Benson Memorial Library, Libraries, Library Director

Library Stuff That I Am Proud Of

I don’t blog much about what I’ve been up to at the Benson Memorial Library because every time I sit down to do it everything ends up sounding so boring that what I was up to in libraries in the past. I mean, what can top The 2nd Floor at the Chattanooga Public Library? We had a freakin’ arcade there!

When it comes to being a library director, my life is very different than it was when I was involved in Youth Services yet at the same time there is a whiff of familiarity in this job. No matter what I’m doing in libraries, I find that the common thread that connects everything is that I am advocating constantly for services for our community members. That’s really the core of it all….trying to get a safe and fun spot for teens is the same as figuring out a way to get my employees better pay and benefits. No matter what I’m doing, the end goal is always to make the community where I live a stronger place.

All of this hit me when I was putting together our yearly fund drive. You’ll see the end result of that work in the two images at the top of this post. While I was in Chattanooga I learned a lot about the value of the numbers we collect and how they help tell our story to the community. Our numbers at the Benson Memorial Library so far this year (Jan 1-Aug 31) blew me a way so I shared those with our community. It was great to finally send out these Patron Fund Drive letters last week and I look forward to seeing what the community thinks about the Benson Memorial Library once they read up on what we’ve done recently.

Here’s a few other things that we’ve done that I am most proud of. It may not be as fancy as getting a 3D printer in the library or something like that, but I think that the work we’ve done here so far is pretty awesome and I sure am proud of it.

  • June 2015-August 2016: 82058 items have been circulated
  • January-September 28 2016: 40698 visitors to the library
  • June 2015-Present: 313 free events held at the library
  • Renovated the front steps: The sandstone steps were in dire need of repair, and this summer we did just that; we not only got them fixed, but we made some repairs to them that will help them last for many more years.
  • Weeded the entire collection (yes, all of it) in order to reorganize most of the library and give the shelves space so that we can update our collection to fit the needs of the community today.
  • Got some grants to help with quite a few things: building improvement, Youth Services, programming, and more.
  • Updated most if not all of the library policies
  • Updated our Employee Personnel Policy and got 2 months maternity/paternity leave for employees.
  • Decreased our yearly health care costs by $5000-$8000 and increased benefits for the individuals on our plan (they went from a $500 deductible down to a $0 deductible)
  • Kind of sort of restarted the Friends of the Library group (it’s a long story, but we’re getting there very slowly) and ran 3 successful book sales.
  • Hired 3 new employees (two youth services folks, one all purpose staff member who I’m hoping will become our future local history guru)
  • I was asked to join two boards: Titusville Regional Literacy Council and the Titusville Senior Center. These help the library keep in touch with two key demographics and gives us a great chance to work with these organizations to make sure we are helping out everyone in our community.
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Family, Fidelia Hall, Libraries, Life, Titusville, PA

Food Stamps, the Feeling of Failure, Student Loans, and Life as a Library

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Last week, Haley and I applied for food stamps. Our family, which has been going on strong for 11 years and now includes 2 awesome kids, Haley’s mom, our dog Sonic, 3 chickens, and 2 rabbits, have hit a period in our journey where we couldn’t do it without help anymore.

I know that there’s a reason I pay taxes. They are there to help….my family and I, others in need, and more. This is one of those situations where we needed help. I understand this very well. I am all for taxes that help out others in my community. We are all in this together and together we can do amazing things. At the same time there’s a stigma that comes from applying for and using food stamps: that somehow you’ve failed, you’re lazy, or you’re just downright an average human being. I try to have a healthy mind and outlook on everything, but I’ve gotta admit that I’ve fallen into this pit recently. I’m a 36 year old human being, I’ve got a wonderful job which I’m pretty good at, an amazing and happy family, and I’ve done some other things that I’m also really proud of. But here I am at this point where I feel like a failure just because I need some help. It shouldn’t be this way.

We’ve used the support of food stamps before. When Haley and I first got married, we were finishing up college. We both had part time jobs in addition to our full time school workload. The food stamps helped out a lot. Back then, the feeling of being a complete failure because you’re on food stamps wasn’t as big as it is now. Having a family and needing food stamps feels like you’ve hit the bottom. I think about this feeling that I’m having and then I think about all of the others out there who are on food stamps, especially those with families just like mine. What happens when you have all of those people out there in the same situation? You have millions of people out there feeling that they’ve lost all hope, that they’re somehow pathetic, and that they’ve failed. You have millions of people who feel like shit just for wanting to make sure their family doesn’t go hungry. When you have that many people feeling bad in the country, those bad vibes add up. It can’t be proved, but I really think the general malaise surrounding things in our country is somehow related to feelings like this.

On our end, I know that student loan debt is crippling. We’re both on programs that give us flexibility with our payments (income based repayment). While these do help, it’s still tough to have around $100K of debt total hanging over your head just because you went to college, got an education, and pursued a career in something you felt could make a difference in the world. I also understand the argument “well, you went into college knowing full well what would happen.” I’ve heard this many times before. I can see it from two sides: of course I knew (something) about how I’d be in debt once I left college. When I went, they told us about it. Did they tell us the specifics? Sort of kind of maybe not. I started college in 1998 and at that time it was just “oh yeah, you’ll have some debt but it’ll be OK because you’ll be a college graduate.” Most of us became the first great generation of student loan debt holders. And we’re still here! * Can America Afford This Approach to Solving Student Loan Debt? (it’s behind a paywall, but it is a great read) by Haley Sweetland Edwards is a great read that sums up the collective “wow, so much student loan debt”weight of a generation.

The amount of money we spend on student loan debt per month could help us in a lot of ways (FYI: it is around $337/month). First up: it could help with the grocery bills, thus giving us enough money to not go down the food stamp route. Second: it could help with the startup of Fidelia Hall. Have you ever tried starting up a business or a non-profit? Maybe I’m really stupid, but it’s really difficult and confusing…and it costs a lot. Just this week, our Fictitious Name Registration cost us $70 to file an application, $41 to advertise the application in our local newspaper, and $75 to advertise the application in a legal journey. That’s $186, and we’d still have $151 to spend this month on something else (groceries! Fidelia Hall repairs and infrastructure!) What am I trying to get towards? The debt we’re saddling people with for school, health care, and more are crippling us. They’re crippling us mentally. They make us not want to get out of bed. They make us want to sit around and do nothing when what we really want to do is something, because I believe that all human beings (no matter which political side they are on) just want to get things done for their communities. They’re also crippling our ability to move forward and do better things for our communities. You can’t start up a business/non-profit when you don’t have time or money.**

I better wrap this up. We just hit 1,000 words.

I’m not asking for a raise. I’m not asking for donations. I’m not even asking for an “oh man I feel you.” I just wanted to get this out there so that if you’re in a situation similar to this that YOU ARE NOT ALONE. We’re here. We’re successful. We’re pretty happy. We’re in debt and we’re also on food stamps.

*On a side note, I remember credit card companies and banks lining up at the dining halls doing everything they can (“here! have a free beach ball for taking our credit card!”) to get students signed up for their first horrible credit card. They succeeded with me and so many other of my friends.

**Go ahead and leave a comment telling me to suck it up and “pull myself up by the bootstraps just like an American would. I’ve been trying to do this for years. This is just what my Dad said and continues to say. But there’s more to it than “sucking it up” or “taking it like a man” or “pulling up your bootstraps”. There has to be some give and take.