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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
Like a computer our brains need to be restarted every once in awhile. Events and shifts over the last few years of my life have made me realize this. I no longer work to only serve kids, tweens, and teens. I no longer live in an urban area. I no longer live in a world which I fully understand. My life these days is very different than what it used to be, and with that I feel the need to reset myself. This post is an attempt to put this reset into practice using words to coalesce my thoughts into one coherent belief that moves me forward in my work as a librarian.
I believe that a strong part of the future of public libraries will be in focusing our efforts and services on a hyperlocal level. This differentiates from where I believe public libraries are focusing their efforts now, which is looking outwards towards everyone else in the profession to see what they are doing before acting themselves. No more is this apparent to me than the recent effort for public libraries to shift a lot of focus towards STEM/STEAM/Makerspace/Coding efforts. Please do not get me wrong: I believe in teaching and exposing citizens to things such as these, yet at the same time I do not believe in a one size fits all solution that can be applied to every public library. This is the case here, as it was with eBooks and any other “trends” in recent history.
The idea that we should be focusing our efforts and services on a hyperlocal level instead of looking outwards towards everyone else in the profession is doing became clear to me when I was completing a survey sent to me by our State Library. In that survey, participants were asked about STEM/STEAM/Makerspace in public libraries and nothing else. I understand that the point of the survey was to better understand the libraries in my state, but while reading it I thought of the following scenarios as I imagined another librarian in my state reading the email:
The State Library is focused on STEM/STEAM/Makerspace in public libraries and we’re not doing this at all so we must be very behind.
The State Library created a survey about this, so it must be very important and I must get behind this trend even though I do not know if it is right for my community.
I need to learn more about all things related to STEM/STEAM/Makerspace in public libraries and if I do not I risk losing patrons and support.
I understand that not everyone will follow one of the paths that I laid out above, but many will. Human beings are creatures of habit and enjoy following the leader. There is probably something embedded into our DNA that makes us this way.
The problem with following the hype and trend of the moment is that it is usually fixated on something that worked well for one particular library and that it does not translate well to other libraries. When I lived in Portland, ME I felt like my library was focused on what happened everywhere else and the idea that “if they’re doing, we should be heading that way too.” In reality, Portland was its own very unique community that needed a specific set of programs and services. A huge part of why I moved to the Chattanooga Public Library in 2013 was because they were looking (and still do) at their programs and services on a hyperlocal level. Programs like DEV DEV, The 4th Floor, Makeanooga, and many more worked and continue to work because they are programs for that community, not programs that were copied/pasted from what someone else in public libraries was doing.
Why are we at where we are now? I believe that social media, large organizations, and large publications have led the charge towards public libraries focusing outwards towards everyone else in the profession instead of inspiring those in the profession to think for themselves and focus inward on their communities. A culture of “here’s how to be successful with your public library in 5 easy steps” combined with ego boosting catchphrases like “rock star librarian” have not helped us but instead presented public libraries with the path of least resistance.
How do we change the conversation?
We need more public librarians out there willing to share their stories about how their focus on a hyperlocal level is benefiting their public library and their community. To start, I recommend following the work of librarians and libraries in New Zealand and Australia. You can do that by starting here with this Twitter list that I have compiled. The work done by the people and organizations is focused, inspiring, and uplifting.
Share through any platform that you feel comfortable with. I personally would like to see an increase in public librarians writing more and maintaining their own blogs or Medium profiles
Remind each other that our communities come before everything and to keep the message positive. Support and reminders from other public librarians is one way that we can spread the message that we need to focus our work locally.
Ditch the hype. Don’t copy and paste. Focus on your Community. This is what I believe to be the path forward.
Everyone needs a pick me up and some inspiration from time to time, and Frances Tout report titled Travelling Librarian 2015: Community Engagement Projects in United States Public Libraries (for a pdf of the report click here) was that inspiration for me today. I was originally pointed to it by a colleague who said “hey, part of your work at the 2nd Floor at the Chattanooga Public Library is mentioned in this piece.” It was super nice to read about the positive experience Frances had during her visit to the 2nd Floor. I was and remain very proud of that place. It was a great chapter in my life! Much love to Lee Hope, Vicki Prater, Kaye Rose, Olga Russell, Janice Keene, LaDonna Spruill, Ali Banks, Jessie Meyer, Alondra Gomez, Victoria Caldwell, Megan Emery, and many, many others that helped build the 2nd Floor and make it what it is today. It is really neat to see all of that work live on.
The big takeaways I got from this excellent report were as follows:
The emphasis (in US Libraries) is now very much on programming rather than stock.
Every library’s community is different, engaging with communities and meeting the needs of individual communities is vital, there is no one size fits all when it comes to programming
It’s great to read these things when you’re in the middle of them. It reaffirms the work that we do and why we do it.
As you read this, my family and I are heading North through Tennessee, Virginia, and West Virginia on our way to the next stop in our journey…Pennsylvania. A moment in time like this…a moment of great change and growth…lends itself well to looking back on growth and transformation.
I’ve loved every moment of my time in Chattanooga. I have watched my family and I grow in so many different ways. We’ve become more of a solid Hoenke Family Unit than ever. We know what we want to do in life, how to do it, and how to stick together through it all. We’ve watched our boys grow from little dudes into even bigger dudes with great imaginations and ideas. They have friends that they’ve met here in Chattanooga that have greatly influenced their lives. These are the kinds of friends they will have through their whole lives. The South has been super kind and amazing to our family. When people ask me what makes Chattanooga great, I tell them this: It is a town full of good people who want to do the best for the community.
In April 2013 I had no idea what it took to be a manager and a leader. Over the past two years, I have dove headfirst into these topics with the help, guidance, and mentorship of all of the folks I’ve worked with at the library. I’ve learned to take my ideas, harness them, craft them, and collaborate to make them work. I’ve learned how to delegate, a VERY important thing that all librarians should learn. I thank the Chattanooga Public Library and everyone that I’ve worked with over the past two years for the great experiences we’ve been through and lessons that they have taught me. As a librarian, I think I’m at my best these days because of these great opportunities in Chattanooga.
All in all, Chattanooga and my experience in the Chattanooga Public Library have once again reinvigorated my belief in that the public library is the epicenter of the community. It is the place where amazing people come together and share an amazing experience. The photo you see above was taken on The 4th Floor of the Chattanooga Public Library on my third day working at the library. The entire space was turned into a disco, a librarian party and get together for the Tennessee Library Association Conference. It was quite a beautiful experience where great people came together over something they are passionate about….libraries. I connected with some of amazing co-workers (like Mary Barnett who you see above) for one of the first times. These connections were key to the work that we all did in Chattanooga. We came together, go to know and understand each other, and we gave the community the things they needed.
I’ve learned a lot in my time here in Chattanooga and I will always remember these times. It has been great and now it is time to move onto the next journey. Here we go.
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!
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.
“The leader’s job is not to provide energy but to release it from others.”
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.