Idea Share, Libraries, Library Director, Life, Management

Management Style (Version 2.0)

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Me in my natural library habitat these days. The standing desk is working out well. I feel better about life and my health because of it. I want to have plants all around me and in time this will happen. I want my work home to be like my own little personal room, surrounded by the things that inspire me. They help me to be a better leader.

The last time I did this post was in 2014, and my oh my things have changed. I’ve learned so much, I’ve been through so much, and it feels like the time to write more about management style. Here goes!

I opened up my post in 2014 with the following words:

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.

In many ways, my mantra has not changed. I didn’t fully understand what I meant by these words back in 2014, but in time I’ve grown to understand what I was saying. What I’m saying here is that I think librarians should be approaching their work with the least bit of stress and anxiety that they can bring to the table. Stress and anxiety, or so I have learned over the last few years of my life, are very detrimental to the overall health of a human being. There are many articles out there that talk about this, but this one is very helpful and direct. When we’re stressed and anxious, we’re almost a completely different person. Over longer periods of time where we are stressed or anxious we can begin to see changes happening. I noticed it within myself: I was weaker, my body ached, and headaches happened way too often. There were some other things that contributed to all of this, but there was also stress and anxiety. While I haven’t cut those things out completely, I’ve worked hard to be mindful of my stress and anxiety levels and to back down when I need to breathe.

I think this is what I was trying to get at in 2014. The best library managers and leaders are not the ones that push you to work constantly or to always be thinking of the latest and greatest things. The best ones are the people that remind you to breathe and to take care of yourself. Need to use a sick day as a mental health day? Sure, you deserve this. Feeling overwhelmed by the project you’re in the middle of? OK, set it aside for some time and eventually get back to it. These are behaviors that good managers and leaders will model themselves and then through their actions other staff will pick up on it.

And now will all of that said, let’s dive into the same format we followed back in 2014:

What does a manager/leader do?
As you can see, I’ve expanded this question to include “leader”. I like to use manager/leader in a very similar way. They manage a workflow, they inspire coworkers to try new things, and they’re the guide for keeping the library moving ahead. So what do they do? Everything I just said above. A manager/leader should have a vision as to where things are going and also at the same time be rooted in the present. A manager/leader will understand that the team they have is what they’re working with in the present but will plan ahead for changes in the future. A manager/leader will step up when they need to step up, be the front and center of the organization, and back up their staff at all times.

How does this change what I already do at the library? AND Do I need an office? What does one do in their office?
Your entire library life changes. I can’t believe that five years ago I was thinking all the time about how I could pull together a program and these days are now spent thinking about how I can pull together a policy. The day to day librarian who runs programs and talks to patrons is very different than the librarian who manages and leads. At my current job, I’ve tried to try to approach this with a balance. My office is right near the front door and it has windows all around it. Sometimes I feel like I am in a fishbowl but there are ways that I attempt to get around that (Curtains! Turn off the lights!).

I have no perfect answer with this one. Some days I feel so in tune with the administrative non public side of things, and other days I’m locked in and just wanna talk to people and check out books all day.  So what does that tell me? Do what I wanna do and go with the flow. I think this way of thinking is also something you should pass along to your staff if you’re managing and leading them. Of course, the day to day stuff has to be dealt with, but with everything there’s always a bit of wiggle room.

How does one lead?
Warts and all, I think you just do it. There is the good and that bad. Sometimes you screw up. I remember one time at my current job where I had to talk to an employee about something that ended up being a joke. I came down hard on this person when I really didn’t need to. I messed up and in the end I admitted that I did that. That moment taught me to give some thought to everything before reacting. In the times where I’ve had to have chats with people on my staff, I’ve learned to process everything in advance and give myself time to understand what needs to happen. I think as a result I’ve become more direct: this needs to happen, this is why it needs to happen, and so on and so forth. And the best thing is that there’s always room to grow. If you don’t like who you are and where you are headed, change it up. Growth happens through learning and all of this happens with patience.

So I’m gonna end this post with a cold hard truth: I don’t think you really ever fully know what you’re doing when it comes to anything let alone management and leadership. You’ve just gotta take it all in, process it, learn, and grow from it. I’ve found this approach to be the least stress and anxiety. With those two things minimized (or sometimes completely out of) my life, I feel like I’m the best Justin I can be. I am able to approach things with the best pair of glasses on.

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3D printing, Libraries, Life, Online Identity, Social Media

Writing About Libraries

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This happened a long time ago in what feels like another life.

