Tag Archives: Management

Public Service is a Library Program: By TTW Contributor Justin Hoenke

10 PRINT "Hello World!"
10 PRINT “Hello World!”

The last time I posted on Tame The Web was on August 6, 2014 in a post titled Catching Up. The title of that post sort of sums up the past year and a half in my life here at the Chattanooga Public Library…lots of work for the community and not enough time to sit back, reflect, and share with everyone in the world. It’s all good. In that time, I’ve had some ideas floating around in my head and over the months and days they’ve been revised, edited, and now they’re ready to go.

In my role as Manager of The 2nd Floor/Coordinator of Teen Services at the Chattanooga Public Library, I’ve been looking a lot at how libraries operate their youth services departments. From kids to tweens to teens, we all seem to have a common theme connecting us: we all have so much passion for working with ages 0-18. That passion leads us to want to constantly offer the best services, be it story times, maker programs, special events, and more. The passion to give back to our community drives us.  It is that passion that makes youth services in public libraries some of the most innovative and popular public library offerings.  Corinne Hill (Executive Director, Chattanooga Public Library) and I call Youth Services in public libraries the “bread and butter” of public library services…the keep us well loved in the community and they act as our most popular circulated materials and programs attended.  In summary, Youth Services drive public libraries.

However, passion alone cannot drive a youth services program. While amazing and powerful, passion can also lead to some misguided decisions when it comes to how we should operate at our core.  The days where youth services staff were plentiful and there was an almost unlimited time to plan and prepare for programs has gone away.  These days, the need for great public service at all times is what we need to focus on. The need for great public service at all times is the opposite of having large amounts of time to plan and prepare. You can’t do both at the same time. You can try, but you will get stressed and burnt out in the end.  As a manager, I’ve stared at the weekly schedule and tried to figure out formulas for how my staff can have the time to prepare for programs that they’re used to having and also to have that necessary public service time. After working on it for a year, my conclusion is simple: it just isn’t there anymore and if we want to grow and continue with our successes, we need to change how we work.

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Realizing that this was the new normal in our youth services lives, my colleague Megan Emery and I began having discussions about this new reality. How can we continue to maintain great levels of passion for what we offer to the community and have our public services faces on at all times? How do we achieve balance with something that seems to be so naturally out of balance…innovation and public service? How does a public library operate in times of lean staffing, increased community usage, and the need to constantly innovate?

From that conversation came a phrase that now drives what we’re trying to accomplish at the Chattanooga Public Library: PUBLIC SERVICE IS A LIBRARY PROGRAM. There is an art to working a public service desk in public libraries. You have to be “on”. What do I mean by this? You’re basically involved in a shift long performance art piece where you’re helping, teaching, and aiding the community.  The traditional library program, you know, the ones that take place only from 4-5pm on the third Tuesday of every month and only for ages 13-18? Yep, those ones.  Those types of programs can and will still happen but it can no longer be our focus.  What can be our focus? The public.  Being “on” for them at all times. Being there for the community at all times.

If public service is a program then how can we actually have programs for our community? This ties into another thing that we’ve been thinking about a lot in youth services libraries….unprogramming, never ending programming, anti-programming….whatever you want to call it. It’s an idea that takes the library space, turns it into a destination, and adds programs, activities, and chances to learn into everything that we do. The 3D printer, button maker, rainbow loom…whatever it is, it’s all there and it’s ready for the community to use.  The programs happen during our open hours and they don’t end.  The library staff working in public services becomes the programmer. Their job is simple: guide the community in the library, help them find what they need, teach them all about the learning opportunities in the library, and to simply just have fun.

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That’s where our passion for what we do in youth services can go.  We don’t have to leave it behind and become nonstop public service workers.  We can weave that aspect of our job into what makes us passionate about working in libraries.  Public services is our programming.  We can create engaging learning opportunities for our community and run those opportunities while we’re working public service. We can mix the two and it will not be the end of the world. It will be a seismic shift, but we will survive. This is the new way for us to work and be the best for our community.

-Post by Justin Hoenke, Tame the Web Contributor

Catching Up: by TTW Contributor Justin Hoenke

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Photo Credit: Zachary Cross

It seems like I’ve been here forever, but as of this month I’ve been at the Chattanooga Public Library for 1 year, 4 months.  In that time, we’ve accomplished a lot of great things for the Chattanooga community. At the same time, I haven’t been able to share as much because….well, things just got really busy in a good way! So this post is my Chattanooga catch up post….a way to share all of the positive things that have been happening around Chattanooga over the past few months.

