezer album. One of the original Weezer fan club members.

Me circa 1994. First time I grew my hair out. First time I got a Weezer album. One of the original Weezer fan club members.

One of my biggest roles models from around age 14-present has been Rivers Cuomo of the band Weezer. Rivers is the kind of guy that has all these mythical stories surrounding him because he lives a very interesting life: “You know, he once stayed inside for two whole years!” “You know he only eats green vegetables!” “You know he wrote 18,000 songs in one day once and keeps them all in a notebook protected by fire!” Most, if not all, of these mythical stories are untrue. Sure Rivers is an interesting guy but he’s not crazy. In fact, he’s far from crazy. I’d call Rivers a very introspective and self aware kind of person. And that part of his personality is what has inspired me to become the Justin Hoenke that I am today.

If you looked at this blog from the beginning up to the present, you may think that some crazy egomaniac of a human being has written every post. You’re entitled to your opinion and in some cases I think you’re spot on with your judgement. But what I say is this: I only really know myself and how I feel at any given time. I don’t want to fake it and put out opinions and judgements on things that I don’t really understand to the fullest. That’s boring and not who I am. I’d rather be honest and messy and put it all out there….hence this blog and an abundance of posts on self and growth and all that jazz.

Not an insane person, but instead a person who is visually representing change and growth. And kind of weird.

Not an insane person, but instead a person who is visually representing change and growth. And kind of weird.

Sometimes I wish I could just copy/paste things I’ve wrote and put it up as a new post because they all seem like the same: I’m learning this! I think it is good to be nice to people all the time! I’m messing up a bit but I’m growing!  I don’t because somewhere in my mind I’m convinced that each time I post I’m saying something new. Maybe I am. Who knows. All I know is that I’ll keep doing this.

In 2014 I learned a lot about transformation and growth. I adopted new roles in my personal and professional life that have challenged me. I’ve learned that library work is library work and life is life. Sleeping when sleep is needed is great for the soul. Not worrying about things all the time is an amazing way to approach life. Cutting the grass and tidying up around the house is very satisfying and honestly, the thing I wish I could focus on the most while I am alive here on the planet Earth. I have two paths in front of me in regards to my life as a librarian: one into more management and leadership and the other into a bit of management and a bit of the on-the-ground librarian type stuff. Both sound like good paths but in the end I can choose one. I don’t know what one that is yet. Maybe that’s what 2015 is for. There’s also this nagging feeling that I’ve come full circle with my professional interests and goals (one of which will be revealed in 2015!) and now it is time for a new challenge. I don’t know what any of this means. I just know that I have these feelings and that I have this blog and that’s where I’ll put everything for now.

My gut tells me that this is becoming a very rambling post. My gut tells me to wrap it up so that’s what I’ll do.  I have really like being alive in 2014. I hope all of you reading this have enjoyed life this year. I think all of you are great human beings and I am happy to share this crazy little thing called life with yinz all.  2014, you’ve been interesting and great and messy in so many ways. 2015, you’ll probably be the same way. Cut and paste. We all keep on growing and learning. What other way is there?

Management Style


Thank to Finn Hoenke, Aero Hoenke, Haley Hoenke, Elias Spruill, Janine Veazue, Barry Bonds, Bobby Bonilla, Chuck E Cheese, Marvin Gaye, The cast of Star Wars, and many others for making my office a nice place to be.

Did you die?
Did anyone else die?
Did you burn down the building?
Did anyone lose an appendage?

If you answered “no” to all of those questions, you are doing a great job of being a librarian in a public library.

-Justin Hoenke’s Management Mantra, 2014.

2014 was the year that I threw myself into management in public libraries. Was it scary and stressful? Yes. Did I survive? Well, either I’m writing this or clone Justin exists, so it’s up to you to decide.

The questions I’ve been asking myself this year go like this: What does a manager do? How does this change what I already do at the library? Do I need an office? What does one do in their office?How does one lead? I’d like to share my experiences here on this blog in order to help those in a similar situation out and to also maybe inspire other youth services librarians who are looking into management. Trust me: if I can do it you can too.

What does a manager do?
A manager takes the first step carves out the path for their staff to follow. A manager provides guidance and enthusiasm for the staff. A manager is a strong voice and supporter for their staff. I always refer back to a quote I learned in my ALA Emerging Leaders class for inspiration:

“The leader’s job is not to provide energy but to release it from others.”
Frances Hesselbein

A manager takes a step back and lets their staff shine. They listen to what the staff needs and does their best to communicate that vision to the rest of the library. Managers can make a job fun for their staff. I truly believe that when we’re having fun with our work some of our best ideas happen and in turn, those affect the community in a positive way. I tell my employees: have fun and see what happens. I think it’s working.

