Category Archives: TTW Contributor: Justin Hoenke


Let me say this: change is extremely difficult.  It’s also not a quick fix, but a process that may go on for many years.  Change also has many hills and valleys and sometimes you can’t see the destination.

In the end, however, change is totally worth all the ups and downs that come with it.

Over the past few months, I’ve experienced a lot of change in my career as a librarian.  I started off the year as the Teen Librarian at the Cape May County Library in Southern, NJ.  In February, I accepted a position as the new Teen Librarian at the Portland Public Library in Portland, ME.  The task was quite daunting: in April 2010, the library would complete a $7.3 million dollar renovation which was funded by a bond approved by voters and donations from individuals and organizations.  One of the main features of the renovated library was a dedicated teen space, something that the library never had before.

Basically, it sort of went something like this: “There’s not a strong teen presence in the library and this is all a blank slate.  Here’s a brand new space, some money, and a bunch of great tools.  Work your magic.”  Yes, it sounds like a dream, yet at the same time it sounds like a scary task.  I accepted and never looked back.  Moving your entire family 482 miles is no fun.  Leaving behind a teen program and a wonderful group of teens that you worked so hard to build for 2 years is also really hard.  But what the Portland Public Library wanted was change.  They wanted to make the teens in the community know that the library is their building and that they are welcome.  They wanted change, and I was going to help them get there.

We reopened to the public on April 15, 2010 and welcomed our community with open arms.  Patrons are now back in the building, wandering around at their new library.  The response?  Overwhelming love and support.  I am inspired to reach out to the teens of Portland, Maine.  I cannot wait to show them what the library has to offer them.

So what am I trying to accomplish with this story?  Librarians and Libraries right now are in a state of change.  Where do we go?  Are books our future?  Do we focus on being the community center as the way forward?  What will the digital revolution do to us?  All of these questions are valid and very tough to face.  But here’s what I’ve learned in the middle of all my personal change…we’re going to be all right.

Libraries and Librarians are climbing up a really steep hill right now and it’s pretty tiring, but once we get over it, there is quite a beautiful view.  We can do this.  The library will survive.

Here’s the PSA that the Portland Public Library created to announce the reopening of the library.

-Post by Justin Hoenke, Tame the Web Contributor

Using Social Media to Connect with Teens

It’s easy for any library to have a social media presence these days.  Translating that into success with serving a teen population?  Well, that’s another thing…

Be Yourself

The discussion of personal and professional profiles always comes up.  I didn’t want to have two profiles (done it before, hated it) so I had to make a decision: add teens to my own accounts or hide myself far, far away.  I went with what some may consider to be the unpopular route.  I added them to my own accounts.  I feel like it has made a world of difference.

I am happy to share the real Justin with the teens that I serve.  I have nothing bad to hide and all good to share.  Letting them in on my “personal” life has actually allowed me to establish a deeper connection with them.  For example, when one teen found that him and I shared an interest in The Mars Volta, he came running in the library one day in disbelief.  He was excited that I was into the same music as him.  He now comes in a few times each week and we spend a good fifteen minutes or so talking about music.

This is just one of countless examples of how opening up my personal social networking accounts to teens has made it easier for me to connect with them and provide them with quality service.  In the end, it makes you more of a real person to them.  They become your friend and they trust you.  The upside to this?  They’re using the library…and they love it.

Stay Active

There’s nothing that looks sadder than an abandoned profile.  If you’re going to have a public account, make sure you update it with the most relevant information.  Don’t just create the profile and let it fester and rot away.  An up to date profile will show your public that you care about connecting with them.  One of the golden rules I try to always stick to is replying to comments or posts.  Even if it is a simple hello or a comment on a link, say something back!  Conversation and interaction is one of the reasons why we’re all using social media.

Educate Them

Myspace is dead.  It lost its appeal when showing off how (badly) one could customize their page with videos, gifs, and pictures won out over connecting and sharing with others.  We can learn something from this.

