Benson Memorial Library, Chattanooga Public Library, Chattanooga, TN, Libraries, Music, Portland, ME, The Beach Boys and Libraries, Titusville, PA

The Library Career Arc of Justin Hoenke As Told Through GIFS of Brian Wilson and The Beach Boys and Their Overall Career Arc

It lines up! You’ve gotta trust me!

1964 GIF - Find & Share on GIPHY

2008-2012/2013: Cape May (NJ) County Library and Portland (ME) Public Library. Little stuff. Teen Librarian. Neat little programs. The surfing songs version of librarianship. Very basic ideas that were creative and at the same time hinted at the fact that I had some bigger ideas up my sleeve. People seem to dig it.

The Beach Boys GIF - Find & Share on GIPHY

2013-2015: Chattanooga (TN) Public Library. Let’s do some neat stuff. Month long code camps (DEV DEV), sewing machines, 3D printers, maker and learning tables, one gigabit per second super fast internet, entire floors dedicated to creativity, thinking outside the box, and trying to reinvent the library. The PET SOUNDS and SMiLE of my library career. Like Brian Wilson, I was surrounded by some of the most creative and talented people I have ever met. The best of times. The most creative library experience ever.

The View Abc GIF - Find & Share on GIPHY

2015-Present: Benson Memorial Library (Titusville, PA). Little stuff. Very focused to this tiny community. The equivalent of the bedroom tapes, SMILEY SMILE, FRIENDS, and other tiny little Beach Boys and Brian Wilson gems between 1967-1971. The songs don’t change the world, but if you hear them you like them and they bring you happiness. Good work. Out of the spotlight.

Beach Boys GIF - Find & Share on GIPHY

A POSSIBLE FUTURE: A retreat. This stuff is wearing me down. I can’t please everyone and I do my best to make the experience a positive one for everyone, but the loud voices just keep getting louder. Do I want to use my time here on earth and my limited energy on battles? Do I have to change the world? I don’t. All that I have to do is take care of myself and my family and be myself. I can retreat. I don’t have to do this forever.

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Benson Memorial Library, Community Building, ebooks, Libraries, Library Director, Technology

When The Circulation Has Gone: Helping Your Community Understand the Worth of the Public Library in the Modern Age

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What’s this that you see above? I call this the Benson Memorial Library circulation scorecard. What this circulation scorecard is doing is keeping track of our overall circulation from January 2010-Present. I could go back even further (we have the records) but I kept it at 2010 for the time being. I use it as guide to see what we’ve done, what we’re doing now, and how it relates to each other. Is our circulation up? Is our circulation down? If either one of these situations is the case, why is that? This scorecard is a nice and handy way to check up on all things related to circulation.

I don’t think that any library’s circulation number should be the number by which the library is judged, ranked, understood, etc. Every library’s circulation number by day, month, or year will first depend on the library that community serves. Is your community one that loves to visit the public library? If so, you can expect your circulation to represent that. In our service area of 14,904 (based on 2016 State Library stats), having 5,269 circulations in the month of September was a good month for us. A total circulation number of 5,269 for one month may look horrible to another library that serves a larger area or it may look shockingly amazing for a smaller area. That number looks just about right for us. This number will look different for everyone. It is up to you at your own level to interpret and understand that number.

As I said above, I don’t think that any library’s circulation number should be the number by which the library is judged or understood, but here’s the kicker. This circulation number is a big deal to a lot of people. To those people, a public library is a place which loans out materials to people in the community. When a person has this belief, the best way they can understand how their public library is doing is to see this number. With that said, yes, the circulation number is an important number for the public library.

But as the world changes and the way we read, watch, and look for information or media moves towards the internet or something digital, our circulation numbers are set to look like they’re decreasing. They are. Let’s face it: people don’t come in and borrow books on how to do things/fix things/research things anymore. They Google it or they go right to YouTube where they can get a step by step video. I’m a librarian, and this is exactly what I do. Why do I do this? Because this is the quickest, easiest, and probably the most efficient way of doing things these days.

So, as the title of this post asks: what do we do when the circulation has gone? If our circulation numbers decrease, we need a different way of sharing the value of the public library with the community. With that said, here are some ideas that I’m having these days.

CIRCULATE OTHER STUFF

This seems to be the big thing of the moment: fishing poles, museum passes, and gadgets galore, libraries are branching out and lending out things that you may not have seen in libraries before. One library in my region, the Oil City (PA) Library is doing just that. They call it the Cool Stuff Collection. Adding these unique items to your collection may draw more people into the library and help boost your circulation.

