Benson Memorial Library, Libraries, Relevant at Any Size

Relevant at Any Size: The Lifeline

Welcome to my latest series, titled Relevant at Any Size, where the focus of the posts will be on small, small-ish, and rural libraries and what they’re doing and overall what they mean to the communities they serve. I enjoyed creating what amounts to a column with the A New Career in a New Town series so we’re gonna try that themed format with these posts once again. I also want to thank Andrew Cano for the title. I struggled with this title for (more on that later) a workshop I will be offering at the 2018 NLA/NSLA Joint Conference and Andrew came up with it. Brilliant!

I’ve been at my library now for three years and in that time I have come to see two things about small/rural libraries:

They are a lifeline, a vital resource in connecting these small/rural communities to the rest of our country.

We open our doors at the Benson Memorial Library every morning and for the 8-11 hours we are open that day we see it all. We still check out a lot of physical books and movies to community members. We help them scan, fax, and copy important documents they need to for their lives. We get them on the internet so they can do what they need. We connect them to their families through our local history and genealogy services. We provide the youth in our region with free events and a space to socialize, relax, and grow. All of this may seem like little things to the casual observer and the people who question why we still have libraries, but when you see day in and day out the importance these “little things” have on the lives of these people you start to understand how vital libraries are to small/rural communities these days. They connect people to something that they’re seeking. That something is different for every person that walks through the door, but that something is extremely important in building a happy, healthy, and growing community. Actions, kindness, and day to day tasks matter. When the public library is there to help an individual and then this is multiplied thousand of times each week, positivity spreads through a community. When there is positivity, there is growth and forward motion. This metric cannot be measured easily (if at all), but we all know it is there. And in the small/rural communities of America, this growth and forward motion is much needed in the world we live in today. My hope is that if we can share our stories about the happenings in small/rural public libraries that we can get to a point where people better understand the lifeline these libraries create for their communities.

They’re not talked about as much as they should in the professional library sphere.

One of the things that I’ve noticed during my time working in a small/rural public library was that there seems to be a very large lack of coverage about what’s happening in these types of libraries. In our library land professional publications, what’s pushed to the forefront is often the latest, greatest, and biggest libraries and their events and initiatives. While I believe there is good things that come from seeing the things these bigger public libraries are doing (inspiration!) at the same time when there is a focus just on the biggest libraries it creates a gap in how public libraries see themselves. After seeing only big public library stuff in the professional library sphere, small/rural public libraries and their librarians start to say things like “well that’s good for them, but I could never pull that off” or “it would take us years to get there”. These comments, built up over enough time, bring a negativity to the profession and the conversation around libraries. It creates a gap between the libraries that can do stuff and the libraries that want to do stuff but can’t seem to pull it off due to any number of factors.

We should talk more about what small/rural public libraries are doing and also what they can do with a little effort. When we share these stories and these ideas, we start to break down the myth that small/rural libraries are behind the times and are inferior to the big, cutting edge stuff of the bigger public libraries out there. Small/rural libraries are providing extremely necessary and important services day to day and at the same time there are many of them providing some new, cutting edge ideas for their communities. They’re just not talked about enough. Let’s fix that. Do you work in a small/rural public library and have something to share? Email me at this email address and we can have a chat. I’ll then take that chat and put it up here on this website under the Relevant at Any Size category. Let’s share our ideas, our programs, our events, and how we as small/rural public libraries are doing important work.

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With that, I’d like to bring attention to the image in this post. This was a Facebook message sent to our library from someone that recently visited our area. Here’s what stood out to me:

“…while visiting from out of town, I was in need of several services that the library offered. I was pleasantly surprised at the types of services offered considering it is located in a small town. The most impressive in my opinion was the ability to self transfer VHS tapes to digital format at no charge. I live in a large city and not only do the libraries not offer this ability, you would have to take them to someone else and pay them to do it. The staff at the library were all very kind, knowledgeable and willing to help.”

I’m sharing this because it highlights what I mentioned above: there are small/rural public libraries out there providing new, cutting edge ideas for their communities and these are the public libraries leading the way forward. Innovation isn’t something that just happens at the big public libraries. It happens in all public librarians. If you are a small/public librarian and you are reading this, I hope that this provides you with the inspiration to go out there and do whatever you heart compels you to do for your library. Because guess what? YOU and YOUR library are great, and you can do whatever you want.

