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.

Libraries, Presentations, Technology, Video Games

Pittsburgh Retro Gaming Convention 2018


I’m happy to share that I’ll be speaking at the 2018 Pittsburgh Retro Gaming Convention in Pittsburgh, PA on April 21, 2018 this year. Video games have always been a big part of who I am, and I’ve always loved bringing them into public libraries so this presentation will be a neat marriage of two things I really love. If you’re attending this convention, say hello and let’s chat about video games and libraries!

Here is a description of my presentation:
If you’re reading this, chances are that you are attending the Pittsburgh Retro Gaming Convention, an event that brings the community of video game lovers together. You know what else brings community together? Libraries! The days of the old, quiet, and musty library are gone. Nowadays, libraries are vibrant community centers, full of life, all kinds of literature, and events for all ages. And guess what else? They have video games too! (well, at least the really good ones do). In this presentation, Librarian Justin Hoenke will share his experience about bringing video games into libraries. You’ll learn about how he created video game collections in public libraries all over the country and also how he created events that centered around gaming for all ages at the library. Gamers who are looking to take video games out into the community and do some community building should attend this event.

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A New Career In A New Town, Libraries, Life

A New Career In A New Town: The Emotional Roller Coaster of a Job Seeker

If you, like me, are looking for a new job or are seeking a change in what you’re doing with your career, this post is for you. I want to get a bit into the weeds, talk about feelings, and overall connect with you on this post. Let’s swap war stories and be there for each other.

I’d say I’m happy with my current job 40-50% of the time. It ebbs and flows and some days feel much better than others. After a lot of thought, I’ve determined the root of why I’m feeling this way at my current job: my inspiration levels are at a very low point. I’m a person that craves working with others. My time in every other job up to this point (read all about those jobs at my very recently updated CV here!) found me surrounded by people who pushed, pulled, and nudged me to keep on growing and trying new things. Here at the Benson Memorial Library, I’m the boss and a lot of that work goes towards inspiring others. And I think I have done OK (these are the good things), but I’m definitely not perfect in any way. I feed off the energy that others (or in this case, one person) put off and that’s helped me in my three years here. But overall I search for more inspiration and the lack of it over a large period have time have left my reservoir all dried up.

Realizing where you are at in your professional career, the good and the bad things, can be emotionally exhausting. Any journey deep into your head and your heart will be this way. Added on top of that is the universal truth that change always moves at such slow pace and that new job you’re seeking may not be right around the corner. There will be more job postings you have to read. There will be more cover letters to write (heck, I need to write an entire post on the absurdity of cover letters). There will always be more tweaks needed for your CV.

What do you do when there’s so much waiting, a few rejections, and some applications that are never even acknowledged by the potential employer? You’ve got this energy sitting inside of you. There’s the initial thrill of putting together your application, then the lull as you wait, and sometimes the energy drain when you don’t get the job or just not hear back at all. It’s all so tough, and it’s all so much energy.

Personally I’ve found that surrounding myself with my family and being as creative as possible to be the way to not get down when the job hunt doesn’t go my way. Am I down because I may not have got that neat and unique job in the big city? That’s ok. Let’s all pile onto the couch and snuggle. Pajamas and pizza and a movie with the family. WHY NOT.


I’m also hashtag blessed to have music as an outlet. Silly cover letters got me all anxious, tired, and worried? I will go over to my recording studio and work on a song or two. I may have struck out a few times on this recent job hunt, but damn have I been productive in writing, recording, and producing songs. I’ll have some new stuff to share with you soon, but for now enjoy this:

And finally, when I don’t get a job that I’ve applied for, I have this little mantra I keep in my head: “You missed out on so much. But luckily I still get to hang out with Justin. He’s a pretty good human being.” Just like Stuart Smalley…

Abigail Foster's Photosynthesis Machine, Benson Memorial Library, Family, Libraries, Library Director, Life, Management, Titusville, PA

Where Are We Now?

