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

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Benson Memorial Library, Libraries, Social Media

Here’s How To Talk To Your Community On Social Media (Which By The Way, You Should Be Doing)

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First and foremost, if you’re not using social media to connect with your community then you should stop everything right now, set up social media accounts, and spend some time every day connecting with your community. I’m not the first or the last person to say this, and if you need any further inspiration, I recommend checking out David Lee King and all of the great things he has to say about all things social media + libraries.

If you are (and you probably are), I’m sharing the above screenshots as an example of what I think is a very good way to talk to your community using social media. To break down the details of how we do it here at the Benson Memorial Library, read below:

  • We tried Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram as our main social media feeds. Facebook by and far worked the best with the community. Instagram gets some likes and enough to update it every once in awhile. Twitter does nothing for our library.
  • We have three (of eight total) staff members who check our Facebook page. One person is in charge of scheduling most of the posts. The other two fill in posts from time to time. All of us will answer questions directed to the library or comment when the library is tagged.
  • One of my daily duties is to quickly browse the local Facebook groups: the ones that talk about local issues, the ones that advertise events, and the buy/sell/trade groups. If I spot something that can be helped by the library, I will respond with a comment, tag the library, and inform one of our staff members to respond to the inquiry. This is how we got the screenshots that you see above.
  • One of our staff members will use their account or the library Facebook account to respond to any comments. We do so in a way that introduces us, who we are, and what we can do. We always leave contact information in our comments so the community member can follow up outside of Facebook if they choose to do so.

What it all boils down to is something very simple: get your library out there where your community gathers (and yes, Social Media is a place where people gather!) and talk to your community. When you do, great things and connections will happen and your library and community will grow stronger because of it!

Family, Fidelia Hall, Life, Titusville, PA

A Series of Surprises

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In May of 1967 Derek Taylor spoke of the fate of Smile in his press release. Smile “has been SCRAPPED. Not destroyed, but scrapped”. Could this mean that there was still some merit seen in the songs, but they would be ‘converted’ into other songs? This was effectively the fate of the Smile songs. They were reshaped, in constant chase of improvement. Brian himself stated, “1967 should bring a series of surprises for everyone from the Beach Boys.” (from EarCandy Mag: http://earcandy_mag.tripod.com/rrcase-2.htm)


Life is a long series of surprises and my life is no different. One of the biggest surprises to me was that so much of what I grew up learning from the people in my life was either not true at all or was twisted to fit their specific idea about life. I chose a photo of dandelions for this post because I think it visually sums up what I’m thinking here. Here in America we’re told that a nice lawn is full of green grass, well kept and groomed, and free of what we’ve dubbed “weeds”. Dandelions have been unfortunately placed in the weed category. Because of this there’s been an almost all out genocide on dandelions. Despite their wealth of benefits for humans and bees, they’ve become undesirable.

I grew up in one of those neighborhoods where lawns had to be perfect. Ours was cut, edged, and manicured weekly. If a neighbor did something with their lawn you better believe we had 24-48 hours to respond. About once a month some guy (it was always a guy) brought his truck around and sprayed the yard down with what looked like pellets you’d put on your ice cream. I was always told that this helped the lawn look how it did and that the lawn was better for looking that way.

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Cut to the last two years of my life where the ideas of the home, gardens, and Fidelia Hall have become very important to my happiness. As I settled into this chapter of my life I learned a lot of things: your yard doesn’t have to be green and well manicured, what we call “weeds” are actually really good for the Earth and by attempting to wipe them out we’re destroying the world, and that those “pellets you’d put on your ice cream” that my parents were spraying their lawn with were horrible poison. Life is a series of surprises.