THE PUBLIC LIBRARY AS AN EVENT SPACE

This is a great one. Public libraries all around the world have amazing spaces, and one of the best ways we can show off that space and bring people into the library is by offering great programs. There are so many libraries out there doing this and I could provide hundreds of examples. Here’s one of them: the Darien Library in Connecticut. Their schedule is always packed full of great programs any day of the week. When a library focuses on public events, the attendance at these programs as well as the number of events held at the space becomes a great statistic to share with your community.

THE DIGITAL STUFF

The digital stuff, most of which is probably offered through your website, is another way to show the value of the library. While they’re no longer all the rage, eBooks are still around and are used by a segment of the population. Showing off the circulation of eBooks can boost your circulation number but it can also be used to show your community the changing nature of how we read.

My favorite “digital stuff” statistic these days is the number of connections we have to our wifi network and the number of logins we’ve had on our public computers. What have I noticed? That our wifi connections are going up while our public computer logins are stagnant or going slightly down. Yes, there is still a very strong need to offer public computer access, but as the cost of devices (laptops/tablets/and the big one, phones) comes down and more people are able to access them, I think we’ll see the public library become more and more of a spot in the community that offers free (and hopefully reliable and safe) wifi for everyone.

The title of this post was inspired by this most excellent jam

Benson Memorial Library, Libraries, Social Media

Here’s How To Talk To Your Community On Social Media (Which By The Way, You Should Be Doing)

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First and foremost, if you’re not using social media to connect with your community then you should stop everything right now, set up social media accounts, and spend some time every day connecting with your community. I’m not the first or the last person to say this, and if you need any further inspiration, I recommend checking out David Lee King and all of the great things he has to say about all things social media + libraries.

If you are (and you probably are), I’m sharing the above screenshots as an example of what I think is a very good way to talk to your community using social media. To break down the details of how we do it here at the Benson Memorial Library, read below:

  • We tried Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram as our main social media feeds. Facebook by and far worked the best with the community. Instagram gets some likes and enough to update it every once in awhile. Twitter does nothing for our library.
  • We have three (of eight total) staff members who check our Facebook page. One person is in charge of scheduling most of the posts. The other two fill in posts from time to time. All of us will answer questions directed to the library or comment when the library is tagged.
  • One of my daily duties is to quickly browse the local Facebook groups: the ones that talk about local issues, the ones that advertise events, and the buy/sell/trade groups. If I spot something that can be helped by the library, I will respond with a comment, tag the library, and inform one of our staff members to respond to the inquiry. This is how we got the screenshots that you see above.
  • One of our staff members will use their account or the library Facebook account to respond to any comments. We do so in a way that introduces us, who we are, and what we can do. We always leave contact information in our comments so the community member can follow up outside of Facebook if they choose to do so.

What it all boils down to is something very simple: get your library out there where your community gathers (and yes, Social Media is a place where people gather!) and talk to your community. When you do, great things and connections will happen and your library and community will grow stronger because of it!

Benson Memorial Library, Libraries, Library Director, Management

Three Things that Small/Rural Libraries Should Be Doing: 2017 Edition

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Over the past two years, I have learned many things about libraries but one thing has stood out to me above all of the rest: focus on your community and ditch the hype out there in the rest of the world. I’m just not into an ideas that there’s a one size fits all approach to libraries. Heck, there’s even part of me that thinks that public/academic/special libraries should be called something different since we’re all doing such vastly different things but all use the word “library”.

With those things in mind, I tread carefully with a post like this where I’m going lay out a few things that small(ish) and (slightly) rural libraries should be doing. My thoughts and ideas are not the magic bullet that will be the best fit for your library. These are the things that have worked for me in my position, and my hope is that through sharing them they may work for you as well or inspire you to think a different way and/or try something else for your library and your community.

Before we jump in, here are the stats for my library so you can get a vibe of the community we serve and the work that we do:

  • Service Population: 14,904
  • Visits in 2016: 60,143
  • Circulation in 2016: 66,529
  • Total Registered Users in 2016: 5,575

LISTEN

The most important thing a person can do in a small/rural public library is to listen to their community. When you listen to your community in any setting you will succeed but you will especially succeed in a small/rural public library. Why is that? It has everything to do with the tight knit community that usually surrounds a small town. You know the phrases “everyone knows everyone around these parts” and “everyone is related to everyone else in this town”? There’s a reason why people say these things…it is because they are VERY TRUE. In small towns, everyone talks to each other. Everyone listens to everything that everyone says and watches everything that everyone does. It is just the way of life in these types of towns and nothing is going to change it.