MANAGEMENT
One of the big new things in my world is library management.  I manage The 2nd Floor, which is our brand name for the kid/tween/teen area.  It’s a huge space full of many different personalities, ages, and ideas.  I do the weekly scheduling, make sure payroll gets in on time, order supplies, think a lot about the big picture stuff, and make sure that the staff is happy. Looking at what I just wrote doesn’t seem like much what I’ve learned is that a lot of these little things add up. My brain is constantly running, making sure that I’ve done all the necessary management things while still keeping focus on the big picture: The 2nd Floor as a place in the community where kids, tweens, and teens can have fun and learn something along the way.

It’s a change for me and I think it would be a change for most youth services librarians. Why? We’re very creative individuals. We dream up programs in our sleep. We are the living embodiment of a makerspace.  Blending that creative brain with a management brain has been a challenge, but I’m getting there.  You don’t have to kill one to have the other. You can make it work together.

VOLUNTEERS
One of the big realities that I’m learning about it that you will never have enough staff to do everything you want to do. The other part of that is that, wow, hiring people is expensive. It’s not just the salary you need to look at, but benefits and all that other stuff.

That’s where volunteers come into the picture.  The problem is that I’ve never been good with managing volunteers. It’s just not in my skill set and I’m ok with that. Luckily, Megan Emery is good at that and we work together. So basically when Megan got to Chattanooga she took the keys to the car and ran with them.  And here’s how awesome it has been:

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July was one of our biggest months with teen volunteers and it showed. They took on projects that helped spruce up The 2nd Floor, making it more visually appealing for our community.  They became our 3D printing experts, working one on one with anyone interested in trying out the service for the first time.  Our 2nd Floor staff had more time to focus on their projects, focus on customer service, and in general just be great employees.  Volunteers matter a whole lot for the public library, and it’s even better when you give them a chance to work their own special brand of magic when they volunteer.

Megan wrote a really great piece about meaningful volunteer opportunities here and I highly suggest you check it out.

STATISTICS
Every librarian has a library guilty pleasure.  My guilty pleasure is statistics.  I love collecting them, analyzing them, and then using those stats to help me make decisions. I love it when stats are down because it tells me that I need to grow and change something. I love it when stats are up because, well, that is just something that makes you feel really good.

I won’t bore you with individual stats that went (way) up last fiscal year at the Chattanooga Public Library (if you wanna check them out), but I will say this; having an idea of what is/what isn’t working will really help you better serve your community.  It sharpens your focus and allows you to better delegate resources to the events and programs that best serve your community. Starting this month, the 2nd Floor started keeping track of how many people use the various areas of our space. The results so far have given us the numbers to back up exactly what all of our staff have been feeling: we’re very busy these days. As a manager, this allows me to look at how we’re working and how we can make improvements to better suit our staff.

CONSISTENCY IN PROGRAMMING
I’ve grown to really love strong, consistent programming in libraries.  If you do something well, you keep doing it and all throughout the process you keep on growing, refining, and making things better.  However, at the same time you have to recognize when something isn’t working and make those changes.  Consistent Programming gives your library something great to share that your community will remember.  Think of each program as a brand.  Get those brands into the minds of the community and they’ll be asking for more.

Just a few days ago we wrapped up the 2014 session of DEV DEV: summer of code at the Chattanooga Public Library. This program was created and ran by the Library, engage3D, AIGA Chattanooga, and the Benwood Foundation in 2013. Having this successful event repeat once again this year has helped us make the DEV DEV brand even stronger. When you mention DEV DEV in Chattanooga, the community knows that it is a program that teaches teens about HTML, CSS, Javascript, and Robotics.  DEV DEV has become a brand that stands out in the community. Besides working with great partners, what made this possible? Consistency in programming.

For more on DEV DEV 2014, click here! 

PEOPLE
Back in 2010 when I wrote my first TTW post I talked about leadership and working in groups.  At the core, that post was all about what really makes the public library work….PEOPLE.

It’s the people that work in the library that make things awesome for the community. No matter where you go in libraries, you always have to remember that it’s people that matter.  Treat them with respect and love.  Help them all along the way and let them know that their work counts in making your community a great place. I try to remind the folks that work on The 2nd Floor of that all the time.  Working in a public library is important work for the community and YOU are making your city a better place to live.