Now the point of this post isn’t to go all Captain Planet and talk about the importance of being kind to the Earth. Of course I think you should but if you’re already doing it I’m not going to change your mind and part of me thinks we’re fucked anyways. The point is to recognize that life is a series of surprises. The Brian Wilson/The Beach Boys album SMiLE and the quote which starts this post have been on my mind recently when I think about my life right now. Has everything turned out as they were originally planned? No. But nothing really ever turns out as we think they are going to turn out. SMiLE was going to be THE album of its time, but it didn’t become that. Sgt. Pepper by The Beatles took that honor. What came out instead of SMiLE was a series of songs and albums that were “reshaped, in constant chase of improvement.” My life recently had a SMiLE moment. Instead of it being a defeat or the start of some kind of long spiraling descent into depression, I’ve decided to see that this moment was another part in the series of surprises that makes up life and that and that what I’m doing is reshaped things around me, always tuned into the constant chase of improvement which follows my life.

That change? Via https://fideliahall.com

Fidelia Hall is first and foremost the homestead of the Hoenke family. It is our hope that through our passion for family, community, creativity, sustainability, flowers, bees, art, fun, and food, that our contributions to the world will chip a tiny crack in the massive wall of negativity, fear, and greed that drives our culture.

We are not a business. We are not a non-profit. We are not a church. We are not a social club. We have explored every avenue and consulted every consultant and nothing fits. So we’ve decided to just be us.

I don’t expect you to “get it” nor do I care. The only thing I’ve gotta get is a hold of my life and my happiness. And I’m always doing that.


The Dandelion Celebration: A Guide to Unexpected Cuisine is a great book to borrow from your local library by the way

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!

 

Benson Memorial Library, Family, Fidelia Hall, Libraries, Life, Music, Three Things, Video Games

THREE THINGS 2017.1 (Mini Deluxe Edition)

  • I am very uninspired with library work. I have two major projects in my mind for the Benson Memorial Library but I feel stuck. The projects are: bringing high speed fiber internet into the library and repairing and renovating our Community Room. Both of these projects are much needed and would be well received by the community. I am having a hard time finding the funds to pull these projects off which then leads to a general malaise inside of me that festers with time. Money and the lack of it really holds things back. My brain then reacts to being held back in a negative way. I want the path forward to be clear and positive, yet money is always standing in the way. I’ve researched grants, foundation money, and other paths but nothing is clicking. Maybe it will click soon enough. In the meantime, I am right here sitting at my desk feeling like the end of libraries is right around the corner.
  • I am still very excited by disco. When I use the term “disco” what I really mean is the following: Music from the NYC club THE SAINT, Sleaze/Morning Music, Italo Disco, and everything else in between.
  • I have signed a contract to provide a library related news platform with 6 articles/pieces from now until June 2017. Writing is something that I enjoy doing and the challenge to come up with a 2,000 word piece has been tough but ultimately rewarding. I’d love to write more of these. Heck, maybe someday I would like to be my full time job. I enjoy the opportunity to craft all of the thoughts inside my brain into well structured sentences. I also enjoy talking to others, getting their insight into the topic I am writing about, and sharing their story. There are so many good people out there.
  • One of my favorite things to do on the weekend is to do our laundry.I have developed a system in which I tackle certain segments of the laundry one at a time. It helps me manage the flow of work to be done and provides a good feeling once each segment is done.
  • I am not happy with my weight. I am over 200 lbs for the first time in my life and my body does not feel good. While I do not have the world’s best eating/exercising regiment, I feel as if I’m doing pretty well. There is room for improvement and I will get there.
  • I am well over 50 hours into The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild for the Nintendo Switch and I still cannot recommend this game enough. It is what I’d call a perfect video game: a marriage of great gameplay, visuals, sound, and experience. It doesn’t matter what you’re doing or where you are headed in the game. You will be amazed every step of the way.
  • And finally, the rehabbing of Fidelia Hall continues. At a recent auction, we acquired 8 radiators, 3 steel doors, 1 set of track lighting, and 1 hot water heater for $125. My mother and father also made one of the nicest donations to us: they got a furnace for our downstairs space. Both of these things were so very inspiring in the restoration process. The next steps look something like this: repair and paint the tin ceiling downstairs, repair and varnish the floor downstairs, install and hook up gas pipes to our new downstairs furnace, build a bathroom downstairs, repair/install new outlets and light switches downstairs, and finally rip out the upstairs radiators and install our newly acquired radiators. The work never ends, but the end product will be glorious for our family and the community so I am OK with the process.
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“Don’t talk, take my hand and let me hear your heart beat” -Brian Wilson and Tony Asher

 

Benson Memorial Library, Books, Chattanooga Public Library, Community Building, ebooks, Libraries, Library Director, Management, Technology

Ditching The Hype and Focusing on The Community

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This is where I live. This is the community I serve.