About a year ago I hung up a bizarre painting in my office at work. To me it was perfect and just familiar enough that I thought it warranted a place in my life. As a person who always thought it would be neat to have an office and fill it with interesting things, the painting, when mixed with the Lego creations and drawings that Finn and Aero have created for me over the years, helped me establish this place my home away from home. When I feel comfortable at work, I usually am able to some really good and meaningful work. On the other hand I could also see how the average “I shop for my groceries at Walmart every Saturday at 1pm and have to watch the game and/or my sitcom at the same time every week” American person would be appalled by it.

One day I came into work to find that my painting was taken down. My coworkers took it down because, yes they were terrified and appalled by it. I guess right now would also be a good time to explain that due to limited space we’re all basically working on top of each other and that we’re surrounded by glass. It’s like a packed fishbowl in here. But to fully admit my feelings, I was pretty let down by their actions. It felt passive aggressive and overall it felt unkind. But in the moment I didn’t react. I just went on and say “oh, well that happened.”

You see as a Gemini I feel a duality to everything. There’s this part of me that always sees things from my point of view and then I almost immediately put that aside and see it from how others may have seen it. In this case: Justin likes the painting and hangs up the painting, Justin feels disappointed when someone takes that painting down, but then Justin instantly forgets about that and says “well I bet they didn’t like the painting so I understand that and what I thought about the painting shouldn’t matter because that’s selfish to only think about myself.” Over time, I’ve taken that approach to even more of an extreme: I guess in a way that by my coworkers actions I was able to put the painting to a much better use. It became the cover for my album Prozac Is The Dam And I Am The Dynamite, and I think it fit really well for that album. Having the painting taken down by my coworkers made me take it home, where I stared at it more and through those hours of staring it gave the painting more meaning and purpose. It became a visual representation of my life at the time, and when it merged together with the music I was creating it became a complete package.

You take all of these things together, stretch everything out by a few months, sometimes years, and what happens? You start to think about the first part (yourself) less and less until it almost becomes silly to even think about it in the first place. I think that’s where I am at now…after awhile of doing this here I am, a person that may be very capable about thinking of others but at the same time a person who doesn’t think of himself as much as he should. I’m overwhelmed right now and a bell goes off in my brain to remind me that this may be part of the reason as to why I feel this way. When you neglect yourself in some way, it all adds up. I stare at a lot of spreadsheets these days, and I like to think that my soul has a spreadsheet where it has been keeping note of the times I’ve put myself aside for others. It’s finally getting to that point where the spreadsheet is just too long and unruly and it becomes a hassle to scroll down the page because there’s so much data.

I’m on the cusp of something here. It feels exciting and at the same time it fills my soul with great fear, but I know that as with everything in this life it will come, it will go, and the next thing will happen. I feel lucky to be able to share this journey here and to have others be able to maybe understand and maybe feel like they may be in the same holding pattern at the moment.

Music: David Bowie “Where Are We Now?” As long as there’s sun..As long as there’s rain..As long as there’s fire..As long as there’s me..As long as there’s you


Evolution not Extinction; Making the Case for Co-Locating Services in Multi-Use Buildings by Ayub Khan


Back in 2011, I wrote a little blip of a thing about how neat it would be to see post offices in libraries. I never got around to trying the idea myself (but hey hey I’m still here in small town Titusville and I need something to do!) but yesterday I was very happy to see that this kind of stuff is actually happening in the world and that these projects are looking great! As I scrolled through Twitter looking for some library inspiration, I came across an article on the International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions (IFLA) titled Evolution not Extinction; Making the Case for Co-Locating Services in Multi-Use Buildings by Ayub Khan. THIS ARTICLE, THESE ACTIONS, AND THIS FORWARD THINKING BLEW MY MIND! I highly suggest you check out what Ayub has shared with all of us…it is very inspiring and it is a trend I hope to see catch on more all around the world. Here’s the hook that snagged me and pulled me in:

Public libraries are evolving, not dying out. They are re-inventing themselves as they have done throughout their history in response to socio-economic shifts, demographic pressures, changing customer demands and expectations, and the digital age. Many look and feel a lot different, particularly on the inside. Makeovers reflect the different ways libraries are used nowadays. When I started my career almost three decades ago, around 70% of library space was traditionally occupied by books and borrowing points, with only 30% for other activities. Now it is the other way around. Similar figures apply to the balance between front-of-house and backroom space in libraries.

