Libraries, Management

Three Things You May Not Know About Your Manager/Library Director

It is so bizarre for me to vocalize this, but coming up in June I will have been a library director for 3 years. When I accepted this job, I knew that I was up for challenge and I was pretty sure I could do it. Three years into it I can say that I’ve enjoyed parts of it, loathed some of it, and have realized that I’m still not 100% sure that I can do it. One of the other things that I’ve learned along the way is what it feels like to be a manger/library director. I’ve worked for two really great directors in the past and one not so great and for each of them I always wondered what was going on in their head. Their ideas and decisions always made me so curious. Why did this make this decision? Why did they side with this person and not that person? Where do they think the library is headed? I always tried to understand things but in the moments I didn’t have a full picture so there’s no way I could understand it at all.

But now that I’ve been a director myself I can understand the fuller picture of being a manager/library director. I know that there’s a lot going on and that there are many complex thoughts, ideas, and emotions behind everything. While these three things I’ve learned may not apply to every manager/library director in the world, I’d like to think that they do apply to most of them out there.

No Matter What You Think, I Can Confirm That Your Library Director/Manager Has A Soul

Your manager/library director told you “no” or didn’t side with your input in a situation. This has all happened to us. In my opinion, the best directors always say yes or let you run with your wildest idea, but in some cases they say no. Hearing no or not having your input considered is tough. I’ve been through it many times and each time afterwards I have always had a day or two where I was down in the dumps, thinking that my manager/library director would always be against me or was simply out to destroy everything that I came up with. Boy was I wrong.

From my experience, I believe that no matter what the situation is that every library director out there is trying to think of the best possible solution for every issue that arises. While you may not agree with the end result, I can tell you that your preferred outcome was at least considered. A good manager and library director considers all sides of the story. For the things I’ve done and changed around at the Benson Memorial Library it has always been me pondering every possible side of the story for a few weeks and then once I’ve done that coming to a conclusion that best fits the needs of the library (we’ll get to the library and its needs soon enough). I’m not out to get anyone, I’m not out to give anyone a bad day, and you should know that I’m always thinking of the best possible way forward for everyone.

Your Library Director/Manager Is Thinking Of You

The best library directors and managers are always thinking of their employees. Y’all may not agree on every step of the way, but through the ups and downs I can confirm that they are thinking of you. They’re thinking about where you’re at and where you’re going. You may feel like you and your manager/library director don’t have a connection, but you do. A good library director has a connection with every single one of their employees. It may be small, sometimes almost non-existent, or it may be a bigger connection, but in all cases there should be some kind of connection. No library director or manager wants to make an individuals life miserable or tough. I believe that at our core all of us human beings are looking out for each other, and managers and library directors are the same.

Your Library Director Has To Look Out For The Library First

This is the one big one that I have learned. I believe it was Corinne Hill who told me that her first responsibility as a Director was that she had to look out for the present and future of the library as a whole at all times. Up until that point, I didn’t realize that “the library” was another employee that the library director/manager had to look out for. The library wasn’t just a ethereal thing to the library director…it was a living breathing organism who needed the utmost care and attention. Its existence was greatly depended upon not only by the people it employed, but the entire community.

With that in mind, I’ve come to understand that my first big job as a library director is to look out for the library as a whole. I need to maintain that heating system. I need to update our windows. I need to make sure we have a well rounded collection covers all of the different kind of information that our community needs. I need to make sure that the staff are trained and are doing their work. I need to make sure I lead in a positive and community first way. All of these things, when lumped and smooshed together, are best summed up in the phrase the library director needs to look out for the library as a whole first and foremost. When the manager/library director looks out for the whole of the library, everything that I mentioned above and much, much more can hum along nicely.


Congrats to Rachael Rivera, 2018 Library Journal Mover & Shaker


Congrats to Rachael Rivera! I have been a fan of Rachael’s work in public libraries, specifically the work she’s done with the homeless population who uses the library at the Auckland Library in Auckland, NZ. Her work is caring, compassionate, and people first. I am very excited to see more of Rachael’s great work in libraries and I hope that she inspires you like she has me.

Here is the text of her M&S nomination:

Tell us your reasons for this nomination. Please feel free to include links to the nominees’ projects or articles that further describe their work:

Through her work as the Manager of Customer Experience at the Central City Library, Rachael has transformed the library in Auckland towards a people centered, human experience that shows every user that the library is there to support them and their needs any way.