This is a Call

The time is now,” I keep telling myself. Let me tell you why.
It’s been almost five years since I fell into being a teen librarian. I was working toward my MLS at Clarion University when I was approached to do some summer teen programming at the Clarion Free Library in Clarion, PA. Their proposal was simple: do stuff for teens, buy some cool books, and get them into the library. I was a one-person team tasked with pretty much creating a library for these oft-forgotten patrons. I did it, and the teens were happy, but I realized at the same time that I had inadvertently reinforced the mainstream belief that all it takes is one teen librarian to make it happen.

Maybe that was true in 2007, but it’s 2011, and things have changed.

Being a teen librarian is a full-time job fit for a small army, and it is high time that we reward the position with proper staffing. No longer can the work rest on one person’s shoulders. Teen librarians deserve to be recognized as their own department within the larger structure of a public library, not a bridge between children’s and adult services.

I can only point to examples from my life to highlight how great the need for expansion of teen services is. At the end of 2010, I put together this https://sites.google.com/site/portlandplteens/2010yearinreview year in review to share with the community all of the things we’d been doing for teens. The numbers are pretty staggering, especially when you consider that we opened to the public on April 15, 2010. Yes, I did have some help with my programs, but it was small—one employee running our public desk for ten hours per week while I programmed/managed/collected/did everything I can’t when I work directly with the public.

In 2011, that system persists. I also dedicate four hours per week to help with shelving returned materials. However, when it comes to the bulk of the steering, I do it solo.

Luckily, I have Twitter to call upon other teen librarians. When I posed this question to them, I found that quite a few of my colleagues were in the same boat (here are their full responses). The ones that were not had some kind of small team around them, and the thoughts they shared were rather positive (for example, read what @johnny_pistols has to say). This leads me to think about the atmosphere we’re creating in our teen library spaces. Sure, we’re making awesome experiences for teens, but are they also picking up on just how stressed out we are?

Day in and day out, our teens are seeing us as the one person they can identify with in the library. If part of our jobs is to help them become strong adults, are we failing them? I’m 31 years old, and I’m finally realizing that very little can get done when you’re acting alone. The real magic happens with teams: family, community, and friends are what we need to make things happen. We’re giving our teen patrons a false sense of what it means to be an adult by operating our teen services this way.

That’s not to say that we should be hiding away in teen library land. In getting our own department, we’d have a great responsibility. It would be our time to rise up and communicate effectively; enrich and broaden library services. Our teen department should be well tuned into what’s going on with children’s and adult services and vice versa.

Yes, I realize that adding staff is hard to do in these times. Over the years, I’ve been hearing so much about budget cuts, scaling back, doing more with less, etc. In the midst of this doom and gloom came voices of support from patrons, the media, and most important, the community at large. This article comes to mind:

http://thoughtsofawannabelibrarian.wordpress.com/2011/07/13/the-media-love-libraries-lets-make-the-most-of-it/.

The message is clear: people love libraries, and if we add more value to their experiences, we could win more financial support that could be directed to teen services. Some concrete evidence as to why we should choose this branch of services over others: Over the course of nine months last year, my teen library alone saw 7,053 one-hour computer sessions completed. Most of the teens who logged in this screen time are new to the United States (Portland, ME, has a large Somali and Sudanese immigrant population) and spent it searching for jobs, learning how to get a driver’s license, watching soccer, talking to their family members overseas, and Facebooking.

We have also given teens the opportunity to be creators instead of consumers and explore interests that could become careers. Self-confidence, always a difficult thing to develop, is a goal. The “Make Music at the Library” program allows them to tinker and compose,  The end result is a unique piece of art that will be stored forever in our library.

Finally, what I consider the most wonderful thing about working in a library is the connection that we most often overlook because it isn’t measurable: we offer teens friendship and a nonjudgmental ear. Over the past week, I’ve had a number of teens come to the library just to talk to me about life, love, the pursuit of college, and everything in between. They didn’t leave the library with a solid answer of how to move onto the next step of their lives, but that’s not what we’re here to do. By simply listening, we’re giving teens a chance to talk things out.

I sincerely believe that despite our current economic situation, the time to expand library services is now. One of the best ways to ensure that libraries thrive well into the future is to invest in its future adult citizens: teens. So let’s talk, and better yet, let’s act.

-Post by Justin Hoenke,Tame the Web Contributor