Abigail Foster's Photosynthesis Machine, Benson Memorial Library, Family, Libraries, Library Director, Life, Management, Titusville, PA

Where Are We Now?

About a year ago I hung up a bizarre painting in my office at work. To me it was perfect and just familiar enough that I thought it warranted a place in my life. As a person who always thought it would be neat to have an office and fill it with interesting things, the painting, when mixed with the Lego creations and drawings that Finn and Aero have created for me over the years, helped me establish this place my home away from home. When I feel comfortable at work, I usually am able to some really good and meaningful work. On the other hand I could also see how the average “I shop for my groceries at Walmart every Saturday at 1pm and have to watch the game and/or my sitcom at the same time every week” American person would be appalled by it.

One day I came into work to find that my painting was taken down. My coworkers took it down because, yes they were terrified and appalled by it. I guess right now would also be a good time to explain that due to limited space we’re all basically working on top of each other and that we’re surrounded by glass. It’s like a packed fishbowl in here. But to fully admit my feelings, I was pretty let down by their actions. It felt passive aggressive and overall it felt unkind. But in the moment I didn’t react. I just went on and say “oh, well that happened.”

You see as a Gemini I feel a duality to everything. There’s this part of me that always sees things from my point of view and then I almost immediately put that aside and see it from how others may have seen it. In this case: Justin likes the painting and hangs up the painting, Justin feels disappointed when someone takes that painting down, but then Justin instantly forgets about that and says “well I bet they didn’t like the painting so I understand that and what I thought about the painting shouldn’t matter because that’s selfish to only think about myself.” Over time, I’ve taken that approach to even more of an extreme: I guess in a way that by my coworkers actions I was able to put the painting to a much better use. It became the cover for my album Prozac Is The Dam And I Am The Dynamite, and I think it fit really well for that album. Having the painting taken down by my coworkers made me take it home, where I stared at it more and through those hours of staring it gave the painting more meaning and purpose. It became a visual representation of my life at the time, and when it merged together with the music I was creating it became a complete package.

You take all of these things together, stretch everything out by a few months, sometimes years, and what happens? You start to think about the first part (yourself) less and less until it almost becomes silly to even think about it in the first place. I think that’s where I am at now…after awhile of doing this here I am, a person that may be very capable about thinking of others but at the same time a person who doesn’t think of himself as much as he should. I’m overwhelmed right now and a bell goes off in my brain to remind me that this may be part of the reason as to why I feel this way. When you neglect yourself in some way, it all adds up. I stare at a lot of spreadsheets these days, and I like to think that my soul has a spreadsheet where it has been keeping note of the times I’ve put myself aside for others. It’s finally getting to that point where the spreadsheet is just too long and unruly and it becomes a hassle to scroll down the page because there’s so much data.

I’m on the cusp of something here. It feels exciting and at the same time it fills my soul with great fear, but I know that as with everything in this life it will come, it will go, and the next thing will happen. I feel lucky to be able to share this journey here and to have others be able to maybe understand and maybe feel like they may be in the same holding pattern at the moment.

Music: David Bowie “Where Are We Now?” As long as there’s sun..As long as there’s rain..As long as there’s fire..As long as there’s me..As long as there’s you

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Idea Share, Libraries, Library Director, Life, Management

Management Style (Version 2.0)

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Me in my natural library habitat these days. The standing desk is working out well. I feel better about life and my health because of it. I want to have plants all around me and in time this will happen. I want my work home to be like my own little personal room, surrounded by the things that inspire me. They help me to be a better leader.

The last time I did this post was in 2014, and my oh my things have changed. I’ve learned so much, I’ve been through so much, and it feels like the time to write more about management style. Here goes!

I opened up my post in 2014 with the following words:

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.

In many ways, my mantra has not changed. I didn’t fully understand what I meant by these words back in 2014, but in time I’ve grown to understand what I was saying. What I’m saying here is that I think librarians should be approaching their work with the least bit of stress and anxiety that they can bring to the table. Stress and anxiety, or so I have learned over the last few years of my life, are very detrimental to the overall health of a human being. There are many articles out there that talk about this, but this one is very helpful and direct. When we’re stressed and anxious, we’re almost a completely different person. Over longer periods of time where we are stressed or anxious we can begin to see changes happening. I noticed it within myself: I was weaker, my body ached, and headaches happened way too often. There were some other things that contributed to all of this, but there was also stress and anxiety. While I haven’t cut those things out completely, I’ve worked hard to be mindful of my stress and anxiety levels and to back down when I need to breathe.

I think this is what I was trying to get at in 2014. The best library managers and leaders are not the ones that push you to work constantly or to always be thinking of the latest and greatest things. The best ones are the people that remind you to breathe and to take care of yourself. Need to use a sick day as a mental health day? Sure, you deserve this. Feeling overwhelmed by the project you’re in the middle of? OK, set it aside for some time and eventually get back to it. These are behaviors that good managers and leaders will model themselves and then through their actions other staff will pick up on it.