There are many reasons I am nominating Rachael, but this one stands out to me most: Rachael cares about people, and I believe that this is the number one quality that a person needs to work in libraries these days. Gone are the days where “I really love books” is the number one reason to be a librarian, I believe Rachael’s people first approach is a shining example of the attitude librarians and those coming into the profession need.

I have been following Rachael’s work for many years now, but in November 2015 I finally had a chance to meet her at the 2015 LIANZA Annual Conference in Wellington, NZ. Rachael was just as I expected her…full of life, full of love, and a person that exudes caring and positivity. We need more people in the library world….heck, the entire world….to be like Rachael!

A home for the homeless: Rachael Rivera and the Auckland Library Streeties

Rachael’s work as the Manager of Customer Experience at the Central City Library in Auckland NZ has included one of the best library programs I have seen: outreach for the homeless population in Auckland with movie nights and discussions. Think about it: what is one of the biggest things that homeless populations need? They need a space where they can relax, stay warm or cool off, and escape life on the streets. A movie night and discussion event for the homeless in Auckland does just that and it also has another added bonus: it creates community among the homeless population. Bringing people together over a film and discussion brings them together, giving them a place to communicate in a free and open environment. Friendships can be made during these events, friendships that could help a homeless person out in the long run. Libraries may be best known for loaning out books, but we’ve been building connections between people for just as long. This program shows the kind of connections librarians need to build.

Describe one attribute or characteristic that illustrates nominee’s unique ability:*

During the 2017 LIANZA Conference in Christchurch NZ, Rachael gave a presentation about the importance of serving homeless populations in public libraries. This talk spurred on some conversation among people at the conference, and the debate even spilled out into the national news!

LIANZA #Open2017 – Future Sound of Libraries / The Process, pt. 3

In a situation like this, where conference attendees and the national news came out against Rachael’s ideas, Rachael remained calm, collected, and carried out her message professional and, just like Rachael, with kindness. You can listen to her response at the link below:

Rachael Rivera: ‘Our rough sleeping community are voracious readers’

She handled this situation with so much kindness and caring. Her response helped move the debate along, and in a way, nicely quieted those that may brush off homeless populations who use public libraries.

Nominated by Justin Hoenke and Matt Finch









Family, Fidelia Hall, Libraries, Life, Titusville, PA

Food Stamps, the Feeling of Failure, Student Loans, and Life as a Library


Last week, Haley and I applied for food stamps. Our family, which has been going on strong for 11 years and now includes 2 awesome kids, Haley’s mom, our dog Sonic, 3 chickens, and 2 rabbits, have hit a period in our journey where we couldn’t do it without help anymore.

I know that there’s a reason I pay taxes. They are there to help….my family and I, others in need, and more. This is one of those situations where we needed help. I understand this very well. I am all for taxes that help out others in my community. We are all in this together and together we can do amazing things. At the same time there’s a stigma that comes from applying for and using food stamps: that somehow you’ve failed, you’re lazy, or you’re just downright an average human being. I try to have a healthy mind and outlook on everything, but I’ve gotta admit that I’ve fallen into this pit recently. I’m a 36 year old human being, I’ve got a wonderful job which I’m pretty good at, an amazing and happy family, and I’ve done some other things that I’m also really proud of. But here I am at this point where I feel like a failure just because I need some help. It shouldn’t be this way.

We’ve used the support of food stamps before. When Haley and I first got married, we were finishing up college. We both had part time jobs in addition to our full time school workload. The food stamps helped out a lot. Back then, the feeling of being a complete failure because you’re on food stamps wasn’t as big as it is now. Having a family and needing food stamps feels like you’ve hit the bottom. I think about this feeling that I’m having and then I think about all of the others out there who are on food stamps, especially those with families just like mine. What happens when you have all of those people out there in the same situation? You have millions of people out there feeling that they’ve lost all hope, that they’re somehow pathetic, and that they’ve failed. You have millions of people who feel like shit just for wanting to make sure their family doesn’t go hungry. When you have that many people feeling bad in the country, those bad vibes add up. It can’t be proved, but I really think the general malaise surrounding things in our country is somehow related to feelings like this.

