Ditching The Hype and Focusing on The Community

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This is where I live. This is the community I serve.

Like a computer our brains need to be restarted every once in awhile. Events and shifts over the last few years of my life have made me realize this. I no longer work to only serve kids, tweens, and teens. I no longer live in an urban area. I no longer live in a world which I fully understand. My life these days is very different than what it used to be, and with that I feel the need to reset myself. This post is an attempt to put this reset into practice using words to coalesce my thoughts into one coherent belief that moves me forward in my work as a librarian.

I believe that a strong part of the future of public libraries will be in focusing our efforts and services on a hyperlocal level. This differentiates from where I believe public libraries are focusing their efforts now, which is looking outwards towards everyone else in the profession to see what they are doing before acting themselves. No more is this apparent to me than the recent effort for public libraries to shift a lot of focus towards STEM/STEAM/Makerspace/Coding efforts. Please do not get me wrong: I believe in teaching and exposing citizens to things such as these, yet at the same time I do not believe in a one size fits all solution that can be applied to every public library. This is the case here, as it was with eBooks and any other “trends” in recent history.

The idea that we should be focusing our efforts and services on a hyperlocal level instead of looking outwards towards everyone else in the profession is doing became clear to me when I was completing a survey sent to me by our State Library. In that survey, participants were asked about STEM/STEAM/Makerspace in public libraries and nothing else. I understand that the point of the survey was to better understand the libraries in my state, but while reading it I thought of the following scenarios as I imagined another librarian in my state reading the email:

  1. The State Library is focused on STEM/STEAM/Makerspace in public libraries and we’re not doing this at all so we must be very behind.
  2.  The State Library created a survey about this, so it must be very important and I must get behind this trend even though I do not know if it is right for my community.
  3. I need to learn more about all things related to STEM/STEAM/Makerspace in public libraries and if I do not I risk losing patrons and support.

I understand that not everyone will follow one of the paths that I laid out above, but many will.  Human beings are creatures of habit and enjoy following the leader. There is probably something embedded into our DNA that makes us this way.

The problem with following the hype and trend of the moment is that it is usually fixated on something that worked well for one particular library and that it does not translate well to other libraries. When I lived in Portland, ME I felt like my library was focused on what happened everywhere else and the idea that “if they’re doing, we should be heading that way too.” In reality, Portland was its own very unique community that needed a specific set of programs and services. A huge part of why I moved to the Chattanooga Public Library in 2013 was because they were looking (and still do) at their programs and services on a hyperlocal level. Programs like DEV DEV, The 4th Floor, Makeanooga, and many more worked and continue to work because they are programs for that community, not programs that were copied/pasted from what someone else in public libraries was doing.

Why are we at where we are now? I believe that social media, large organizations, and large publications have led the charge towards public libraries focusing outwards towards everyone else in the profession instead of inspiring those in the profession to think for themselves and focus inward on their communities. A culture of “here’s how to be successful with your public library in 5 easy steps” combined with ego boosting catchphrases like “rock star librarian” have not helped us but instead presented public libraries with the path of least resistance.

How do we change the conversation? 

  • We need more public librarians out there willing to share their stories about how their focus on a hyperlocal level is benefiting their public library and their community. To start, I recommend following the work of librarians and libraries in New Zealand and Australia. You can do that by starting here with this Twitter list that I have compiled. The work done by the people and organizations is focused, inspiring, and uplifting.
  • Share through any platform that you feel comfortable with. I personally would like to see an increase in public librarians writing more and maintaining their own blogs or Medium profiles
  • Remind each other that our communities come before everything and to keep the message positive. Support and reminders from other public librarians is one way that we can spread the message that we need to focus our work locally.

Ditch the hype. Don’t copy and paste. Focus on your Community. This is what I believe to be the path forward.

Library To-Do List: 2017

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EXPAND OUR LOCAL HISTORY/GENEALOGY OFFERINGS
Titusville, PA has a wonderful and rich history (for a glimpse of it, just read this). As our local public library, I believe that we should be doing as much as possible to make that history accessible to our everyone in the community. To date, we’ve done a few things to increase awareness of our great history. Jess Hilburn started up a blog to share some great local stories she digs up in the Titusville Herald Archives. We’ve got the Titusville Herald archive online for in library use. But in my opinion we’ve got to do more, and slowly but surely we are getting there.