And now will all of that said, let’s dive into the same format we followed back in 2014:

What does a manager/leader do?
As you can see, I’ve expanded this question to include “leader”. I like to use manager/leader in a very similar way. They manage a workflow, they inspire coworkers to try new things, and they’re the guide for keeping the library moving ahead. So what do they do? Everything I just said above. A manager/leader should have a vision as to where things are going and also at the same time be rooted in the present. A manager/leader will understand that the team they have is what they’re working with in the present but will plan ahead for changes in the future. A manager/leader will step up when they need to step up, be the front and center of the organization, and back up their staff at all times.

How does this change what I already do at the library? AND Do I need an office? What does one do in their office?
Your entire library life changes. I can’t believe that five years ago I was thinking all the time about how I could pull together a program and these days are now spent thinking about how I can pull together a policy. The day to day librarian who runs programs and talks to patrons is very different than the librarian who manages and leads. At my current job, I’ve tried to try to approach this with a balance. My office is right near the front door and it has windows all around it. Sometimes I feel like I am in a fishbowl but there are ways that I attempt to get around that (Curtains! Turn off the lights!).

I have no perfect answer with this one. Some days I feel so in tune with the administrative non public side of things, and other days I’m locked in and just wanna talk to people and check out books all day.  So what does that tell me? Do what I wanna do and go with the flow. I think this way of thinking is also something you should pass along to your staff if you’re managing and leading them. Of course, the day to day stuff has to be dealt with, but with everything there’s always a bit of wiggle room.

How does one lead?
Warts and all, I think you just do it. There is the good and that bad. Sometimes you screw up. I remember one time at my current job where I had to talk to an employee about something that ended up being a joke. I came down hard on this person when I really didn’t need to. I messed up and in the end I admitted that I did that. That moment taught me to give some thought to everything before reacting. In the times where I’ve had to have chats with people on my staff, I’ve learned to process everything in advance and give myself time to understand what needs to happen. I think as a result I’ve become more direct: this needs to happen, this is why it needs to happen, and so on and so forth. And the best thing is that there’s always room to grow. If you don’t like who you are and where you are headed, change it up. Growth happens through learning and all of this happens with patience.

So I’m gonna end this post with a cold hard truth: I don’t think you really ever fully know what you’re doing when it comes to anything let alone management and leadership. You’ve just gotta take it all in, process it, learn, and grow from it. I’ve found this approach to be the least stress and anxiety. With those two things minimized (or sometimes completely out of) my life, I feel like I’m the best Justin I can be. I am able to approach things with the best pair of glasses on.

Benson Memorial Library, Libraries, Library Director, Local History & Genealogy, Titusville, PA

Building a Digital Local History Collection Together

Here’s a new thing that we’re working on at the Benson Memorial Library that will be unveiled in early 2018. I can’t take credit for the idea…that idea grew out of the Chattanooga Public Library…but hey good ideas are good ideas and if they work for your community you might as well use them. The laptop was funded by a grant through a local university and the scanner was funded by a local foundation. On top of that, we bought a 4TB MyBook Duo external hard drive to store files.

The idea is simple: if you have tools, then make them available to the public. Teach them about the tools and how to use them. If the tools create a product, ask the community if your library can build a collection out of that product. That’s what we’re going to attempt to do with this Scanning Station…to build a collection of digital artifacts that pertain to Titusville History by doing the following:

  • Offering tools to scan photos and documents at a high quality to the community for free.
  • Teaching the community how to scan items and use this technology.
  • After using the Scanning Station, asking the patrons if they would like to contribute what they just scanned to a digital collection of items, photos, and more that focuses on Titusville history.

Our Scanning Statement/Policy can be found here. This is still a work in progress and will go before our board for approval in January 2018. Every patron that uses the Scanning Station will be required to complete this form. It will then be the responsibility of the Historian to keep track of this form and the files which were scanned.

In the end, we hope to empower people to learn more about scanning, how to preserve their history, and in turn contribute to a collection which will collect our community history. I hope this collection will benefit many people in our community for years to come.

Idea Share, Libraries, Library Director

An Easy Way For Libraries To Better Understand How Their Library Is Being Used

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Our janitor was out sick today and over the past few days we’ve had almost a foot of snow in our area. With snow comes wet boots and shoes and salt being tracked in through the doors. All of this mixed together results in our library being a little messier than usual these days. It’s all good…everyone deserves sick days to rest and heal and even though the snow can get yucky it is a pretty beautiful sight to see at least a foot of snow all around this time of year.

All of this led to me coming in to work a bit early today so that I could vacuum the library and tidy things up a little bit so everything didn’t add up. As I vacuumed mind mind began to wander. I thought about what Corinne Hill once told me back in the Chattanooga days…”make the maintenance team happy and everything will go smoothly”. I thought about how employees who work in maintenance and janitorial services really do make the library continue to operate and thrive and how we don’t usually think about the great work they do. I also veered off into the world of what janitors may see in libraries. I started to think about the details and what kind of information and ideas can be gleamed from those details. And then this idea hit me as my vacuum hummed and the salt it was picking up made small plinking noises as it made its way up the nozzle and into the dirt chamber…could we better understand how our community is using the library by the snow and salt their shoes are bringing into the library in winter? Why yes, Justin, I think we can!