Like a computer our brains need to be restarted every once in awhile. Events and shifts over the last few years of my life have made me realize this. I no longer work to only serve kids, tweens, and teens. I no longer live in an urban area. I no longer live in a world which I fully understand. My life these days is very different than what it used to be, and with that I feel the need to reset myself. This post is an attempt to put this reset into practice using words to coalesce my thoughts into one coherent belief that moves me forward in my work as a librarian.

I believe that a strong part of the future of public libraries will be in focusing our efforts and services on a hyperlocal level. This differentiates from where I believe public libraries are focusing their efforts now, which is looking outwards towards everyone else in the profession to see what they are doing before acting themselves. No more is this apparent to me than the recent effort for public libraries to shift a lot of focus towards STEM/STEAM/Makerspace/Coding efforts. Please do not get me wrong: I believe in teaching and exposing citizens to things such as these, yet at the same time I do not believe in a one size fits all solution that can be applied to every public library. This is the case here, as it was with eBooks and any other “trends” in recent history.

The idea that we should be focusing our efforts and services on a hyperlocal level instead of looking outwards towards everyone else in the profession is doing became clear to me when I was completing a survey sent to me by our State Library. In that survey, participants were asked about STEM/STEAM/Makerspace in public libraries and nothing else. I understand that the point of the survey was to better understand the libraries in my state, but while reading it I thought of the following scenarios as I imagined another librarian in my state reading the email:

  1. The State Library is focused on STEM/STEAM/Makerspace in public libraries and we’re not doing this at all so we must be very behind.
  2.  The State Library created a survey about this, so it must be very important and I must get behind this trend even though I do not know if it is right for my community.
  3. I need to learn more about all things related to STEM/STEAM/Makerspace in public libraries and if I do not I risk losing patrons and support.

I understand that not everyone will follow one of the paths that I laid out above, but many will.  Human beings are creatures of habit and enjoy following the leader. There is probably something embedded into our DNA that makes us this way.

The problem with following the hype and trend of the moment is that it is usually fixated on something that worked well for one particular library and that it does not translate well to other libraries. When I lived in Portland, ME I felt like my library was focused on what happened everywhere else and the idea that “if they’re doing, we should be heading that way too.” In reality, Portland was its own very unique community that needed a specific set of programs and services. A huge part of why I moved to the Chattanooga Public Library in 2013 was because they were looking (and still do) at their programs and services on a hyperlocal level. Programs like DEV DEV, The 4th Floor, Makeanooga, and many more worked and continue to work because they are programs for that community, not programs that were copied/pasted from what someone else in public libraries was doing.

Why are we at where we are now? I believe that social media, large organizations, and large publications have led the charge towards public libraries focusing outwards towards everyone else in the profession instead of inspiring those in the profession to think for themselves and focus inward on their communities. A culture of “here’s how to be successful with your public library in 5 easy steps” combined with ego boosting catchphrases like “rock star librarian” have not helped us but instead presented public libraries with the path of least resistance.

How do we change the conversation? 

  • We need more public librarians out there willing to share their stories about how their focus on a hyperlocal level is benefiting their public library and their community. To start, I recommend following the work of librarians and libraries in New Zealand and Australia. You can do that by starting here with this Twitter list that I have compiled. The work done by the people and organizations is focused, inspiring, and uplifting.
  • Share through any platform that you feel comfortable with. I personally would like to see an increase in public librarians writing more and maintaining their own blogs or Medium profiles
  • Remind each other that our communities come before everything and to keep the message positive. Support and reminders from other public librarians is one way that we can spread the message that we need to focus our work locally.

Ditch the hype. Don’t copy and paste. Focus on your Community. This is what I believe to be the path forward.