A partnership between the library, the Titusville Historical Society, Drake Well Museum and Park, and the Titusville Alumni Association came about in 2016 and resulted in the beginnings of the Titusville PA Heritage Connection, a website/digital portal that aims to bring all of our organizations together in one online space to make it easier for people to find what they’re looking for. While the site isn’t anywhere near complete, the fact that we have it up and the framework is there is a step in the right direction. A big thank you to our Clarion University of PA intern Kerry Neely for her help in getting this set up!

UPGRADE OUR INTERNET CONNECTION
Living and working in Chattanooga, TN was pretty great and one of the big reasons for that was their gig fiber internet connection. Speeds were fast, reliable, and the excitement of having something so state of the art created such a positive buzz in the community which led to some great things being tried out to make Chattanooga TN a better place for all.

Since moving to Titusville, PA, I’ve been wishing we’ve had that kind of thing to spur some excitement. Our internet options here in town are lacking, and the ones we can connect to have average to terrible service. HOWEVER, I hope to change that in 2017. To my excitement, I discovered that the town does have fiber internet lines in a few places. After some conversations with people around the community and others in the state, I found out that THERE’S FIBER LINES SURROUNDING THE ENTIRE BENSON MEMORIAL LIBRARY. Here’s a beautiful image of that fiber line coming right down in front of the library and turning right down our alley. Wow.

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In 2017, I’m gonna do my best to get us connected to these fiber lines so that in the future we can offer better internet access to our patrons. I don’t know how this will look, I don’t know how much this will cost, and I don’t know if I’ll fully succeed, but I’m going to try. As far as I know, we’d be the second institution in Titusville to access this connection (the University of Pitt at Titusville is the first) and the first public space to offer high internet speeds. Like I said above, we’ll see, but for now I’m gonna dream big and try out something that’s potentially huge for our community.

PROGRAMS, PROGRAMS, PROGRAMS

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Yup, these are my kids Aero and Finn at a library program. They come to a lot of them because they have a lot of fun and they enjoy getting to hang out with other kids. That’s what it is all about!

One of the big things that libraries do best these days is to offer educational and fun programs for all ages. In 2016, we’re going to have offered 320 programs that were attended by over 8,000 community members. That’s not bad for a public library that has a service area of around 14,000 people.

2017 is gonna bring a lot more of that and hopefully in larger numbers. I can’t and won’t take my foot off of the gas pedal when it comes to programming in libraries. We have to constantly be offering something to our community members. Programs are unique to libraries and something that we do very well. Story times and after school clubs work best for our younger audience, while nighttime events and musical performances work well for our adult and senior citizen crowd. We plan on having more of those throughout the year.

DO MORE TO ESTABLISH THE LIBRARY AS A COMMUNITY SPACE
One of the best things public libraries have going for their is their space. Most, if not all of us, have amazing buildings in centrally located areas. These buildings are one of our biggest assets. They do some of the simplest things that a library can do: provide space, warmth, comfort, and adventure. I’ve been thinking and speaking about this idea for a few years, and in 2017 I hope to do more to make that idea more cohesive and understandable to everyone out there.

STAY POSITIVE
No matter what we face directly in front of us in 2017, we have to remember that there is love and support all around us. Take a look around at your online social networks, groups like EveryLibrary, and your local community organizations that support the library. Take a moment and look at the community members you serve on a daily basis at your library. All of these groups and all of these people believe in the work that you do. I’m going to do my best to keep that up front in my head and my heart in 2017. I urge you all to do the same.

2016 Year In Review

PAST YEARS: 2015, 2014, 2013

Let’s get it out of the way before we jump into everything: 2016 wasn’t a great year for most of us and there are way too many reasons out there to put here into this blog so I’m not gonna do that. Let’s try something else, something that we all remember from way back in 2014-2015: positivity.

At the time of this writing, I have successfully arisen from my slumber on 337 out of the 366 days in 2016. I’ve spent most of the time I have been awake during those 337 days doing two things: spending it with my family or working for my community. I don’t have a fancy photo or some numbers to show you to back this up. I can just promise you that my family, our home, and the Benson Memorial Library continue to exist, thrive, and go about doing things that have a positive impact on the world. It’s the only thing that we know how to do.