That’s why it is so important for you to listen as a small/rural public library director. Keeping your ear to the ground allows you to better understand the community you serve. By listening, you will be able to develop better programs and collections for the people that surround you. When you do this, there is nothing for your library to do but SUCCEED.

WEED YOUR COLLECTION & DO NOT HOARD 

Small/Rural libraries are often the most guilty of being intense library hoarders. There’s a deadly combination in every small/rural library where budgets are strapped mixed with every librarian’s “we may be able to use that someday” attitude. The end result of this is usually shelves overflowing with materials, out of date materials staying much longer than needed, and a basement/attic/weird room to the side full of things that, let’s face it, you are never going to use because you are never going to find them again.

Taking care of your library means getting rid of things. Yes, I understand how hard it may be to get rid of that book that you enjoyed reading 10 years ago that you remember buying. I’ve been through this myself. But having a messy collection and a messy storage space does nothing but drive patrons away by making it hard to find what they really want and it frustrates staff.

When you downsize everything, you’re also able to fill your library with the stuff that you actually need. One of the most brilliant things that I think the Chattanooga Public Library did during my time there (and it continues to this day!) is to have a collection policy that emphasized patron requests. When you get the stuff that people want, your circulation and visits will increase. When you have less clutter to wade through on a daily basis, your staff will be free from some stress. I truly believe that these things lead to a better public library which in turn lead to a better community.

TAKE CARE OF YOUR BUILDING

Your building is your lifeline to the community. It is where you will do most if not all of your library related business. I’m not saying that small/rural libraries don’t do outreach…they do…but for some libraries there just isn’t the staffing to get outside of the building.

Taking care of your space does two things: it makes people feel welcome when they come to the library and it also instills this feeling that the library is a special place. A well kept library will be remembered by anyone that visits it. A few months ago I had the chance to visit the Stone Memorial Library in Conneautville, PA. This library had a great location: a wonderful Main Street location, big windows, and a recently renovated space that used to be a store front. The library was small and very welcoming. It felt like the staff and the community loved the space. The other thing that it does is that it gives back to your community. Small towns are not doing so well as more people flock to urban/suburban areas. To keep these towns alive, we need to take care of them. We need to invest in the things that make these areas special. A library is a good place to start. Libraries can give back to the town by cleaning up and using a building instead of leaving that space unoccupied. When this happens, you drive through a small town and instead of seeing abandoned storefronts you see life. You see a community that cares about its surroundings. The public library does so much more than just loan out books: it can breathe life into an entire community.

Benson Memorial Library, Chattanooga Public Library, Libraries, Library Director, Life, Management, Titusville, PA

“You are loved and respected. Your work is well done. Your choices are good.”

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The title of this post comes from something my friend Peggy said to me recently. I needed to hear this. Sometimes we need to hear that we’re doing something good and positive in the world. Sometimes we need to remind ourselves of the work that we’re doing and the work that we’ve done in the past.

With that in mind, I’ve been updating my work resume recently. In late 2016 I deconstructed my resume. What I started to see on it was way too much bragging and buzzwords that equated to nothing. I looked at resumes of others, mostly people I have worked with, and in their resumes too I saw the same amounts of bragging and buzzwords. The need to embellish a resume seemed to have taken over the world and I did not want to have any part in it. So, I “trimmed the fat” as they say. I cut out the stuff that I did not think needed to be shared. Sure, I was given an award of some sorts by a prominent library publication 4 years ago, but did that matter? I told myself that it didn’t and I cut it out. What mattered was now and the work that I could do in my day to day life. One of the most inspiring people in the world (and a person on my “if I had friends this is someone I’d like to be friends with” list) Josh Homme said this recently:

“Now is all you’ll ever get, and there’s no reason for you to wait. If you wait to do something, you’re probably making a mistake.” -Josh Homme

from https://www.rollingstone.com/music/features/josh-homme-on-queens-of-the-stone-ages-new-villains-lp-w490156

This idea that now is all we ever have rang deep inside of me and it informed my decisions and my actions over the past year.

In recent weeks, I’ve been going back to this idea and I’ve recognized that I need to balance it out. Balance is the key to any healthy life and if you’ve read my posts over the past few months you can probably tell that I’ve been way off balance. With that in mind and with the words of encouragement from some friends, I’ve decided to get that balance now. I started updating my resume once again, adding back in some of the things that I’ve done in the past while trying to remain mindful of how I present myself. I still want to steer clear of the bragging and buzzwords. I think I’m getting there. In the meantime, you can find my updated resume here. In order to keep doing great work in libraries, I have to be proud of the work that I’ve done in the past. I have to remember that I have had a positive impact on the the people that I have met in libraries. I have to keep moving ahead in a positive way.

