Benson Memorial Library, Libraries, Life, Titusville, PA

Smart Communities by Suzanne W. Morse

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I just started reading Smart Communities by Suzanne W. Morse as part of a local book group here in Titusville, PA and I have to say that I am really enjoying how this book is making me consider my place in the community and to also think about where things are headed.

I decided it would be silly not to share my notes from my reading and the book group with a larger group of people because even though we’re talking about Titusville PA, these ideas and discussions can be applied to pretty much anywhere else. We are really all in this together and a lot of us are facing similar obstacles. My hope is that in opening up what I am learning through this book and the group someone can pull something from this to hopefully help them in their own community. Here goes…

“Small cities connect to other small cities to create a regional presence”
This line stood out to me in my first read through of Chapter 1. When I think about community, I first and foremost think about the place where I live and largely forget about another town that may be 15-20 mile away. I don’t believe that I am trying to leave other areas out intentionally but this sentence has given me more awareness to include those others areas. While their town may not be my town, collectively we all make up a region. If we view ourselves as a region, perhaps that can strengthen the communities all around us.

Another thing that was brought up was that there are lots of great things are happening through our local organizations, but there is not a unifying connection at the top. Who becomes that unifying connection? And that’s a good question to ask! When I was thinking about it, I came to the realization that this unifying connection would most likely be in the form of a person, someone who specifically acts as a community connector. In the past, I’d gladly nominate the library to be this but now that I have had years to think about it I see that it would take proper funding and preparation to do so. Does your community have someone who is in a paid position that acts as a “community connector” whose job it is to organize what everyone is doing at all levels (government, non-profit, education, etc) and communicate those clearly to everyone?

What is the way in which Titusville PA wants to move forward?
We have all of the elements that people want in their town: small town feel, everyone knows everyone, a large amount of pride in who we are and where we came from, and great schools and neighbors. But how can we get people here when there are not many jobs for those looking? How can we connect what we have to the modern world?

In thinking about this, I have come to my own answer: high speed internet. After seeing what 1GB (and now they’re up to 10GB) fiber internet did for Chattanooga TN I am convinced that very similar things could happen in any region that attempted something similar. Like it or not, I believe that high speed internet and access to all things digital is our generation’s industrial revolution. This stuff is important. It connects us to anyone around the world at the click of a button and allows us to accomplish work that before we didn’t think was imaginable. In my own life, it has sent me to New Zealand, Australia, Germany, and so many other places around the USA. When it comes to opportunities and jobs that high speed internet can create, in my eyes there is nothing quite like it. Digital Assistants and working from home could become a big thing around here if we had high speed internet. Jobs would be created, and people who are looking for communities to live in like Titusville, PA would then be more attracted to move here and stay here.

How do you deal with apathy towards your town? A good point was brought up during our group that so many people ask “why would you want to live here?” when they should already be aware of the great things our community offers. Apathy towards your community is something that happens everywhere. It is easy to get bogged down in the day-to-day rumblings and gossip and lose track of the bigger picture. How can we all deal with apathy in our communities and turn the conversations towards the positive? I know this is something that I think about a lot and am always working on. I try to be positive and forward thinking in all of the things I am involved in with the hope that will rub off on someone and cause them to start framing things in a positive light.

To end, I would like to bring up this quote that someone (Leah Carter?) brought up in the meeting. “Titusville is not in the middle of nowhere…Titusville is in the middle of everywhere”. I love this because it does just what I said above: it is positive and forward thinking and I believe it helps re-frame our conversations. And it is true! Titusville is around 1.5-2 hours away from Pittsburgh, Cleveland, and Buffalo, and we are about 1 hour away from Erie. It is a great place to live and get away from all of the big city hub-bub, yet at the same time close enough that you could enjoy a day or a long weekend away in the city.

 

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Family, Libraries

The Next Few Months

Over the next month of my life, I will be visiting some amazing places to talk about libraries. Next week, I’ll be in Lake Placid, NY for a few days to present at the New York Library Association Conference. After that, I’m home for a week and a half or so and then I’m off again. I’ll be speaking in Wellington, NZ at the 2015 LIANZA Conference and then after that at the State Library of New South Wales in Sydney Australia and then at the State Library of Queensland in Brisbane Australia. I’ll return home right before Thanksgiving, eat a great meal with my family, and that’ll be that.

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I’m posting this picture because I think it is a good example of how my brain feels right now. I am here but I am not here. I am staring into space but at the same time very grounded by the things, people, and places around me. I am very happy but at the same time not happy at all. What is going on?

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I think this is it for me…”it” being a librarian who travels, speaks, goes to conferences, and does all things library outside of their own library. I do like Twitter and this website, so I ain’t giving that up. I like to share ideas and have conversations. But it just feels like the library speaker/conference attendee jig is up. I’ve done it, I’ve enjoyed it, and it is time to move on. I’m at this place mentally where I feel happy about this decision. I’ve been some awesome places, made some awesome friends, and I’ve said what I can say about libraries (tldr: they are awesome, we should focus on our community, and we should continue to try new things that best suit our community).

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I want to be at home more so I don’t miss moments like these: Aero going on a 2 week “I’m going to be a hockey player like my cousin Andrew so I’ll wear hockey outfits everyday” and Finn in his “Five Nights at Freddy’s scares me but all I want to do is play it, watch videos of people playing it, and come up with my own Five Nights at Freddy’s stories while at the same time attempting to play trombone.” These are the days of our lives and I do not want to miss them.