How does this change what I already do at the library?
I am one of those people that has an idea every minute. Let’s try this. Let’s try that. This is the vision and this is how we can do it. As I moved into management, I had to teach myself how to calm down, trust others with their ideas, and play the long game. Playing the long game gives you an insane amount of patience (FYI: having children does that too). It allows you to sit back and let things happen naturally.

Your idea of working in a public library will change considerably when you move into management. The focus is still and will always be the community, but in addition you have staff to manage. You will no longer be on the public service desk all day. It will be a shock. You won’t get as many of those hi-fives from kids, tweens, and teens. You won’t get as many of the awesome perks that come from working public service: directly helping people, making a little part of their life better, and more. But here’s the thing: your decisions as a manager and how you inspire your staff help make those moments possible. You may no longer have the direct connection to the public but you are still making a huge difference in your community.

Do I need an office? What does one do in their office?
I am a big fan of working in public. As public employees I think it is our job to show our funders how we work, what we’re doing, and be as transparent as possible. But you know what? After becoming involved in management I’ve started to understand the need to have an office or an “away from the public area” at times. When you’re thinking about big picture stuff you sometimes just need to be alone. You need to shut the door. What does one do in their office? These kinds of things. I also highly suggest filling your office with things that make you happy. Photos. Pictures. Drawings. Weird things that you collect. But don’t be a hoarder.

How does one lead?
I can’t answer that one for you. All that I can say is that you try, you fail and then you succeed and then you fail again and then you succeed and that cycle never ends. You find what works best for you, your staff, and your community. Note that I put YOU first because, yes, you have to put YOU first sometimes. Without a happy and fully functioning YOU things won’t move ahead. Treat yourself well. Once you do that, you will be on the right path.

564 Days (or, the story of THE 2ND FLOOR thus far…)

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The 2nd Floor of the Downtown Chattanooga Public Library has been in its current state, a place for ages 0-18 and their caregivers, for 564 days, or 1 year, 6 months, and 16 days as of today. If you’re visiting The 2nd Floor for the first time today or have visited us over the past 564 days, you’ve probably wondered what it’s all about up on the 2nd Floor.  This post is my attempt to explain all of that and more to you.

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The 2nd Floor of the Downtown Chattanooga Public Library is all about people.  It is a place where the community, library employees, out of town guests, and more can connect, share an experience, and learn something. It is a place where lifelong learning and fun meet in the middle, get all messy, and create something awesome.

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The 2nd Floor is a constant work in progress. Repeat visitors to the 2nd Floor always remark how “things have changed quite a bit” and that there’s “a lot more” than there was the last time they visited. Their observations are spot on. We may not have the newest furniture, shelves, tools, and more around (it’ll come), but we change everything around enough to keep it fresh and exciting for the community. We use what we have to make this place a great experience for the community.  If something works, we keep it around and refine it. If it doesn’t work, we let it go and try something new. To be the best library for our community, we have to move forward and meet their needs.


When you visit the 2nd Floor, you won’t see endless rows of books in the space. Instead, you’ll find a well groomed collection that represents what the community wants. You may see two rows of The Hunger Games on the shelves, but they are there because the community asked for them. You will find our books arranged and presented in a way that best reflects the needs of the community. The picture books are as low to the ground as we can get them at the moment to allow for little hands to find what they want. The graphic novels have their own unique areas.  Our non-fiction shelves for middle aged readers are overflowing because that’s what the community wants.

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As I said above, the 2nd Floor is all about people. But we have to remember that a library is also made up of the people that work in it as well. The 2nd Floor is home to some of the most amazing colleagues I have ever had the chance to work with. Some have been here 15 years and some have been here 6 months. No matter how long they’ve been there, one thing connects us all: a passion for what we do and a great care for our community.  All of our 2nd Floor employees bring different attributes to the table: creativity, reliability, organization, energy, and more.  All of these attributes meet in the middle and create something amazing. Simply stated: the 2nd Floor staff are awesome.

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3D Printers, iMacs, button makers, video games, and more are just things that live on the 2nd Floor.  Yes, they are nice tools to have in the library and it is great that we can give our community access to them.  I am fully aware that not every library can have the same tools that we have in our library. But here’s the thing: they are just tools. The 3D printer will stop being the cool and popular thing over the next few years. The computers will need to be replaced. Items will break.  These are all ok scenarios. They are all just items. They are all just things. Without the community coming into the library to use the 2nd Floor, they are just empty, unused things. It is what the community does with these tools that makes their place on the 2nd Floor so special.