Benson Memorial Library, Libraries

The Summer of Bathroom Issues

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A random gas station bathroom image I found on the Google

Nobody really wants to talk about poop, pee, blood, and other things you don’t want to find in a library bathroom but guess what? That’s what we are gonna talk about. Why are we gonna talk about it? Because even though we’ve had an amazing summer at our library (visitors and circulation are up!), I will forever remember the summer of 2017 as THE SUMMER OF BATHROOM ISSUES.

Compared to large urban libraries, I know that our issues in the bathroom are quite small. In my time in New Jersey, we had to deal with a patron who loved to chug vodka and leave the evidence hidden in the ceiling tiles. I can’t tell you how many times we dealt with used needles when I was in Maine. And in Tennessee, I remember alcohol and prescription medication bottles being the things we found the most. Here in Titusville PA we mostly deal with poop, pee, & blood, either on the floor, the toilet seat, or the walls. But here’s the thing: it shouldn’t matter what you’re dealing with in the restroom. All of this is unacceptable. And for some reason, its been happening more frequently here at my library. What’s going on in the world? Where is this acceptable? Is there something that we’re doing wrong? I ask myself these questions a lot. I think about poop, pee, and blood more than a normal person should.

I’ve had to remind myself a lot this summer to remain positive. Maybe they just missed the toilet? Maybe they’re embarrassed about what was very clearly an accident to them? I don’t know what causes these things to happen, but I do know that in order to continue working in libraries I’ve gotta stay positive. As the director at my library, I’ve gotta also remember to keep my staff positive. Of course we’re allowed to have a moment or two where we want to give it all up after we find a wad of toilet paper that has very clearly been peed on and then stuffed behind the toilet (for three weeks or so). In the long run though, we’ve gotta do our jobs, remain positive, and always remember that we’re doing work that is good work. Nobody wants to deal with this kind of stuff, but sometimes we have to so we do it, we have our little grumble, we remind ourselves why we’re in the library biz, and we move on.

To end, I’d like to share something very positive that came out of this. Yesterday a patron found something in the restroom that needed to be cleaned up. He asked me for some paper towels and I obliged, but I asked him if I could help. Here’s what he said to me:

“There’s a mess in the restroom. You don’t wanna see it and I don’t mind cleaning it up. I work as a janitor so I am used to this. And y’all have been so nice to me that I don’t mind helping you out.”

Despite all of the poop and pee that we’ve come across this summer, this interaction sums it all up: stay positive and be kind to everyone. Do your job and do it well.

Interested in more talk about messy bathrooms and all things icky about libraries? I suggest Matt Finch’s Code Brown: Design Thinking & Beyond feat. @jeromical / Part 1

Benson Memorial Library, Libraries, Life

Small Town Library Outreach

If you follow my Twitter feed, you’ll have noticed that we hired a Historian at the Benson Memorial Library last month. I’ve talked about the reason behind this before, but I’ll sum it up here again: our town and community have an extremely rich history due to the discovery of oil here in the 1860’s. With that came a lot of national attention and money, some of which still remains to this day. When a community has a rich history like Titusville does, it makes perfect sense for the public library to be the place where community members can learn and become engaged and informed about the past. When we’re all aware of what has come before us, we can make solid decisions about the future that contribute to a stronger today. 

Cut to a scene at a local gas station about one week ago: someone there walks up to me and says “hey, you’re that library guy right?” to which I reply with a very positive “Yes!”. The best library outreach happens in situations like this, so when I was first approached with this question I knew this was gonna be good. Our conversation went like this:

“I saw in the newspaper that you hired a historian. That’s a really great idea because we have so much history around here. In fact, I have something I’d like for you at the library to dig up.”

After that, I listened to the story and it was quite an interesting one regarding a now ghost town just a few miles up the road from us called Pithole. I got the contact information and basic details I needed, went back to the library, and handed it off to Jess, our Historian.

Over the next week, Jess got into the nitty gritty of the patron’s requests and found out some information that they were looking for. Jess sent all of this information to the patron via email. Here’s what that email looked like:

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Pretty good, eh? That’s some nice and thorough work there. But that’s not where it ends. Jess got this kind email back from the patron:

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And now every time I stop at this gas station to fill up my car with gas or get some of their delicious chocolate milk I see this person and we have a nice kind chat. Libraries are all about bringing people together, and this is just an example of how we do it here in Titusville.