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I think libraries have done a great job at reinventing who they are. People still see us as the place to get books but we’ve also managed to expand our palette. We are community centers where people come together to share. We are lifelong learning centers, committed to helping everyone in our communities grow. We still have some work to do, but when I look back on things I see just how far libraries have come. We are doing it! We still have a ways to go on reinventing ourselves in many other areas: funding, how we organize our staff, our governing bodies, and how we just simply do our work. These are great things for libraries to focus on next. Libraries will get there. I just won’t be as a big part of the conversation.

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This website, my Twitter, and these other “outlets” that are in my name have changed over the years anyways. It’s called Justin The Librarian, but read back and you’ll see just how much the main topic has deviated from libraries. These days it is more about looking at life as a whole, understanding myself, being present in the moment, and being the best human being that I can be. If I were to do it all over again it would be Justin The Human Being or something like that.

Stay tuned. This isn’t the end because it never really ends. It just changes a lot.

Chattanooga Public Library, Libraries

564 Days (or, the story of THE 2ND FLOOR thus far…)

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The 2nd Floor of the Downtown Chattanooga Public Library has been in its current state, a place for ages 0-18 and their caregivers, for 564 days, or 1 year, 6 months, and 16 days as of today. If you’re visiting The 2nd Floor for the first time today or have visited us over the past 564 days, you’ve probably wondered what it’s all about up on the 2nd Floor.  This post is my attempt to explain all of that and more to you.

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The 2nd Floor of the Downtown Chattanooga Public Library is all about people.  It is a place where the community, library employees, out of town guests, and more can connect, share an experience, and learn something. It is a place where lifelong learning and fun meet in the middle, get all messy, and create something awesome.

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The 2nd Floor is a constant work in progress. Repeat visitors to the 2nd Floor always remark how “things have changed quite a bit” and that there’s “a lot more” than there was the last time they visited. Their observations are spot on. We may not have the newest furniture, shelves, tools, and more around (it’ll come), but we change everything around enough to keep it fresh and exciting for the community. We use what we have to make this place a great experience for the community.  If something works, we keep it around and refine it. If it doesn’t work, we let it go and try something new. To be the best library for our community, we have to move forward and meet their needs.

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When you visit the 2nd Floor, you won’t see endless rows of books in the space. Instead, you’ll find a well groomed collection that represents what the community wants. You may see two rows of The Hunger Games on the shelves, but they are there because the community asked for them. You will find our books arranged and presented in a way that best reflects the needs of the community. The picture books are as low to the ground as we can get them at the moment to allow for little hands to find what they want. The graphic novels have their own unique areas.  Our non-fiction shelves for middle aged readers are overflowing because that’s what the community wants.

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As I said above, the 2nd Floor is all about people. But we have to remember that a library is also made up of the people that work in it as well. The 2nd Floor is home to some of the most amazing colleagues I have ever had the chance to work with. Some have been here 15 years and some have been here 6 months. No matter how long they’ve been there, one thing connects us all: a passion for what we do and a great care for our community.  All of our 2nd Floor employees bring different attributes to the table: creativity, reliability, organization, energy, and more.  All of these attributes meet in the middle and create something amazing. Simply stated: the 2nd Floor staff are awesome.

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3D Printers, iMacs, button makers, video games, and more are just things that live on the 2nd Floor.  Yes, they are nice tools to have in the library and it is great that we can give our community access to them.  I am fully aware that not every library can have the same tools that we have in our library. But here’s the thing: they are just tools. The 3D printer will stop being the cool and popular thing over the next few years. The computers will need to be replaced. Items will break.  These are all ok scenarios. They are all just items. They are all just things. Without the community coming into the library to use the 2nd Floor, they are just empty, unused things. It is what the community does with these tools that makes their place on the 2nd Floor so special.

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The tools that your library offers to the community should reflect what the community needs. Does your community not want a 3D printer? That’s ok. You don’t have to get a 3D printer. It can start simple: pens, pencils, and paper. That’s an art and writing station. It can grow to include some hand-me-down or donated items, like a sewing machine. If it needs to, it can grow from there. In the picture above, one of our frequent library users is using an older sewing machine brought in by one of our library employees. They used it together to make a robe just like Hermione wears in Harry Potter.  It was a great experience using tools and items that we had all around us.

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The 2nd Floor is flexible. It has rules because it needs rules in order to survive and function properly. But the 2nd Floor is open to interpretation. The community will make it what they want it to be at that moment. In the photo above, the 3D printer has become the test subject for a teen’s interest in learning how to do time lapse photography. Flexibility and the desire to take a chance on something new allows your community to thrive and grow.

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The 2nd Floor is unique in that it doesn’t push kids, tweens, teens, and their caregivers into age specific corners. It’s about following your interests and sharing a positive interaction with someone…a family member, a friend, or someone you just met.  When you open up your library to interests and interactions like these, some great moments can occur. Instead of checking the IDs of everyone that enters the the library, the library employees are free to then interact with the community and develop relationships. They are able to chat and connect. This is where something magical happens and what I consider to be the best part of the modern public library experience: The library as the place where the community connects.

2014-05-03 12.54.56Sure, we have all this great stuff you can borrow. We have loads of programs and experiences for you if you visit our physical locations. We have loads of downloadables that you can enjoy on your device. All of that is great. But what makes the library magical is when people connect: all ages, all genders, all races. They come together to learn and have fun. They put everything aside and enjoy a moment together. From those moments, bonds and connections are made. Some last minutes. Some last a lifetime. Those connections are what helps our communities grow.  Healthy communities lead to happiness.  Happiness is something global. Happiness is something that spreads everywhere. It all starts with one interaction and it grows.