I have enjoyed listening to all kinds of music. I’ve played so much Animal Crossing: New Leaf. I’ve got to watch some great films. I can’t recall what their titles were but they were enjoyable in the moment.

I did eat way too much food and I didn’t go on enough walks. I am going to do my best to fix that in 2017.

I really enjoyed meeting lots of new people this year as I did some traveling. I think traveling is the best…you get a chance to connect with people you have never met before, and in doing so your world grows and you grow as a person. I never want to stop growing and being a better Justin. I think that’s where my recent obsession with cyborgs comes from. Cyborgs can upgrade and change. I’ve been trying to figure out a way that I can do that myself as a human being. I think I’ve got it!

Goodbye to you 2016. I can’t think of a better way to say au revoir than Bowie’s Lazarus.

This way or no way
You know, I’ll be free
Just like that bluebird
Now ain’t that just like me

Library Related Things in the Second Half of 2016

 

I haven’t spent a lot of time talking about library related things in my world recently because…well…when I look at the other stuff being written about libraries out there it hits me that what we’re doing here in Titusville PA may not just be of much interest to people in libraries these days. While other libraries out there are talking about makerspaces, open data, hackathons, social justice, and more, we’re here focusing on the simple things: opening our doors, welcoming the community into our space, and doing what we can do to make life in our little neck of the woods just a bit more enjoyable for everyone.

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We hosted the local Chamber of Commerce event “Home For The Holidays” in our Community Room. It brought community members and local artists and vendors together and hopefully some folks got some neat local holiday gifts for their family and friends.

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We decorated the inside and outside of our space for the holidays. Just a few little decorations can really brighten up the mood and add to the positive spirit that goes around this time of year. It makes me smile.

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It snowed! The steps that we restored over the summer are holding up nicely in the late fall/early winter weather and we do our best to clean them off and take care of them so that our community doesn’t get injured as they come and go from the library.

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We hired Becky Stahl to be our new Youth Services Librarian at the Benson Memorial Library. She’s awesome, a lot of fun, and very kind and I appreciate that. My sons Finn and Aero love her craft and tech programs.

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Guardian Elder Care in Titusville, PA helped us fund our front step renovation project. To celebrate the event, we held an outdoor live music event which was attended by over 20 community members. There was free food! That was awesome.

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My first speaking event of the Fall was for the Pioneer Library System in Canandaigua, NY. What a great library system full of very kind people. I was very impressed by who attended the event…it wasn’t just librarians but there were trustees, Friends of the library, and state legislators in the audience. It was great to share and chat with everyone.

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My final speaking event was in November at the Clifton Park-Halfmoon Public Library in New York. What a great library! It reminded me a bit of the Darien Public Library in how the building was laid out, which was extremely customer friendly and welcoming. The staff at the library was so very kind as well, and before and after the event I always felt like I was part of the staff and had worked there for at least 10 years. That’s the best!

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Happy this time of year to everyone out there from the Hoenke Family. We love you all. We’re gonna watch a lot of holiday movies and listen to the same holiday music we listen to every year and just enjoy the hell out of our family and friends. This is the best time of year. Love love love love love.

 

WAITING FOR THE GREEN by Zomo

It is with much happiness that I can finally present to you a version of the 2002 debut album by Zomo, titled WAITING FOR THE GREEN. 

Tell us a bit about the history of Waiting For The Green

Back in 2001-2002, Zomo was made up of myself (Justin Hoenke), drummer Dustin Miller, guitarist Zach Watt, and “insert bass player at the moment”. Eventually Rob Felsberg became our bass player in 2002 but from what I can remember didn’t actually ever join us in the recording studio. We recorded the backing tracks to most of the songs with Atom Watt (Zach’s brother) at his studio in Girard, PA. I remember his whole living room was full of sound baffles and drums as Dustin tracked the drums for what seemed like weeks. I can’t recall how long it took. After that, Zach and I began putting guitars on the album and by the end of 2002 and mid 2003 everything just kind of stopped on the album. We all kind of moved on from these songs into newer ones and band members came and went. I think the final nail in the coffin was in June 2003 when Zach Watt left the band. After that we recruited Aaron Davis and for the next 6 months rehearsed and recorded For The Muses.  So yeah, if you follow that timeline then this is definitely our debut album even though we never got it done.

What was the original vision for the album?

