Category Archives: ME

Three Things That I Learned in Three Years

When you move onto the next chapter of your life, you can’t help but look back to see what you’ve learned and how you can continue to grow.  The past two weeks have been full of that and a flood of other emotions for me.  It’s cool.  I embrace this.  However, keeping this all locked up in my head and in my heart doesn’t do any good so here goes: a soul baring blog post about the things I learned.  Warts and all.

When I came into town three years ago I was a bit naive.  I thought that no matter what the situation was that I could use my positive approach and all of the love in my heart to change things.  While I still believe in the power of positivity and a good heart, I now understand that there’s more to consider.  Some people can’t be changed.  Some mountains can’t be moved.  And that’s ok. 

Out of this came Three Punk Rock Lessons for Surviving 21st-Century Library Hell.  If the system doesn’t respond to the way you approach things, you circumnavigate the system.  You find something that works that is a blend of your style while pleasing the mountains that cannot be moved.  You get things done, you’re happy because you’ve served your community, and no one bugs you.

I would love to say that what I got most out of working in Portland, Maine came from my community and the teens I worked with but this was not the case.  That’s what I got from my previous job at the Cape May County Library.  But that’s not to say that I didn’t get anything from these two powerful groups: what they did was REINFORCE everything I learned at the Cape May County Library.  If it wasn’t in my head and my heart enough in 2010, it is now embedded there forever and has no chance of slipping away.  Folks: if you don’t have your community in the front of your thoughts, your library is not winning.

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I learned a lot from managing a small staff of people in the teen library.  What I did learn the most during my time is that freedom, respect, and support for your staff is the most critical thing to have when you are working with others.  If you have a staff that doesn’t trust or respect you, forget about it.  INSPIRE them.  Say YES.  Let them run wild in the library.  Your library is stronger with everyone’s ideas working together.  It will form an institution that is not only dynamic but full of personality.

One of my favorite moments in Portland was when I noticed that one of my staff members was an amazing artist.  What did I have him do?  I had him draw amazing things while he watched over the teen service desk.  Call it a bit of performance art and a little bit of library decoration: the teens and other patrons got to see the creation of art in progress and the end result still proudly hangs in the library so that patrons can go OMG WOW when they see it.  It’s a beautiful thing.  The best part?  Having my employee not be bored while watching over the teen desk and seeing them look forward to working in my part of the library.

And finally: Your happiness in your job has a lot to do with your happiness in the world.  Remember, your job is not your life but it does have some impact on it.  Are you unhappy?  Frustrated? Tired?  Grumpy?  Have you tried to change things and you keep hitting a brick wall?  Have you REALLY tried to change things and STILL keep hitting that brick wall?

It is time for you to find another job.  

This is difficult to say and even more difficult to comprehend, but PLEASE do yourself a favor and go down that path.  Your heart will smile in the long run.  Don’t get caught up on the what/who/when/where/why/how of it all.  Just do it.

A Few Things I Learned in 2012

Once Thanksgiving hits, I get into a particular mood that lasts until around right after dinner on December 25th (yup, I’ve narrowed it down that much).  This mood finds me slowing down, reflecting, and thinking back to what has  happened to me over the past year.  I look back at what I’ve learned and try to summarize that into a nice little package that I can carry into the new year.  It helps me grow as a person because that’s what I believe one of my major jobs as a human being is…to keep growing and being the best Justin I can be.

(I did this back in 2010 with this post and it seemed to be a good thing….that post was read 1,347 times!  It also inspired others to do the same and I had a great time reading what others had to say.)

Here’s the deal with management.  Everyone has their own style and everyone is entitled to that style.  I say that everyone reading this should follow their own style, develop that style, and respect everyone else’s management style. That way you’re happy with what you do, you’re growing,  and you’re also not wasting energy on disrespecting what others are doing.

The approach which I have developed over the last few years is a combo of the following:

  • Let your employees be themselves: for example,  do you have a talented artist on your staff?  If so, let them draw/doodle while they’re on the service desk.  Why?  That’s what they’re good at and who knows, just maybe one teen patron will see that and strike up a conversation with that employee.  And who knows…that conversation could really change some lives.  Isn’t that what it’s all about?
  • Be flexible:  If someone calls out sick at the last minute, doesn’t show up on time, or forgets to do something, don’t be the manager that holds it over their head for weeks/months/years.  Life happens and it’s best for us to be sympathetic to everyone involved.  It may mean some extra work for you as a manager, but that’s ok.
  • Encourage creativity: One of the coolest parts about working in a library is the many awesome people that you work with.  Ask someone why or how they got into libraries and I’m pretty sure you’ll find an interesting story.  After you hear that story and you learn about the people you’re working with, encourage their creativity and let them be themselves.  Everyone has something rad they can give to your library.  Let them give that to your community.
  • Be fair: You may have a manager title and get paid a bit extra for that, but who cares.  Shelve books, straighten up the shelves, wipe the windows.  Do the things that every other library employee does.  You may have departments, teams, job titles, whatever, but remember this: we’re all in this library thing together.

I also keep coming back to this quote from my 2010 Emerging Leaders class:

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

Sometimes it is very clear when a major change has happened in your life.  It’s an odd feeling: something just feels off, not right, and you feel uneasy about your place in life.  After having a few of these moments over the past two years, I’ve learned that it’s my body telling me that I should stop something and change.

It could be a health thing (like going vegan), a work thing (should I move onto something else?), or something personal.  No matter what it is, recognize that feeling and do what you can to change your life.  Uncertainty is a very scary thing, but being stuck in a situation that makes you feel horrible is even worse.

What’s the goal of the teen library? Library school taught me that it was about bringing teens closer to the resources they need.  That’s still very true and very important for teen librarians to remember, but having done this for five years I’ve discovered something else that trumps that goal and it’s this: be an awesome person in a teen’s life.

Think back to when you were a teen: you probably thought that most adults were lame, out to get you, control your lives, or just something not that great.

That shouldn’t be the case with teen librarians.  We should be an awesome adult for them.  Be proud of who you are, be proud of what you do, and share your life.  I’m a 32.5 year old white dude who has an awesome wife, two super cool sons, loves the Beach Boys, and really digs Nintendo video games.  A few of my teens may think that’s lame, but that’s who I am and I’m damn proud of that person.  Encourage your teens to be happy with themselves and lead by example.  They may not see you as the coolest cat around but they’ll respect you and think that you’re pretty awesome.

This year I made a pretty significant step towards moving into the next chapter of my life.  I’m not there yet but things have been put in place to (hopefully) allow me to move ahead.  It was scary as hell.  I found myself in situations that I was not accustomed to.  I found myself thinking about a future that may or may not be in line with the professional life I’ve led so far.

Out of it all I feel like I’ve gained some new kind of confidence.  I’ve realized that if my heart and mind are in the right place, I can do anything that I want to do and that in time everything will be OK.

I have a few of these people in my life.  As much as I try to minimize the amount of time that I interact with these people, I always end up leaving my interaction with them with some morsel of knowledge that helps me grow up.  I guess that whole “keep your enemies close” and “challenge yourself by being in uncomfortable situations” thing is true.

I think that I summed this up in every other area of this post but it deserves to be said again: we’re all very different and we all have our own way of doing things but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be nice to each other.  Be kind.  It’s amazing what life can be like when you cut a good deal of negativity out of it.

Thanks to everyone for reading.  I hope your holiday season is awesome and filled with love and excitement.  And here’s to 2013!  It’s gonna be a super rad year.