Small Town Library Director by TTW Contributor Justin Hoenke


Hi there librarians. The last time I made a post on Tame The Web was 628 days ago. Those six hundred and twenty eight days have come and gone by in a blur. It was a combo of my day-to-day work as a library director and my desire to spend all of my non working time with my family that has caused such a lapse in writing and sharing about libraries here at Tame The Web. But don’t let that make you think that I’ve stopped thinking about libraries and how we as librarians can continue to encourage the heart. In fact, in those six hundred and twenty eight days I’ve thought more about how we as librarians can “create institutions that expand minds and craft futures” than ever before. As you can see by my quote in that last sentence, yes, still after all these years I’m still just as inspired by Michael as I was back in the day.

Life as a small town library director has been an amazing journey of growth. As Michael has said many times before, “the heart of librarianship is learning” and in my case as a small town library director these past three years can be seen as one giant in the moment and always in session classroom. My CV will say the run of the mill things like “managed a yearly budget of a certain amount of dollars” and “embarked on an ambitious modernization of library policies and procedures” and while these things are true, they’re not the most important things that I’ve learned as a small town library director. Those important things are not listed on the resume because they’re not exactly the easiest things to describe. How do you say things like “learned the names and library habits of hundreds of library visitors that come to the library 4-5 times per week” and “treated every single library guest with kindness and compassion” on your CV? You don’t, but that doesn’t mean just because you can’t put it on your CV that you stop doing it. In fact, these days you should be doing just that more than ever.

It has always been a belief of mine that librarians have to be there for everyone. It may be a bold statement, but I’ve always thought that I could do my best work if I left my own personal politics at home and instead focused on being present, being kind, and being there for everyone that came through the front doors of my library. And now in my third year as a library director, I have to say that there’s a whole lot of truth to that. When you come from the middle and do your best to approach everything with a set of ears that listen, a brain that tries to understand everything, and a heart full of kindness, you can accomplish some great things over time. It’s not the easiest thing in the world, but when you do it you can build a better community through your work at the library.

One of the key qualities that is needed in every library director is that you have to be a strong person. You have to understand who you are inside and to trust in yourself. You have to practice patience and kindness every step of the way. You have to listen to some things you don’t agree with. You have to realize that positive change takes a whole lot of time. When you’re sure of who you are, you are better able to serve the needs of everyone in your community. You can always easily listen to all of the compliments and kudos that your community gives you, but if you trust in yourself you’re also able to listen to and better understand the tough stuff. Do you have a patron that objects to a book or movie that you have in your collection? Are they upset about a program you are offering to the public? Those things are the tough stuff, and in today’s world it seems like those tough stuff moments are increasing in frequency. In my three years as a library director, I’ve had two big tough stuff moments. I wondered if this was the job I wanted for the rest of my life. I wondered if this public library thing as a whole was worth it. It was dark and pretty depressing stuff. But what happened? I learned more about myself through the whole process. I learned that I am strong individual. I learned that I can lead with kindness, and in turn that kindness will spread through the community. I learned that, yes this whole public library thing is very much worth it, especially now in a time where so many people need access to not only materials and information but public space that we all share together.

Libraries are for everyone and being a public library director you learn that very quickly. Every kind of human being you can imagine will walk through your front doors, and as a library director you set the tone and welcome each and every one of those people. Most of the time you’ll hear nothing but kindness coming from those people. They’re grateful that you’re here for them and that the work you and your staff do help them in their day to day lives. As I said before, you will have those tough stuff moments where everything seems very doom and gloom, but think about the long term impact you can have as a library director who practices kindness with every step. Today, after three years of telling my staff and community about the importance of kindness towards each other, I was reminded that change is a long and sometimes slow process, but that if we believe in ourselves and our message we can get to where we need to be.

It took us three years to get here and while we still have some work to do, I’m feeling really good about where we are headed.

-Post by Justin Hoenke, Tame the Web Contributor

 

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