It was going to be 14 tracks…7 written by myself and 7 written by Zach Watt. I can’t speak for Zach, but the songs I contributed were: Lucy Gray, The Bells, Tooramalay, Here Come The Demons, Sleepyhead, Cutting the Boy in Half, Breakdown, Giraffe, Girl of My Dreams, Mountain Jam, The Rise and Fall of Joe Walsh Part I and Upon My Sleeve I Wear This Badge. We were going to record as many songs as we could and then whittle everything down to a nice solid debut album.  At the time, we were very much focused on growing ourselves as songwriters and capturing our first songs in a nice debut album.

There were a lot more songs floating around at the time but we held off on putting them on the first record. For some reason, we thought that a lot of these songs would be better for the second album…songs like Pine Away, Alberta, Pocket Symphony, and a few others. In my mind there was a clear “ok, let’s do this set of songs for the first album and this set of songs for the second album” vibe happening. But the songs kept coming so fast and the new ones were so much more exciting than the debut album songs because we’d been playing the Waiting For The Green songs so much. We really got ahead of ourselves.

Why finish this album now?

Well, the album still isn’t finished. You’ve got to remember that Zomo doesn’t exist anymore and without Zomo around there will never be a finished album. To properly finish this thing, Dustin, Zach, Atom, and I have to get into a room for a period of time and do it….and I don’t see that ever happening.

I finished the studio versions of Girl of My Dreams and Giraffe this year based off of the rough backing tracks I had in my archives. I finished them and then relistened to the live tracks you hear on this version of the album. I was blown away by our performance and the raw energy of the songs. I mean listen to Zach’s lead guitar! It’s so freaking good.

I wrote these songs and they mean a lot to me and it was driving me nuts to not have them out in the world. What good is a song when you just keep it to yourself? So I finished things up, relistened to what we had performed live, and came up with this tracklist. It’s not perfect but it is something….and it puts out this great music that we created out into the world. That’s the best thing.

Is there anything else in the Waiting For The Green Archives?

I’ve got other rough backing tracks from those sessions in my archives, but I don’t think I’ll be revisiting those anytime soon. I think the live versions of these songs work much better. Zach’s got his songs as well and I have no idea what he’ll do with them.

What is the future for Zomo?

As far as I can tell, there is none. The band did some stuff, released 3 albums, and now we’re all off on our own living our lives and making music in other ways. It was fun, but everything changes.

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.

 

THREE THINGS 2016.10 (Deluxe Edition)

  • I enjoy the simplicity of late 1950’s/early 1960’s rock n’ roll and pop music. I can put on the Sirius XM 50’s and 60’s channel and really enjoy every song that comes up. Simple chord progressions, easy to sing melodies, and generic lyrics lead to good music.
  • I enjoy seeing vegetables and flowers grow around our home in our gardens.
  • The circus at Drake Well in Titusville, PA on August 27, 2016 was amazing. Top Hat Side Show is awesome.
  • Scott toilet paper is hands down my preferred toilet paper. Good price, good texture, and nice on the butt. All in all though, get a bidet and a squatty potty for the best experience.
  • I recently discovered the band Against Me! and I really enjoy their style. I wrote them off originally as just another punk band but they have this folky, jangly thing going on that is really impressive. Their lead singer sings with such great power.
  • I enjoy sitting around in the hammock that my father installed at the bottom of our son’s tree fort.
  • I want to learn more about the universe and would like to obtain a proper telescope to use to do so.
  • This summer Haley has been identifying so many “weeds” on our property and wow they are so amazing. Purslane is a great thing and I enjoy eating it while I’m sitting around outside.
  • I enjoyed the time I got to spend relaxing after my umbilical hernia surgery. There should be no such thing as a schedule, no such thing as an alarm. We should just be able to exist in the moment. It took a minor operation to make me realize this. I think our world could be stronger and much more patient if we all didn’t have something to do or somewhere to be.
  • I believe we are coming up on yet another turning point for libraries where we present ourselves first and foremost as cultural and learning institutions that make communities stronger. I believe that this is the identity that we must present to the public. Our time to advocate for our budgets and funding is now.
  • Tonight my family will go see KISS perform live. This will be Aero’s first concert and I could not think of a better choice for him.
  • The end of summer and the beginning of fall are magical times here in Northwestern PA and I am really going to enjoy it while it lasts.