Be Kind. Be Positive. Make a Difference.

Over the past week I have been thinking about how every weekday at around 2:20pm EST between 2010-2013 that the Portland Public Library would fill up with anywhere between 30-70 teens. I recall the dramatic change in the library, and no I’m not talking about how the sound level would increase. What I’m talking about is the energy, the passion, and the kindness that came into the library every day with these teens. These teens needed the library to connect, to share, to socialize, and to learn. The library gave them a safe and welcoming space to do all of that, and that space continues to thrive and offer the same wonderful and excellent services to many new teens today. It is a beautiful thing.

Around 75% of the teen population that came into the library back in those days were not born in the USA. They came from countries like Rwanda, Ethiopia, Somalia, Uganda, and Sudan to name a few. They came from countries where their lives were torn apart, their families were displaced, and in the words of a former co-worker “they came from places where one of the first things they learned to say was “please don’t kill my family.”” The people that came to us needed the library but more importantly they needed the United States of America, a place where they had the opportunity to live their lives and pursue their dreams.

I have been thinking about about the teens I worked with at the Portland Public Library today all this weekend and today as I take in all of the news about the travel bans enacted by our government here in the USA. I think about those teens and their families and hope they are safe and well. I worry about them a lot these days. I also think about the future teens and their families from other countries that might come to the USA someday seeking a place to live their lives and pursue their dreams. I want to help them, but how?

It is a time of great unease and there is a lot going on is very troubling. Sometimes it gets to a point where it wears me down, but then I realize that I can’t let it defeat me. I have to stay strong….we have to stay strong. The way we can do that is to continue to promote kindness and positivity in all of our actions.  Kindness and positivity go a long way. This is one way we can help those that we care about.

Andromeda Yelton’s latest post (quoting the ALA Code of Ethics) reminds me of what I need to do every day as a librarian….I need to “provide the highest level of service to all library users.” I need to be there for everyone in my community. And I need to continue to be there for those that I worked with in the past and those that I will work with in the future. This is another way that we can help those that we care about.

We each have our own way of making a positive and kind impact on our own world. I urge everyone reading this to think about what they can do to make someone else’s life better these days. You can have an impact!

(title from Andromeda Yelton’s post, read it here: We provide the highest level of service to all library users. Thank you Andromeda for this post)

More Library Stuff

I am just going to toss out quotes that are floating around in my brain. Connect them in any way that you will.

  • Libraries count circulations, door counts, and more. These are great numbers but we need to think bigger than this. How can we count hi-fives and hugs from our patrons? A hi-five from a teenager in a library is one of the most important things that can happen in a public library. How do we fix our broken world and help everyone see that there is value in hi-fives and hugs?
  • Some people are good at customer service. Some people are good at using the public library as a canvas for their creative public programs. Recognize these talents in each and every individual and respect these talents. Don’t push people to be everything at once. Let them be themselves.
  • The moments where we relax with each other, chat, and not force work are some of the best moments we can have in a library. Relax. Talk to each other. This is your job, not your life. Sit back, make some tea, and talk.
  • Working in a public library is not about competition. It is about community. We are not here to be Library Journal Library of the Year 5 Star Winner Full Page Cover Spread. We are here to ensure that those that visit us and utilize our services leave with a smile.

Every blog post needs an image and here’s a great image of Prince being the fucking coolest person that ever lived.

ALSO PS: here’s a 14 minute track of all the background music in Purple Rain shhhh it is pretty darn amazing.

THREE LIBRARY THINGS

I want passion! I want excitement! I want bold and inspiring statements and ideas from human beings! This month, Library Journal delivered in THREE ways. Here they are. Read them, share them, and be inspired to be a great positive force in your world.

