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.

 

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Libraries, Things

SEVEN THINGS LIBRARIES SHOULD BE DOING

BUY LOCAL, COLLECT LOCAL
Libraries have money to spend.  Some have bigger budgets than others, but the point I’m trying to make we have money and a big part of our job is to spend it.  Where should we be spending this money?  Sure, it may be very easy to place orders through big material distributors (and sometimes that is really nice to do!) but libraries, being an important part of the local community fabric, should also be doing all that they can to support their local economies.  And a lot of that can be done by buying local.

One of the other perks about buying local?  You not only keep the money local and support your community, but you get to interact and talk with experts.  I try to do as much of my graphic novel and video game/movie purchasing through two local stores.  The people working at these stores help me build solid collections.  They take the time to look at my teen graphic novel and manga collection and fill in the gaps, make recommendations based on what we have, and just generally make the collection stronger.  With video games and movies, they take the time to locate not only the best prices they can give me, but they also track down hard to find and rare items that my patrons request.  Sure, these items may not come to the library pre-processed with labels, call numbers, and other things all ready to go on the shelf, but where they make up for that is the local businesses attention to detail.  This is something you can’t put a $ sign on, but is something so valuable we cannot forget about it.

MAKE STUFF WITH YOUR PATRONS
This summer, I worked with a local hip hop artist named Sontiago and 5 teens to create 2 original hip hop tracks.  The beauty of the project was not only were they made IN THE LIBRARY but they were MADE BY TEENS WHO USE THE LIBRARY.

This project really sums up 2011 as a librarian for me and has helped me form ideas about moving ahead in libraries.  Instead of us being the place that collects popular media, we have to be the place that helps our community create things.  Be it a painting, a graphic novel, a locally published book, music, or a movie, libraries should become the community hub for creativity.  Librarians should become the mentors for the community, the people that help empower the community to create things.

Steve Teeri of the Detroit Public Library is also doing this sort of thing with the teens he works with.  I highly suggest you check this article out if you’re serious about making wonderful things with your patrons.

Is there a problem with this idea?  Yes.  Who is the audience that wants these locally created pieces?  That is the tricky part.  For example: even if you have a patron that creates the ultimate zombie film, your patrons are still gonna wanna watch Dawn of the Dead or another big name zombie film.  Mainstream media will still be more popular, more recognizable, and more immediate than locally made art.  But libraries can help change that.  I mean, it’s never going to be perfect, but libraries can help communities shift their thinking towards recognizing locally made creations as valuable for strengthening the community.  Our organizations are big, and when we speak, our communities listen.  If we can clearly communicate the goal of our programs to our communities, we can build momentum in this movement…let’s call it the “experience local” movement.  We can make something like this take off and have legs.  We can build the interest.

And even if we don’t, we can still do important things like this.  

 

BUILD APPS AND OTHER NEAT THINGS
If things like social media and technology are the future, then we should be getting in the game of building unique platforms and experiences for our patrons.  A good example of building something unique for patrons to experience happened at the Ann Arbor District Library this summer.  Instead of going along with the typical Summer Reading themes, their development staff (read their very interesting blog here) came up with an online summer game that rewarded patrons for playing along.  Programs and experiences like this have been popping up in other libraries too (check out what the NYPL did).

It doesn’t have to be just about games though.  Libraries should be building their own tools, apps, games, and more for their patrons to use.  Cookie cutter products offered by big companies are not gonna cut it anymore.  Catering to our patrons unique and individual needs is going to enable us to give them the best possible services.

You can read more about the AADL Summer Game at the following links:
http://play.aadl.org/
https://github.com/aadl/Summer-Game 

STAND UP FOR YOURSELF
Have libraries done a good job of standing up for themselves?  We’re getting there.  Amazing things have happened in New Jersey and Connecticut (here and here), where librarians have stood up and clearly communicated to the powers that be about their importance in the community.  I also wrote about how I think we haven’t really got all there yet.

But one thing is clear to me.  We always need to stand up for ourselves.  A small victory, an increased budget, or the go ahead to move ahead on a big project does not mean everything is going to be hunky dory for many years to come.  We have to keep working (not fighting.  That’s too negative and we need to stay positive) and communicating who we are and what we do.  And that brings me to…

EXPLORE NEW PARTNERSHIPS
Budgets, budgets, budgets.  We all have shrinking budgets.  We all have to do “more with less”.  I think we all understand that and agree that this is what the future looks like.  It doesn’t have to be all grim and gray though.  We can make interesting things happen if we think outside the box about who we could partner with in libraries.

I’m a firm believer that the library isn’t just a place where we collect books or things, but instead a center for the community.  With this sort of mindset, I see the possibility of the library expanding to something bigger, better, and more convenient for our communities.  What about post offices in libraries?  They’re not having the best time with their finances and are looking for new ways to deliver services.  What about de-emphasizing the idea of a central library location and instead making the library an idea that exists everywhere in the community?  Get out into the communities that you serve and have library programs anywhere that you can, with whomever wants to work with the library.  The library outside of the library?  It may be one of the best ways for us to communicate the importance of the library.

COLLECT THINGS YOUR COMMUNITY WANTS, NOT WHAT YOU WANT
Try to find me saying that “every library should have a video game collection” in something I’ve wrote online and I be you’ll be successful.  Well, I take that back.  A video game collection may not be right for your community.

It’s easy to listen to the trends happening in libraries and get very excited about them.  It’s also really important to keep your library up to date and relevant for your community.  But why invest in materials that would not be good for your community?  Focus on the things that are relevant at that moment and always keep an ear out for what may be the latest trends with your patrons.  Don’t create collections just because everyone else is doing it.  Do it for your community first, and once they’re happy, feel free to experiment.  Things may work, things may not.  At my last job, I added a small teen music section to the teen library.  The collection was really popular and continues to grow to this day.  When I moved to my current job, I thought “hey, I should try that again.  It worked at my old job, so it should work here.”  It didn’t work at all, and now I have a small music collection that just takes up valuable shelf space.  I’m giving it some more time to possibly catch on before I scrap the idea all together, but when I look back all that I can think of is “I should’ve waited to see what my patrons wanted.”

BE VERY NICE
The last thing may seem like the most simple thing, but I think it’s the most important.  Talk to your patrons, share stories, have a laugh, and always smile.