For a website/blog called Justin The Librarian, I don’t feel like I talk about libraries that much anymore. There’s a reason for that and today I’ll try to sort out the thoughts in my head.

I feel out of touch with the current topics being talked about in the public library sphere. I’ve really never been one for political debates, and there are a lot of politics to be discussed with the current topics that are being talked about. To be honest with you I don’t have the mental strength and capacity to deal with those topics now. My focus is to put in a good day of work at my library and then go home and be the best father and husband I can be. Diving into the deeper layer of public library talk is just not something I want to do right now or in the foreseeable future. Libraries are for everyone and I think it is in our best interest to be everything to everyone that walks through the doors of the public library, but I’m not gonna be on Twitter talking about it or writing about that here. I need to be aware that I only have a limited amount of mental energy. I am learning to channel that energy in the best way possible.

The second reason is that I feel that sometimes what I’ve written and shared can be misunderstood. I am really proud of the work I did in Chattanooga TN but to be 100% honest with you I think a big reason why it was successful was because of that particular moment in time in Chattanooga TN and not much else. I wrote about the experience a lot because I wanted to share the excitement and enthusiasm that I felt every day when I went to work with people like Megan Emery, Meg Backus, James McNutt, Nate Hill, and more. That time in libraries for me was really exciting and the enthusiasm happening was infectious. But now I look back on a lot of what I wrote and say “well that was very Chattanooga specific, and I don’t know if that would be good for any other library.” I can’t tell you how many times library people have said to me that they’ve read about what I’ve been a part of in libraries and said “well I guess our public library should be doing things like you do” and specific things like “we should probably get a 3D printer like you” and “well let’s make more things with patrons that was successful for you.” That wasn’t the intended purpose of what I wrote/shared, but I guess I should have expected it. When people read something (and I do this too), they think about what they read and wonder how and if it could be applied to their lives. Nowadays there’s this thing that weighs on me…if someone tells me they were inspired by the work I was a part of there’s a bit of me that regrets even writing and sharing in the first place. What if these things they’re doing fail for them? What if these people have a miserable experience with their maker program/3D printer/code camp/etc? I think about all of that and I keep it in my head and in my heart. It brings me down. No library is alike because no community is alike. We are all so very different, yet we share the same name and idea behind what we do. So why do feel the need to copy/paste ideas? I don’t know.

So with all that said, I don’t know where I stand. I think I’ll be taking a breather away from writing about libraries in the future. I know part of that is in me: I’m just burnt out and I’m not inspired. Unfollow away if you’d like. The librarian part of Justin has gone for the time being.

3D printing, Libraries, Life

Library Stuff

I should write about libraries even though…

We got a 3D printer and some other fun technology at my library recently. We also got some awesome chairs and other neat things that really make the library smile a bit more. But I can’t help but thinking that all this stuff is meaningless and that the point where libraries make the most impact is in the day to day interactions we have with our community. What I enjoy the most these days is seeing the positive interactions our staff has with the community. So much great stuff can happen at the circulation desk. It is really what decides whether the community comes back in or not. Now don’t get me wrong…having a 3D printer or something else that is shiny and new is good as well, but I don’t think it should be the focus…of both our community library and our professional library conversations. I want more focus in our profession on how to we can be better human beings to each other. The problem is that “Be Nice to Each Other” and “Have Meaningful Conversations” are not headline grabbing stories or think pieces that people want to read, nor are they things that you should be reading…they are things you should be doing.

Maybe that’s why I don’t wanna write about libraries as much anymore. Writing what happened when you are nice to other human beings isn’t the same as actually experiencing a positive interaction. I could wear a smartphone around my neck like a necklace and use Periscope all day. That would be interesting.

I think librarians shouldn’t look up to librarians. I think we all  should look somewhere else for our inspiration. When we look up to each other what happens is something I think of as incestual inspiration. “OMG, ______ Library is doing this program with their community we need to do it!” and then so on and so forth until we’re all doing it. A truly beautiful library is one that is a reflection of its surroundings, not a cookie cutter of another library.

When I wanna think about something new, I’ve been using MixCloud (specifically these tracks) to help inspire me. I think about the structure and the form of these DJ mixes. The way that the songs ebb and flow into each other really warm my heart. The transition from one song to another is an important part of these mixes and when done correctly they can increase my energy level. They inspire me to think about the structure and pacing of our programs and services at the library. I don’t have a second chance to do things in the library and I want to make the most of this moment. The music fills my soul and bends my brain and out comes something that I think is unique to my community. Bend and break and twist and smoosh. Go left inside of right. Don’t listen to me. Put on TUSK by Fleetwood Mac instead and go batshit crazy letting that guitar riff into your heart. Then come up with a program for your library that is unlike anything and that fits your community.