Adversary or Ally? The trouble with fines and fees by Rebecca T. Miller

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COPY AND PASTE all text by Rebecca because this is very important: Ultimately, we must reflect upon our bond with the people libraries are designed to serve. Interactions with patrons can become about the fine or fee, instead of the need addressed by the service. This risks turning librarians and clerks into cops and collection agents and diverting backroom capacity to fee and fine maintenance. In the process, it can set up an adversarial relationship between the library and its users rather than forging an alliance that supports a vibrant interchange. I vote for the library as ally rather than as adversary. Read the full article here. Good job Rebecca.

Barbie Bod Mods by Lisa Mudrakoff and Sasha Schertzer

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A program that is not only FUN but a program that engages youth and gets them to think is a library program that I love and want to sing about from the rooftops.

Over the course of the program, we witnessed participants building a community of young people from all over the city, with relationships developing naturally as the teens worked on their dolls side by side. Some older teens, still working through their own identities, nevertheless found themselves mentoring the younger teens as they talked about their questions and struggles.

FANTASTIC JOB Lisa and Sasha. Read the full article here.

Speak of the Devil by Michael Stephens

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The term devil’s advocate is defined as a role meant to encourage discussion of an issue from all sides by taking an unpopular approach. However, I fear it’s become something different. Many have come to understand that when we say “play devil’s advocate,” it’s a passive-aggressive way of bringing a point up without it looking like it’s our own. Same goes for those who blanket their opinions with, “Others are saying this about that….”

Michael is spot on here (he usually is with his ideas. I enjoy him very much). Don’t be the person that brings negativity into an otherwise healthy situation. I believe in debate and discussion and openness, but it doesn’t have to happen all of the time. Roll with the positive.

 

 

 

Community Engagement Projects in United States Public Libraries by Frances Tout

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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.

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Thanks for the kind words Frances!  🙂

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.

Follow Frances Tout on Twitter @francestout
Read more from Travelling Librarian 2015 @ the blog

Management Style

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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.

An Update on THE AWESOME BEAR

I’ve been thinking a lot about the Awesome Bear recently and have learned a lot! Who knew you could learn so much from a bear that tweets!

THE AWESOME BEAR PART ONE

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I drew this picture of the Awesome Bear because I wanted to draw a picture of what I see in my head.

I recently got to sit down with James McNutt (Employee of The 4th Floor and all around great human being) and work on a new version of THE AWESOME BEAR, Chattanooga Public Library’s tweeting bear.  It was a lot of fun to share ideas with James and then watch him make those a reality when he wrote the code that runs The Awesome Bear.

Now The Awesome Bears lives online and anyone can go to THE AWESOME BEAR and tweet a positivity, kindness, and wonderful ideas.

You can also follow THE AWESOME BEAR here.

THE AWESOME BEAR PART TWO

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I think that THE AWESOME BEAR is a pretty cool idea and I want to develop it further. I think it’s a great tool because 1) It’s so very simple AND 2) It’s a great first lesson on creating, sharing, and publishing content online AND 3) It’s fun, so I decided to submit a Knight Foundation News Challenge Proposal to help take the Awesome Bear to the next level.

I’ve had mixed feelings about this proposal and let me be honest with you on why I am having those mixed feelings:

I looked at a lot of other amazing proposals and saw that they were…..I don’t really know how to say it….really great and really heavy! Lots of big time ideas that I didn’t fully understand where proposed (and I love them!) but I got a bit scared. How would THE AWESOME BEAR be received?  Would it be laughed at and tossed aside with a simple “A tweeting bear that shares good vibes and ideas from the community? Now that’s gotta be a joke.” After seeing so many great ideas that came out of the News Challenge, I was toying with the idea of deleting my submission and moving on.  THE AWESOME BEAR came from a pretty pure place in my heart: share good ideas, share good vibrations, and have fun. I didn’t want it to be laughed at.

I thought about it a lot. It weighed on my mind for about a week. My wife Haley was extremely helpful with thinking this through. She said something along the lines of  the Awesome Bear is unique. It’s fun. It stands out. Sure it may be simple but…that’s what makes it unique. It’s easy to use and that’s something people respond to. So I kept up the proposal and now we see what happens.