Media 21 is a project created by Buffy Hamilton, a school librarian at Creekview High School in Canton, GA.  The goal of the Media 21 Project is to “expand teens’ information literacy skills by introducing them tools for constructing a personal learning network and to posit research as a real world activity for learning, not an isolated unit of study.”

The idea behind Media 21 blows my mind.  Taking a moment or two each day to educate the teens using my library about social media allows me to better serve them as a librarian.  They understand that social media is a real and credible way to interact, share and create.  It helps me be the best librarian I can be for them.  I know what they want, and they know I’m always here to listen.

Buffy further adds: “I wanted to them to learn how to use social media tools for constructing and sharing knowledge as well as to start thinking about ways social media can be an authoritative source of knowledge”

Right on, sister.

You can read more about the Media 21 project here

Many thanks to School Librarian extraordinaire Buffy Hamilton for her quotes and guidance.

Give Stuff Away

I love what they’re doing over at the Darien Library with FourSquare.  As a matter a fact, it got me thinking.  With the tips  feature, we’re able to create our own little mini scavenger hunts for teens.  I learned just how excited teens get whyen it comes to scavenger hunts when I hosted an all night teen lock in at my library last year.  The scavenger hunt was one of the biggest events of the night.  By offering daily scavenger hunts with rewards, teens will have more reason to come into the library, check in, and complete the daily tip.  You’ve got them inside the library and they’re actively participating in a library program.  Win!

(On a related note, I highly suggest checking out this excellent post by David Lee King.  “Personal Accounts, Work Accounts – What To Do?”)

-Justin Hoenke, Tame The Web Contributor

Sharing Life

There’s lots of talk about where we are headed these days.  What is our future?  Will we go the way of the dinosaur and suburban mall?  Seth Godin seems to think that we’re doomed while Toby Greenwalt and an army of librarians seem to think otherwise.  I’m gonna go out on a limb here and say that the future of the public library is right in front of us.  And boy, does it look wonderful.

Teens at the Graphic Novel and Manga Club, Cape May County Library

We need to look no further than to the teens that are using the public library to see the future.   The library of the 21st Century has been characterized as being less of a library and more of a community center.  This practice is already in full effect when it comes to teen librarianship.  A great deal of a teen librarian’s focus is programming and getting teens into the library to create lifelong users.

Programming brings teens into the library and gives them community.  Teens get a chance to interact with each other and share an experience.  One element that cannot be taken away no matter how much technology grows is human interaction.  Think of the modern supermarket.  Sure, the self checkout is great in a pinch, but don’t you just always find yourself going to a regular checkout for the interaction?  People working and collaborating with other people will drive the public library into the future.  Creating a third space where people share ideas and media will keep the public library relevant in the 21st century.  The development of the teen space in the public library can be seen as a microcosm of this idea.  Teen spaces are designed for use by a specific age range (usually 12-18 years old) and include many forms of media and technology all packaged together nicely into one area.

The next step is to expand.  In order to accomplish this, we must embrace our sense of  adventure and open our minds.  Let’s take the ideas in teen librarianship and apply them to the organization as a whole.  For example, we need to take a look at the individual populations we serve.  It’s not as simple as children, teen and adult anymore.  Think about the specific needs of each group and create programming that suits their needs.  With programs designed for specific needs in place, users will feel more of a connection to their public library.

I put up the image of the teens at the Graphic Novel and Manga club to highlight this point.  Two years ago, graphic novels and manga were considered just an extra part of the collection at my library.  The genres were lumped in together with fiction (and sometimes non-fiction, specifically 741.547) and nothing was done to cater to the needs of this specific user group.  I recognized this and vowed to make a change.  My first step was to set aside an area for these collections.  It was a success.  Graphic Novel and Manga circulation rose 56% from 2008 to 2009 and a new breed of patron started using the library.  These were people who I had never seen in the library before.  My mission culminated with the development of the Teen Graphic Novel and Manga club, a program which meets once per month to discuss anything and everything related to the genre.  And it’s beautiful.  On average we have 13 teens every month attend the program.  These teens come from all different backgrounds and different high schools.  They are all unique in their own way.  Yet, they come together for 2 hours every month to share, collaborate, learn, and enjoy life.