On our end, I know that student loan debt is crippling. We’re both on programs that give us flexibility with our payments (income based repayment). While these do help, it’s still tough to have around $100K of debt total hanging over your head just because you went to college, got an education, and pursued a career in something you felt could make a difference in the world. I also understand the argument “well, you went into college knowing full well what would happen.” I’ve heard this many times before. I can see it from two sides: of course I knew (something) about how I’d be in debt once I left college. When I went, they told us about it. Did they tell us the specifics? Sort of kind of maybe not. I started college in 1998 and at that time it was just “oh yeah, you’ll have some debt but it’ll be OK because you’ll be a college graduate.” Most of us became the first great generation of student loan debt holders. And we’re still here! * Can America Afford This Approach to Solving Student Loan Debt? (it’s behind a paywall, but it is a great read) by Haley Sweetland Edwards is a great read that sums up the collective “wow, so much student loan debt”weight of a generation.

The amount of money we spend on student loan debt per month could help us in a lot of ways (FYI: it is around $337/month). First up: it could help with the grocery bills, thus giving us enough money to not go down the food stamp route. Second: it could help with the startup of Fidelia Hall. Have you ever tried starting up a business or a non-profit? Maybe I’m really stupid, but it’s really difficult and confusing…and it costs a lot. Just this week, our Fictitious Name Registration cost us $70 to file an application, $41 to advertise the application in our local newspaper, and $75 to advertise the application in a legal journey. That’s $186, and we’d still have $151 to spend this month on something else (groceries! Fidelia Hall repairs and infrastructure!) What am I trying to get towards? The debt we’re saddling people with for school, health care, and more are crippling us. They’re crippling us mentally. They make us not want to get out of bed. They make us want to sit around and do nothing when what we really want to do is something, because I believe that all human beings (no matter which political side they are on) just want to get things done for their communities. They’re also crippling our ability to move forward and do better things for our communities. You can’t start up a business/non-profit when you don’t have time or money.**

I better wrap this up. We just hit 1,000 words.

I’m not asking for a raise. I’m not asking for donations. I’m not even asking for an “oh man I feel you.” I just wanted to get this out there so that if you’re in a situation similar to this that YOU ARE NOT ALONE. We’re here. We’re successful. We’re pretty happy. We’re in debt and we’re also on food stamps.

*On a side note, I remember credit card companies and banks lining up at the dining halls doing everything they can (“here! have a free beach ball for taking our credit card!”) to get students signed up for their first horrible credit card. They succeeded with me and so many other of my friends.

**Go ahead and leave a comment telling me to suck it up and “pull myself up by the bootstraps just like an American would. I’ve been trying to do this for years. This is just what my Dad said and continues to say. But there’s more to it than “sucking it up” or “taking it like a man” or “pulling up your bootstraps”. There has to be some give and take.


Libraries, Library Director, Management


I know there are probably studies out there that help prove that just a little bit of kindness can go a long way and that kindness does in fact have a monetary value. I know that the whole “be nice to everyone and in return kindness will come to you” is a bit of a hippy dippy idea but I still believe in it. And here’s a good example of that in action


An organization was looking into one of our meeting rooms and inquired about if they’d have to pay to use the space. In the end, it all came down to the idea that they’d have to pay the $20 meeting room fee. I was hesitant to charge them the feed because I always want to do my best to help people out and money can complicate things, but in this case the fee was something we could not avoid. We talked about it and everything moved forward with the $20 fee in place.

This morning I received payment for the meeting room use which (as you can see above) went above the $20 fee that was originally requested. It put quite a smile on my face and in my heart to see this extra donation to the library as well as the kind note that came with it. Yes, I can honestly say that this made my day.

When we have an open communication with others and be positive and kind, good things come in return. Libraries, please keep this in mind as you grow, create policy, and work with your community. We’re in this TOGETHER.

Life, Three Things




It is cold these days in Northwest Pennsylvania (NWPA). I don’t really mind it at all. I think the body and the mind shut down a little bit once that happens and we go into a kind of hibernation mode. This is a good thing. Everyone needs some time to gather themselves. Americans especially. We believe that work is something we must constantly be doing. We sometimes work ourselves into the grave.We should probably relax more.



The first of the winter heating bills has come in. I’m not too scared of them because money isn’t a real thing and no matter what everything works out in the end. The bills get paid yo. But every time I see this bill (and the water bill and the electric bill and the grocery bill) I always have the same thought: why do human beings have to pay so much money just to stay alive? It seems kind of weird. You have to work to make money to pay bills to keep services operating that keep you alive. I get the whole “well it pays for other people to have jobs argument” but that’s not where I am going here. I think back to when this all started and we created an idea of how modern civilization would look. In my opinion we kind of messed it up.