THE AWESOME BEAR PART THREE

I would love the Awesome Bear to live in every city and be a unique part of what the public library can offer their community. Have you read the news today? Oh boy! There’s just so many negative stories and headlines written to make you want to click them so more advertising money comes through that it can just really put a damper on your day. The Awesome Bear can counteract that. Imagine The Awesome Bear everywhere, sharing the little things that really make a community thrive…the tiny moments of kindness, the simple ideas to make your day better, the goodness in all of us. That’s the kind of world I want to live in.

 

Youth Services in Public Libraries (some thoughts that I’m having circa September 2014)

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I think about Youth Services in Public Libraries more than the average human being. That is ok as it is my job and I make a living to provide for my family with these thoughts, ideas, and actions.

My mantra with library services in general is to keep pushing ahead and try new things. To be in a constant state of change is to always be on the top of your game. When you are on the top of your game, I believe that you are better able to provide for the needs of your community. Flexibility enables you to have a quick reaction. Too many times in libraries we are bogged down by the planning and talking about it process. Once that’s over, it is sometimes too late to give the community what it seeks. OK, back to the subject of this post.

Here are some ideas that I have been having over the past few months. Enjoy them, borrow them, modify them, etc. If you don’t agree with them you can just close out your internet web browser and forget about everything I just said.

SIMPLIFY
Youth Services librarians always think big. We plan big. We want our community to have the greatest possible experience in the library and at our programs. Never lose that. That’s what makes you special and that’s why youth services librarians are often looked upon as some of the best people in the community. We give a HUGE crap about our community.

But simplification is, in my experience, not a quality that most youth services librarians have. I know I am in that category.  I see others that I work with in that category. Simplification in this case is a good thing. Think about the resources you have around you. Can you take those resources that you’re using everyday (volunteers, 3D printing, Legos, community members) and copy/paste them into your library and programs? I suggest you give it a try if you are not doing this already. You will be using things that you are already comfortable with and in some cases already prepared. Simplification will give you less stress to knock everything out of the park. Less stress allows you to be a better librarian for your community.

WORK TO YOUR STRENGTHS
What are you most comfortable with in the library? What does your work schedule allow you to accomplish? What are the skills that you have now and wish to develop in the future?

Mindfulness of those particular things allows you to work to your strengths. At my current stage of my professional life, I am most comfortable with the behind the scenes stuff, laying out the big picture, and making sure it connects. For someone that came through libraries working directly with the public for 6 years, this shift was difficult. I initially fought it very much. What that led to was stress and depression. None of that is helpful.

When you work to your strengths, you will approach your day to day work in libraries with a clear set of eyes. This clear set of eyes allows you to focus better on the job in front of you.

FUN
I am a big believer that having fun leads to more learning than we can understand at this point. My son Finn and I were recently interviewed for the Chattanooga Times Free Press about video games. I also point out this great post by Megan Emery (who I work with at the Chattanooga Public Library) titled Learning Through Fun.

The basic idea behind all of this is that fun leads to a lot of amazing discoveries and life moments. I think this approach works really well in libraries. We are in this very unique position of not being a school but also having a mission to encourage lifelong learning in our communities. We can try new things. We can experiment! Yes! I just said that! We are free to be unique.

Fun is a great approach to take. When you have fun at something you create a positive memory. You look back on that experience fondly. It gives you warm fuzzies.  There’s probably some kind of chemical brain thing happening that makes the warm fuzzies and fun so memorable…I don’t know. I’m not a brain doctor smart person type. All that I know is that my head is full of amazingly fun memories and I keep going back to those things.

IN closing….when I re-read this post one thought comes to mind: it is all about simplicity and getting back to the basics. Make things easy, for yourself and your community. Have fun. Don’t stress yourself out. I really believe this to be a great path forward for youth services in libraries.