This October, I will head to Lincoln, NE to be part of the 2018 NLA/NSLA Joint Conference where I will give a Preconference Workshop with the same name as these posts. I am excited about this, as it has been a few years since I’ve done a workshop like this and it will be the first time doing a workshop on this topic. I kind of got stuck in a rut with talking about Youth Services and all of the things that happened at the Chattanooga Public Library when it came to keynotes and workshops. I felt burned out. This opportunity will change that, and I hope it will also add a great deal of inspiration to the small/rural librarians out there that want to take their library game to the next level.

Relevant at Any Size: Strategic Thinking for Small and Rural Libraries
Small and Rural Libraries are not just little libraries lost out in the middle of nowhere: they are the centers of their community, providing essential resources to so many Americans. Even though budgets these days are flat and libraries are being asked to do more, these libraries are  the ones doing some of the most essential community based work in the country. Be it through their programs, their personalized services, or the simple day to day things they do for their guests, small and rural libraries are making an impact and helping many Americans navigate the many changes in our modern society. In this workshop, attendees will learn new strategies, program ideas, and customer service ideas for how their small and rural library can make the leap to the next level of library service for their community without busting the budget or needing more staff.

Nebraska, I look forward to seeing you in October and to all the readers here I look forward to sharing these stories with you over the next few months.

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Family, Libraries, Three Things, Video Games

THREE THINGS 2017.2

COMMUNITY CENTRE

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I like this a lot. I have long thought that libraries are all community centers that just happen to be called libraries because once upon a long ago our only function was to loan books and we’ve grown up a lot since then. Anywho: Te Takere Library is a library in New Zealand and while doing some research I noticed that their council calls them the Te Takere Community Centre and Library.

HOMESCHOOLING

I walked by a public school today (a really great one!) and I saw about 30 kids playing at the playground. They seemed to be in very specific groups: those playing basketball, those playing on the playground equipment, and those around the teacher. They were all nicely fenced in by a giant 12 foot tall fence (I totally understand the need for this by the way) and it hit me: I wouldn’t change our lives as homeschoolers for anything in the world. I’ll eat nothing but ramen every day for the next 10-13 years of my life and be as poor as poor can be to keep this happening. I think about the past week that we had together and what we did and it makes me happy:

  • Wrote and drew a graphic novel (Finn)
  • Created his own guitar/keytar (Aero)
  • Went to swimming lessons (Finn)
  • Visited the library twice (Finn & Aero)
  • Worked on our gardens (Finn & Aero)
  • Went on some side quests in The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild (Finn & Aero)
  • Did some dress up and role playing (Finn & Aero)
  • Read some books (Finn & Aero)

Learning happens all the time and I love being able to live a life with Haley, Finn, and Aero where we can explore this together at our own pace. There should be more freedom in our world. There should be less schedules. There should be more curiosity.

NINTENDO SWITCH

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Even though we’ve really only been playing THE LEGEND OF ZELDA: BREATH OF THE WILD (combined playtime for Justin+Haley+Finn=over 125 hours) we have been having a wonderful time with the system. First up, Zelda: the game is amazing, fun, and sparks great curiosity and exploration in all of us at the Hoenke house. Every time one of us plays it we have discussions about what we’re doing and who we’re encountering. We’re telling each other so many stories about what we find in the game and in turn we’re inspiring each other to try new things. Second, the Nintendo Switch system itself is glorious. At times it can feel a bit more delicate than previous Nintendo systems. The amazing thing about is the ability to take it from the TV to wherever you want without any interruption. While Finn and Aero were inside using the TV yesterday afternoon after being outside all morning I spent my time in a hammock outside playing Zelda. It was glorious.

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I wrote two articles about the Nintendo Switch for InfoToday recently and you can read those here:

Plan a Library Game Night With Nintendo’s New Console
Attention, Libraries: It’s Time to ‘Switch’ It Up

Family, Fidelia Hall, Life, Titusville, PA

Fidelia Hall (Winter/Spring 2017 Update)

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Photo by Nadine Byers

When we decided to buy a 144 year old church building and a house that’s most likely also over 100 years old, we knew that we would be looking at nonstop home repairs, upgrades, and more. We knew that once we completed a project that it would be onto the next one, and that each project would help us “discover” what the next project would be. All of that has been true up to this point. Fixing the back roof led to us discovering just how much water damage had occurred to a certain area of the community room. Fixing the boiler led us to discover just how many of our radiators were damaged beyond repair. These things happen. Even though it’s not usually the best news to hear that you’re gonna have to find more money and time to fix something else, we’ve decided to take another approach: everything we discover we fix, and every little fix gets us one step closer to our goals. It is a slow process for sure, but we feel that a positive outlook on things makes the process go a whole lot smoother.