The library is already the ultimate sharing institution.  We need to redefine what we mean by sharing to include all sorts of things.  I’m just gonna say it.  We have to get rid of the idea that we’re all about sharing books and media.  What we have to embrace is the idea that we’re sharing life.

-Justin Hoenke, Tame The Web Contributor

The Library as a Community Center/Third Place:  Links for further reading

Libraries Stand Ready to Help in Tough Economic Times by Jim Rettig

The Library as a Community Center by Barbara L. Anderson (PDF)

Libraries as the Third Place by Kelly Jensen

Library as Place via Library Garden

The Future of Libraries, With or Without Books by John D. Sutter

Library of the Future by David Lee King

Teen Third Place by Kimberly Bolan Cullin (PDF)

-Justin Hoenke, Tame The Web Contributor

On ALA Emerging Leaders – Please Welcome TTW Contributor Justin Hoenke

Note from Michael: I’m serving as a mentor for ALA Emerging Leaders Group J this year. One of the members of this outstanding group is Justin Hoenke, who’s joining the TTW family as a contributor. This is his first post.


What does it mean to be an ALA Emerging Leader?  I’ve heard a lot of things come out of peoples’ mouths.  Some have told me that it’s just something fancy to put on my resume, others that it’s just a lot of work that will remind you of a library school project.  I’m not big on negativity, so I’ve assessed the title my own way.



During our Emerging Leaders program at ALA Midwinter 2010, Emerging Leader Facilitator Maureen Sullivan tossed out this quote from Frances Hesselbein

“The leader’s job is not to provide energy but to release it from others.”

The sentiment blew my mind. Upon grasping it, I realized all I held to be true about leadership—it’s all about you; you can do whatever you want, including pushing your agenda on the masses—was wrong. Hesselbein’s quote showed me that before I go ahead with this project, I’ve got to undo a lot of learning because it’s not about me, and it has never been about me (more on that in my next post).

I’ve now got a renewed energy when it comes to libraries.  I now better understand my co-workers and their ideas.  I now recognize the importance of waiting before adding my ideas to the mix.


Being an Emerging Leader does look fancy on your resume, but at the end of the day it’s all about growing as a person and as a librarian.  I’ll be the first to admit that I’ve got problems I can’t figure out on my own, and I’m nowhere close to being the best librarian I can be.  What being an ALA Emerging Leader has shown me is that all of that is OK.

Collaboration and making connections: that’s what it’s all about.  The more I get involved in my Emerging Leaders project, the more I see that the world thrives on collaboration and connections.  Without it, we’re running around in circles.


For our projects, Emerging Leaders are teamed up with four of our ilk and given a task.  Not to spoil the surprise or anything, but my group’s task is to conduct a survey about and make recommendations for possible changes.  Sounds fun and manageable, right?

The first thing I learned was to let go of any ideas I had, that is, contribute them to the group with the understanding that they were going to be embellished and improved by everyone else.  Being an Emerging Leader has helped me learn how to trust people more and to see their ideas and encourage them to reach a higher level.  Collaboration never seemed so important.


Creating connections can make a world of difference for you.  Two months ago, I was sitting behind my desk thinking about video games in libraries.  I wanted to get my ideas out to the world, but I didn’t know how.  Cut to the present, where I’m working with another current Emerging Leader on video gaming in libraries.  At ALA EL, I found people who are just as passionate as me when it comes to libraries.  And to think, I may have never met these folks if it wasn’t for the Emerging Leaders program.

Justin Hoenke is Teen Services Librarian at Cape May County Library