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The tools that your library offers to the community should reflect what the community needs. Does your community not want a 3D printer? That’s ok. You don’t have to get a 3D printer. It can start simple: pens, pencils, and paper. That’s an art and writing station. It can grow to include some hand-me-down or donated items, like a sewing machine. If it needs to, it can grow from there. In the picture above, one of our frequent library users is using an older sewing machine brought in by one of our library employees. They used it together to make a robe just like Hermione wears in Harry Potter.  It was a great experience using tools and items that we had all around us.

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The 2nd Floor is flexible. It has rules because it needs rules in order to survive and function properly. But the 2nd Floor is open to interpretation. The community will make it what they want it to be at that moment. In the photo above, the 3D printer has become the test subject for a teen’s interest in learning how to do time lapse photography. Flexibility and the desire to take a chance on something new allows your community to thrive and grow.

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The 2nd Floor is unique in that it doesn’t push kids, tweens, teens, and their caregivers into age specific corners. It’s about following your interests and sharing a positive interaction with someone…a family member, a friend, or someone you just met.  When you open up your library to interests and interactions like these, some great moments can occur. Instead of checking the IDs of everyone that enters the the library, the library employees are free to then interact with the community and develop relationships. They are able to chat and connect. This is where something magical happens and what I consider to be the best part of the modern public library experience: The library as the place where the community connects.

2014-05-03 12.54.56Sure, we have all this great stuff you can borrow. We have loads of programs and experiences for you if you visit our physical locations. We have loads of downloadables that you can enjoy on your device. All of that is great. But what makes the library magical is when people connect: all ages, all genders, all races. They come together to learn and have fun. They put everything aside and enjoy a moment together. From those moments, bonds and connections are made. Some last minutes. Some last a lifetime. Those connections are what helps our communities grow.  Healthy communities lead to happiness.  Happiness is something global. Happiness is something that spreads everywhere. It all starts with one interaction and it grows.

Everything Will Be Alright In The End

I have been going through a lot of changes when it comes to my library life. I have been meditating on everything that involves libraries and my place in them for the past six months. The new Weezer album Everything Will Be Alright In The End (EWBAITE) was released during this time. Here’s my review: it’s awesome, pretty much perfect, and exactly what I have wanted in a Weezer album since Pinkerton was released in 1996. In the words of my son Aero….good stuff!

In the same way that The Blue Album and Pinkerton sang to me as a teenager,  EWBAITE speaks to me as an adult and as a librarian who has recently been thinking a lot about the big picture and going through some changes. My 17 year old self says, “Hey Justin, make one of those lists that lays out what the album means to you at this moment. It’ll help you think through what’s going through your brain.” Before, I would put these thoughts into a notebook and only look at them when I was moving and packing things into boxes. Now I’ve got this blog and it has become a place where I can be myself, talk about the things that are in my life, and work through everything and anything. Here we go.

Ain’t Got Nobody:  I feel alone in the library world. What is it that I am doing here? Are my efforts to bring a unique library experience to my community amounting to anything? It’s difficult to bring forth change. There are a lot of bumps and a lot of complaints along the way. How does one stay on the positive path? Sometimes I feel like I ain’t got nobody to talk to.

Goodbye heroes.You had a good run.Fifteen years of. Ruling the planet. But now your light’s fading. Adios rock band that we loved the most.This is a toast to what you did.And all that you were fighting for.Who could do more when.Time marches on. Words come and go.We will sing the melodies that you did long ago.

Ok, I am beginning to understand something. We all have a shelf life. Musicians and bands have one. They have their big albums and then the albums where everyone complains about how they don’t sound like the old ones. This is a very easy to spot cycle within a profession. The bloggers rise, the tweeters come up next, then then tumblrs, and who knows what else. Words come and go. Adios librarians that we loved the most. This is a toast to what you did. Keep on working but that “first two albums” part of your career is over.

Don’t wanna find myself homogenized.Don’t wanna become the very thing that I despise.Don’t want my ideas polluted by mediocrity.Don’t want my sentiments diluted.This is important to me.

I’ve had it up to here. This library thing is important to me…so important that I don’t want to pollute it with half baked ideas and some kind of mediocrity. This community doesn’t deserve that. They deserve the best. I tried to give my best to you but (sometimes) you plugged up your ears. Where does one go when they have had it up to here? How does one grow?