Searching around (and thanks to some readers and tweeters) I came across some more examples of this libraries plus other services in the same space movement. Enjoy, and be inspired!

Starfield Coex Mall (South Korea) Opens A Massive 50,000 Book Library
Lincolnshire Coop merges libraries, pharmacies, post offices, and food stores
Yarm Library co-locates with Newcastle Building Society
Ashburton library co-location with a post office

More libraries should be trying this out! Are you? If so comment and leave your story. I would love to hear it.

Idea Share, Libraries, Library Director, Life, Management

Management Style (Version 2.0)

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.

A New Career In A New Town, Libraries

A New Career In a New Town: Communication Between Employers and Job Seekers

I so very much enjoyed writing my last post titled A New Career In A New Town: Librarians On The Move and I really loved the conversation that it generated so what I’m gonna do is start up a new category on this website focused on all things job hunting, moving, and growth as a librarian. And with that, here we go.

COMMUNICATION is something we always need to keep open. I understand that sometimes it is hard to do so. Sometimes there are layers to an organization or group which makes communication difficult. Sometimes it is difficult to deliver the bad news to someone who has applied for a job. There are many things that can make communication between a potential employee and a library looking to fill a position difficult, but no matter the situation communication should always be timely, open, and clear.

An employer who is looking to hire someone should be checking their inbox (or snail mail) at least once a day for new resumes/cover letters. When an employer gets something from a job seeker, they should send them an email/letter back letting the job seeker know that they have received their application and would be getting back to them by a certain date.

This is an excerpt from an email I received 5 minutes after sending in my resume and cover letter for a job opening.

What you see above is an excerpt from an email I received 5 minutes after emailing my resume and cover letter to an employer looking to hire someone confirming that they got my application. Getting this email back from an employer will do something amazing for the job seeker: it cuts down on the stress and anxiety that usually comes with applying for a new job. Let’s face it: finding a great job that inspires you, applying for that job, playing the waiting game, and to top it all off doing the interview thing is tough stuff on a human being. There’s so much excitement, worry, and anticipation with this song and dance. Anything that an employer can do to make it a less stressful experience for the job seeker is welcome. Remember, there are two sides to this employment story. Someone needs a job so that they can live, but at the same time you need a candidate who is not only qualified but full of energy, ready to tackle the work ahead.

This is an excerpt from an email I received 5 minutes after sending in my resume and cover letter for a job opening. (1)

What you see above is an example of how not to do communication with someone who has applied for a job at your organization. First and foremost, the “we got your resume and cover letter” email came SEVEN days after applying. Those seven days were spent worrying “did my email get lost in the internet?” and also “well when is it an acceptable time to email them back?”. This is a stressful game to be playing in your head as a job seeker, and potential employers should try to help minimize this stress. Digging deeper, we see a 24 day lack of communication from the potential employer to the job seeker after they had an interview. Remember that it is OK to say to the job seeker that, while we enjoyed our interview with you the organization has decided to pursue another path.  This is not the easiest thing to say but it helps the job seeker move on and attempt to find another job that they can apply to and focus their energy on.

Open and honest communication between an employer and a job seeker starts off a potential relationship in a good way.. This kind of approach to hiring and job seeking does two things:

  1. It allows the employer to better understand who the job seeker actually is and where they are coming from.
  2. It minimizes the stress and anxiety on the job seeker, which allows them to give the employer a better interview and idea of the kind of person that they are.

Stress and anxiety can change a person drastically. Think of minimizing or eliminating the typical stress and anxiety of the job hunt/interview as a way for you to get the best possible fit for your organization.