Here’s what I noticed at the Benson Memorial Library:

  • The most affected areas by the snow and salt were the front entrance. This is of course something that can easily be understood.
  • From the front door, most of the snow and salt seemed to make a straight line past the circulation desk, past our DVD collection, and into our Children’s area.
  • To the left of the front door there was a bit more snow and salt than any other area. This is due to our newspapers and reading tables being in that area. These are heavily used by folks reading the newspaper or using their laptop in the library.
  • In our Reading Room, the most heavily used area was in front of our new books and NYT Bestsellers display. The couches and chairs in that room had some snow and salt, but not as much as in our newspapers area.
  • The back of our building, which is home to our nonfiction and fiction stacks, did not have much, if any, salt and snow. What can I learn from this? Maybe people are not browsing as much?
  • To the left of our circulation desk is the walkway to our restrooms. Of course, there was a lot of snow and salt in this area but we also do have a side exit so it could have been as a result of people using that as their exit.

What I’m trying to say with all of this is that there are many different ways for us to learn about our libraries. This is just one way, and in my opinion, one of the better ways to learn. I think there’s a lot for us to process and understand if we just look around. Look up, look down. Sit somewhere different during the day. Try something out that you don’t usually do during your day at work. What you may see or hear can be pretty amazing and overall it could change how you work as a librarian. All in all, these changes are for the best! We need to keep on growing.

 

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

Fidelia Hall, Libraries, Library Director, Life, Misc., Three Things, Titusville, PA

THREE THINGS 2017.3

FLAT FUNDING

As I wrap my head around what the 2018 budget looks like at the Benson Memorial Library, I am faced with yet another year of bracing for flat funding. It is slightly depressing to be in a state of mind where receiving word of flat funding is the desired outcome over having your funding cut. It has been this way for many institutions, and it has especially been this way for libraries over the past 5-10 years.

I am thankful for what we receive, as it allows us to continue our service to the community. As a library director, it is my goal to ensure that the community members who use the library do not see the negative effects of flat funding. I want them to have a positive and wonderful library experience, and I will do my best to achieve that with flat funding over a large period of time. However there’s also the other side of me that realizes that I cannot do this forever. While our funding remains flat utility costs and  health care costs are on the rise. The need to give employees a fair wage that is in line with the current cost of living is also something I believe in very highly. At some point, there’s gonna be a line drawn where things need to change. For this upcoming year, we’ll adjust accordingly to the situation in front of us, but in addition to bracing for flat funding I am bracing for the moment where things need to change in order to continue.

RENOVATING FIDELIA HALL

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This summer was not kind to the Hoenke family when it comes to the house we live in on the Fidelia Hall property. Plagued with all sorts of previous “half assed” repairs and renovations and issues that were just covered up (out of sight, out of mind), this summer was the time where the house told us that it was time to move out, fix things up properly, or if need be tear it all down. And that’s where we are right now.

Renovations to the old church in Fidelia Hall have ramped up. The downstairs space is coming along nicely: the tin ceiling is now very shiny and metallic, the new furnace and duct work have been installed, and an entrance-way and bathroom and updates to the kitchen are right around the corner.

All good ideas change over time, and the idea behind Fidelia Hall has changed quite a bit. For the moment, we will be moving into the downstairs of the old church building as soon as it is ready for us to live in it. With that move, we will then be able to gut the house and see what kind of shape it is in under all of the half assed repairs and out of sight out of mind renovations. At some point, we still hope to have Fidelia Hall as an arts and community center, but right now it is the time to focus on our family and get us to a place where we can live. Things change, things grow, and above everything else I have learned that first and foremost the wonderful family which surrounds me is the thing I need to take care of the most.

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Despite how hard it has been recently with renovations, I must say that it sure is neat to be restoring something and coming across a gem like this: this staircase was original to the building and was hidden under a rotting wooden staircase. The stone and foundation are part of the original 1870’s construction of the hall.

AN OVERARCHING IMPRESSION ON WHY THINGS ARE THEY WAY THEY ARE

The overarching theme to this post is the idea that there are so many humans out there who are trying to do something positive in the world yet are faced with quite a number of daunting tasks and obstacles in front of them. At the core, I believe that every human being has a desire to bring something positive to the world. However, with time that desire can be chipped away and eroded….and that is what I believe brings us to right now. We are living in a world where the desire to bring something positive to the world has been chipped out of most people. Flat/slashed funding, crumbling support networks, lack of resources, increasing costs with utilities, health care, school, basic necessities, and to top it off the ever increasing voice we all hear telling us to “buy more you’ll be happy” and what you have is a mix that has led to the current state in which we live. The pressure is there and the pressure can only reach a certain level before it bursts. What I’m thinking is that at least in my lifetime we will see that pressure burst. When it happens, things will be uncomfortable yet it will lead us to meaningful change. This is the way of the world: you have something, that something grows and changes, and when it reaches its point it bursts…and then you being to build things again.

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.