I like to think that I know quite a lot. But with you it feels like I forgot.I wish that I can explain who you are.But when I try to I never get far.

I used to have some kind of insight into library work that I loved sharing with the world. I thought about it all of the time. I constantly aimed to grow, change, and lead. But anymore I don’t know you. It feels like I forgot. You’ve become someone that I used to be very close to but anymore all I have are these memories. I don’t want to have just the memories.

We grow old, our hearts are dim.But our minds are free, to fly where they will.Your beauty is faded, you’re a broken shell.It’s only the weak that fall for your spell.You can’t control me no more Cleopatra.It’s time to move, to the next life.You’ll be reborn as a beautiful child.

This change has happened with age. I have become a caricature of what I used to be in terms of ideas and change. There is constantly something on my shoulder reminding me that everything has changed and it is never going back. But I won’t let it control me anymore. There has to be a better way to go through the day to day of life. There has got to be a place for me in libraries. I’m not waiting for retirement and just counting the days. I still have something in me. The next life. Change. I’ll be reborn.


You find out where you are at this moment, you find out where you want to go, and you start moving your life on that path. You follow that path and find what you are looking for. You are what you are and you can’t change that. I am Justin William Hoenke, a husband, a father, a friend, a human being, and a librarian.

The path is rocky and difficult, but in the end it all leads to our return to our own personal Ithaka, a place that we call home and can be free to explore, grow, and try out all of the new things that we want to experience in this life.

I don’t know where I am going but I’m sure I will get there. It is scary. It is exciting. There is something cool happening inside of my brain and in my heart.

Life and Libraries and 2014

2014 is coming to an end and every blogger and writer out there is going to be writing a year end recap of what’s going on and what to look forward to in 2015. I love these kinds of posts and I usually think about writing my own at the very last minute. But not this year!  I’m gonna get a jump on this thing!


The first half of 2014 was busy. The team at the 2nd Floor of the Chattanooga Public Library had a lot of big projects happening. We brought in some big attendance and circulation statistics to the library.  I did quite a bit more traveling than I usually do and spoke to a lot of great librarians. I visited Strathmore Alberta Canada, Baltimore Maryland, New York City, Louisville Kentucky, Nashville Tennessee, Greensboro North Carolina, and San Antonio Texas and had an amazing time learning and sharing with librarians. I found myself kind of tired at the end of it all. Yes, it was all very rewarding but the balance between libraries and general life was a bit off.  I learned about limits and how to take care of myself first and foremost before other things.  A healthy and happy Justin leads to a happy and healthier Justin The Librarian. Everything that we do affects everything else that we do.


In around August I decided to make some changes to achieve more of a balance. I visited family and friends twice in Pittsburgh, PA in August and September.  It was nice to go back there with Haley, Finn, and Aero and be with our extended families and take part in a few weddings.  Seeing the day to day things that happen in life makes you want to chill out and appreciate those things more.  That’s exactly the approach I’ve been taking and it has been wonderful.


Haley and I piddle around in our yard a lot.  We take care of our home, our little slice of urban farm/homestead here in Chattanooga.  Finn, Aero, and I play with Legos and we kick around a soccer ball a lot.  We only go out to eat at a Chinese Buffet because it’s awesome and every other restaurant is average and costs way too much.  We eat a lot of vegetables at home.  We play a lot of Nintendo Wii U and have family movie nights.  We have a really cool dog named Sonic The Border Terrier. I really enjoy watering and taking care of my plants, especially our banana plants.


These are the things I look forward to the most these days.  2013 Justin was a bit different….there was something library related in that end of the year toppermost of the poppermost list. This year, there isn’t. That’s not to say that I’m not into libraries anymore….I am, and I still believe that the public library holds the key to unlocking an amazing future for our communities. It’s just that now, well, I have realized that I don’t need to think about them all of the time.  And I’ve also realized that the less that I think about them, the more focused I am on helping them better serve their community.


So that’s 2014, life, and libraries in a blog post. I look forward to everything in 2015: life, family, friends, libraries, travel, music, video games, food, and sleep.  Things are cool. Things are on the level. Life. I’m just gonna live it.