I think that the kinds of things that help keep us alive should be free. We should share and trade them with each other. I think life may be a little more enjoyable in the long run if we did that.


Finn will be seven years old in 11 days. Wow. Recently his obsession has been the Five Nights at Freddy’s video game series. It’s not so much that he enjoys playing the video games (he makes me play them the most) but instead he enjoys the world that the video games take place in. The characters, the locations, the stories, and the theories all float through Finn’s brain every day. Sometimes he’ll dress up as a character and stay in that character all day. Before the holidays he would spend hours making LEGO versions of the characters . His new thing is building clay characters. He uses sculpy modeling clay and some wire to get what he is looking for. It’s pretty amazing! Our house is now full of these great little characters created by Finn. I’m excited to remind him that in first grade his favorite subject was Five Nights at Freddy’s.

Great People, Libraries, Portland, ME, Teens

GREAT PEOPLE: Michael Whittaker

554372_433238246696075_1337366168_nOne of the hardest (and least talked about) parts surrounding taking a new job and leaving your old one is how the people that you’ve shared your life with will no longer be around daily.  This is the case with Michael Whittaker, a rad person who has been so much more than a co-worker to me.  He is my partner in crime, the Batman to my Robin.  He is my friend and I love him with all of my heart.



A brief background on Michael: He used to work in publicity for SST Records.  For those that don’t know about SST Records, here’s a basic bio: They were started by Greg Ginn, who started the band Black Flag, who basically started the whole DIY (do it yourself) indie record label movement.  That’s the important part of what you need to know.  He’s also worked for A&M Records and is all sorts of plugged in to cool things around Portland, Maine and the rest of the world.

People love Michael and with good reason: he is extremely caring, attentive, and to put it bluntly…he gives a shit.  He wants to see great things done in the world and inspire everyone to make the most of their lives.

Michael liberated my mind and taught me that anything is possible, especially in libraries.  Wanna make music with teenagers on cassette tapes and synthesizers? Do it.  Wanna hang out with teens, talk about their lives, and create connections above everything else?  Do it.  You have nothing to lose.


I want to put Michael into a box and ship him down to Chattanooga with me.  That’s not possible, but damn, I wish it was.

Michael, time for me to get sappy: thank you for all that you have taught me.  Thank you for being my friend.  Thank you for supporting my crazy ideas and at the same time adding even more insanity to them.  Thank you for having crazy ideas.  It is through you that I’ve learned how to be a better Justin Hoenke and Justin The Librarian.  I won’t say “without you, I am nothing” but I will say this: “without you, I am a fraction of what I can be”.  You are the best.  I love you dude.


Libraries, Music, The Beach Boys and Libraries

The Beach Boys and Libraries: PART 3

If there’s a list of the top (some number) of albums recorded in the (20th Century/History of the World), there’s a strong chance that Pet Sounds is in the top five. Scratch that, I’d say there’s a strong chance that it’s in the top two. And there’s a good reason for that. Pet Sounds, which was released in 1966, is probably the most spiritual, love filled album. I’m not talking about spirituality in regards to religion, but just that overall feeling that there is some kind of grand force out there and that if you chose to recognize it, you can have some positivity in your life.

What did I get from Pet Sounds? The main thing I learned was that no matter what I’m, doing, ALWAYS PUT MY HEART INTO IT because love and happiness always shine through.

It’s hard pointing out one moment on Pet Sounds that sums it up, but I’ll go with “God Only Knows”. Never before have I heard a piece of music that so eloquently weaves music, production, lyrics, and feeling into 2 minutes and 51 seconds. It always seem to manage to fill my soul up with warmth and love.

Pet Sounds and specifically “God Only Knows” have taught me just how important it is to put my heart into anything that I do. On the most basic level, that means saying hello to as many of the patrons that I come into contact with on a daily basis. It means being kind to other library employees and understanding their roles in the library system and respecting that, yes, they are also very busy and have things to accomplish. On a more in depth level, it means that as a teen librarian, I have a duty to be there for my teen patrons. I have to open my heart to them and listen to their stories, their problems, their excitements, and their adventures. I have to be a listener with an open mind and an open heart. It helps with the socialization that most teens are going through. It will teach them that, unlike the stereotype suggests, all adults are not mean and selfish.

It is my hope that by putting my heart into everything that I do that I can hopefully put a smile on someone’s face and maybe, just maybe, have a positive impact on their life.