And now….onto the updates:

PART ONE: Downstairs at Fidelia Hall 

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This winter we made a big choice: that our family would be moving into the downstairs space at Fidelia Hall. Why? As with so many parts of our story, it starts with water. We found that there is most likely some kind of a leak behind a few of the walls in our house. Small water leaks are never great, as they are hard to pinpoint and then there’s always the possibility of mold (especially in a house that’s over 100 years old). With all of this in mind, we evaluated where we were at and what we wanted to do and….we’re moving into the downstairs of the old church building.

But there was (and still is) work to be done, and some of that is in the photos above. What you’re seeing is the downstairs space, now free of carpet and a drop ceiling! Underneath the carpet and drop ceiling were two great unpolished gems: a hardwood floor and the original tin ceiling. Both the floor and the tin ceiling are in need of some love, but we’re getting there. Over the last few months, we (Haley and I) have been using an air compressor to blast away any of the chipped and flaking paint on the ceiling. We’ve got one room left and after that we’re onto painting the tin ceiling. That should happen soon! All of the carpet has been pulled up and soon we will head to the local True Value to rent a floor sander and get that hardwood floor back to looking beautiful.

There’s a lot more to do with the downstairs and I’ll just post that here: my parents have been extremely kind and helpful to us with this project and a month ago they purchased a new furnace for the downstairs space. This week we will begin installing that furnace, and after painting the ceiling we will move onto the duct work that will heat the downstairs. A few other projects involve building a downstairs bathroom, fixing up the electrical wires and switches, and then moving onto fixing the kitchen ceiling. Like I said above, everything we discover we fix, and every little fix gets us one step closer to our goals. We will get there.

Once we move into the downstairs space at Fidelia Hall, we will then move onto the next project: gutting the house. Why gut the house? A lot of what exists in the house today was something that was built on top of something that was built on top of something, and so on. You have to remember the history of the space: it was always the home of the pastor of the church and their family. With that in mind, we like to think that all of the repairs done to the house were part of a deal we call the “parishioner’s special”, where the pastor asked members of the church to volunteer their time to help fix up the pastor’s house. A lot of the repairs we’ve seen in the house are totally DIY work, and while these are fine over the years they haven’t held up so well. We want to fix that. With that said, if we dig deep in the house during this process and find that the damage to the bones of the place have been compromised, we may end up tearing down the house. I don’t think it’ll come to this, but who knows. On the plus side, we’ll have more space for gardens and chickens and all of the things we love.

PART TWO: All the other little things

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While the downstairs space at Fidelia Hall has been our major focus at the moment, we’re also thinking about everything else. In February, my father, my brother, and I got to visit an old convent in Pittsburgh, PA that was in the process of being torn down. From that convent, we got 10 radiators, 3 fire safe doors, 2 fire safe door frames, a water heater, and a few other odds and ends. It was a day full of a lot of work, but we got what we needed at a really cheap price (only $125!) and we are sure that all of this great recycled stuff will eventually find its way into Fidelia Hall. The radiators will be installed in the upstairs space we’re calling The Great Hall and with a few tweaks they’ll be heating that space up next winter. Finding this stuff second hand was quite an amazing moment for us: while all of this stuff isn’t brand new, it works and it gets us one step closer to our goals.

We hope to complete these repairs by the winter of 2017-2018. Moving into this new space and having heat in the upstairs of Fidelia Hall will allow us to focus on cutting down our utilities (electric/heat for two buildings can get expensive).

PART 3: Spring and Summer and Gardens and Chickens

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We love spring and summer and we know you do too. At Fidelia Hall, we really love building gardens, feeding all of the birds around the property, and building flower gardens for the bees and butterflies who live all around us. This year, Haley has come up with some great ideas for the gardens. Expect to see us dabbling in growing some kiwi, apples, and other fruits as well as our standard vegetables. Last year’s straw bale gardens were a success, but this year Haley is interested in hugelkultur for the gardens. What’s hugelkultur? It’s basically the process of taking rotting wood, twigs, branches, and other things and using that to build your gardens. It basically will look like this (image from http://permaculturenews.org/2012/01/04/hugelkultur-composting-whole-trees-with-ease)

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And for now, that’s all we got. Thank you to everyone for keeping up with our family, Fidelia Hall, and more. We’re getting there!