Once Upon a Long Ago

Once Upon a Long Ago by Paul McCartney. Great song


Once upon a long ago I was part of with JP Porcaro. We started the website up to talk about video gaming in libraries. It was awesome for a bit, then we got a chance to write a book, it never happened, we had a mild falling out, and then balance was restored to the force and we’re all just doing our things these days. It was really neat to talk about video games in libraries. You can read some of the old 8BitLibrary here:

Anywho we were going to write a book and it didn’t happen. I remember that we had these great chats about what we wanted the book to be: honest, funny, and informative. We didn’t want to write another book on library services that would just be outdated by the time it was printed. So when we wrote, we dug deep and tried to make the book as enjoyable as possible.

I’ve been thinking about this book recently so I went back and read my contributions. It was nice to read them even in their very unfinished state. I think we were onto something…the melding of professional ideas, honesty, passion about video gaming in libraries, and just a fun, casual atmosphere in a book form. I think it would’ve been a fun read.

I’m going to share one chapter below. It’s totally unfinished but it’s the best example of raw Justin honesty, passion about video games in libraries, and a semi young person trying to do his best to change his little sliver of the world. Enjoy.


I was a huge fan of baseball growing up.  I closely followed my hometown team (the Pittsburgh Pirates) and on my own time kept a detailed log of players statistics and other information.When it came to playing baseball, that was another thing.  Honestly, I was horrible at the game and was the kind of kid that you’d just stick out in left field and hope that no one would have the power to hit a ball out there.  I had more fun sitting on the bench watching the game and helping the coach keep track of the stats.  What I’m trying to get to here is that I had a passion for the game and wanted so desperately to be part of it in any way I could.  Passion has a strong power over people.  It makes you do things  you otherwise didn’t feel like you could do.

I feel like libraries have the same kind of passion I had with baseball when it comes to adding video games to their collection. We all want to do it for our patrons.

However like baseball, life throws you curve balls and sometimes these can get you off track.  I had my curve ball thrown to me in 1989 at Three Rivers Stadium in Pittsburgh, PA.  Somehow, I ended up at Three Rivers Stadium that day as one of about 50 Pittsburgh area kids chosen to learn how to play baseball from the players on the Pittsburgh Pirates.  Dressed in my finest ball playing garb with my Pirates hat and my ever trusty baseball glove, I marched out onto the field ready to suck up anything that these pros would teach me.

Midway through, we were led to center field where Bobby Bonilla, the Pirates third baseman/outfielder, was teaching kids how to correctly catch a pop up.  He gave a brief overview to us and I hung onto every word.  After all, this was Bobby Bonilla!  He played for the Pirates!  I have his baseball card!  We formed a line and Bobby went through tossing pop ups to each kid.  Eventually, it was my turn.  I stood in front of Bobby and nodded just after he asked “Ready?”.  This was my time to shine.

The ball missed my glove, but I caught it…with my nose.

Long story short: Bobby Bonilla broke my nose that day, and I cried my eyes out and bleed all over the outfield of Three Rivers Stadium.  I left shortly after Bobby had apologized and autographed his weapon of choice for me.  I never looked at baseball the same way after that day.  Baseball was damaged goods and there was no looking back.  I moved on with my life and got into other things.  Baseball, the sport that was once central to my upbringing, now was just something I dabbled in.

You’re going to have your broken nose moment with your video game collection.  It’s gonna come in the form of someone in your community questioning why the library is offering such a service.  It’s gonna hurt like a broken nose too.  All the work, research, and  passion you put into the collection will be questioned and doubted by the people using your library.  “Isn’t the library about reading and teaching?”  “What do video games have to do with this?”  Time to wipe off the blood and get back to business.  One of our hopes with this book is to provide you with enough arsenal to provide a rational and educated comeback to these types of comments (keep on reading!).  Right now, we’re here to tell you that situations like this are not the end of the world.

Remember when I talked about how I hung onto every word that Bobby said as he taught us how to catch pop ups?  Looking back on it, I realize that that’s where things went wrong.  I listened too carefully Bobby talk about how to catch a pop up instead of taking in the information, quickly digesting it, and applying it to the real life situation.  This happens a lot in the library world when it comes to conferences.  We spend a lot of time taking in what the presenters are saying in the form of scribbled notes which we set aside until we get time to go through them a few days/weeks later.  At that time, the initial passion has faded and many of the notes are now nothing but random words that mean nothing to you.  You have to listen, but don’t listen too much.  Instead, act on the initial passion that you have.  If you’re listening to one of us speak at a conference or webinar, we urge you to take a few notes and then go back to your library THAT DAY and make something happen.  Put together a list of ten video games that you’re going to buy that week for your collection.  Write a press release announcing that the addition of video games to the library collection.  Get the project started using that initial momentum you feel inside of you.