Music

“He came to my window”

“My lifestyle is like…eating breakfast, going to the park and taking walks, playing my piano, talking with my kids and my wife and that’s my day….a very simple lifestyle”

-Brian Wilson

*Title from At My Window*

Life, Music

Four Things

When the zeros line up on the 24 hour clock

Is my terracotta heart breaking? I don’t know…

Mama’s little baby loves shortenin’ bread

Take good care of your feet

Music is great. Music is beautiful. Music helps my soul come alive. What music does this for you?

Libraries, Music

INSPIRATION AND INFLUENCES

What do you do to be a better librarian? What music or podcasts do you listen to? Where do you go? Just what do you do for inspiration?

A few years ago, I followed a lot of library blogs and twitterz related to libraries. I got a lot out of them and they helped me grow a lot as a librarian. They were pretty much my only source of inspiration for libraries. It was a great source for inspiration, but I just love to grow and think about things differently.  I wanted to approach libraries in a different way. I knew that only following library stuff wouldn’t take me there.

I started thinking about the things that I enjoy in life. I enjoy music quite a bit. That part was easy….focus on the music that you enjoy and you will be inspired. I also enjoy people that are passionate about what they enjoy. That’s a little bit trickier. You can’t easily find a podcast on people who are passionate about what they enjoy. You have to dig for this.

I’ll start with music….

The-Beach-Boys-–-SmileI talk a lot about the Beach Boys and specifically Brian Wilson quite a bit. The label “genius” has been tossed around a lot with Brian Wilson. Sure, he’s a genius in some ways but what I really dig about him is that he is a guy who just really follows his passions and inspiration. This is a beautiful thing.

His 1966 album SMiLE is the perfect example of this. Brian attempted to create something new and unique in the music world. He wanted to create a beautiful piece of art, a “teenage symphony to God.” That’s no easy task. Many will say that SMiLE was never fully finished by Brian (read up on the history, I recommend this book) and even if it really wasn’t fully finished, he got pretty darn close. Heck, I listen to it and all that I hear is a beautiful piece of art that sounds finished to me.

Brian-Wilson-en-el-estudioBrian composed and recording SMiLE in sections. He’d have about 1 minute of music here, 30 seconds of music there, and another little 15 second link track to connect the two. He didn’t really fully understand how the parts would fit when he was recording them. Instead, he knew that they’d fit somehow in the great grand scheme of things.  He was right. If you can get your hands on the little bits and pieces of SMiLE in an unedited form and put it on shuffle, it works.

To me, SMiLE is the big inspiration for the 2nd Floor. If the 2nd Floor could sing, it would sound exactly like SMiLE. You have pieces and parts of things, what we call “walk up programs” (3D printing, button making, Minecraft, etc) all around the space. You can make buttons first if you want. That may tickle your fancy and make you think about 3D printing next. Or maybe you’ll just wanna move along into our arcade and play Wii U for a bit and relax with some other community members. There is no clear path or program for the community to follow. You put the library on shuffle and somehow, it all links together.

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The other big inspiration in my library career these days totally comes out of left field…Bill Simmons, editor of Grantland and a pretty big podcaster. His passion is sports and in particular, basketball. Weird, right? I, Justin Hoenke, really don’t care at all for basketball.  I don’t care that much for sports (NOTE: Pittsburgh based sports teams are something that I DO CARE VERY MUCH ABOUT GO PIRATES) but there’s just something about Bill and his passion for basketball. He loves the game. He knows the game. He knows what makes it work and how all these things come together to make a successful basketball team. In his book The Book of Basketball, he talks a lot about how chemistry is important for the success of a basketball team. To me, that’s one of those things that can be easily copied/pasted into librarianship. Chemistry is an important thing to have. Team chemistry, with the right people all playing their specific and very important parts, can lead to great success. I think a lot about the team we have here at the Chattanooga Public Library and how we all really work well together in our roles. To me, that’s why we’ve been able to do the things that we’ve done here. Chemistry is huge. Bill Simmons, I may not know what a pick-and-roll is, but damn, I really love hearing you talk about basketball.

Who are some of the people that inspire you when it comes to libraries and why?

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.

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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.

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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.