Justin Hoenke, team leader of libraries and community spaces for the Wellington City Libraries in New Zealand, has been talking to all types of library staffers for A Day in the Life, his column in Information Today. Among other things, he asks them about their typical days, moments that made them proud, their current projects, and how they balance their library work with the rest of their lives. Here’s a look at his columns from October 2019 to April 2020, which have been lightly edited and condensed for the web.
Here are the other parts of this series: Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 6 | Part 7 | Part 8
You can read the full interviews in Information Today, starting with the September 2017 issue.
If you’re doing something exciting at your library—especially during this time of uncertainty—that you’d like to share, email email@example.com or tweet @ITINewsBreaks.
The Authentic Librarian
Public library folks working in youth services are some of the most passionate and authentic human beings you will ever meet. There must be something about their specific line of work that encourages this. They work hard, they stand up for their patrons, they tell it like it is, and they are committed to their work. When a public library has a strong youth services program, it is headed for success.
Keisha Miller is a youth services librarian who’s having an authentically positive impact on her community. As the teen librarian and volunteer coordinator at the South Orange Public Library in New Jersey, she’s an advocate for the teens in her community, helping them get ready for adult life with great volunteer programs such as VolunTEEN.
I THINK THAT TEEN LIBRARIANSHIP IS ONE OF THE MOST IMPORTANT PARTS OF PUBLIC LIBRARY WORK, BECAUSE YOU’RE CONNECTING WITH A TOUGH AUDIENCE. TEENS ARE FUTURE TAXPAYERS, AND LIBRARIES NEED THEIR SUPPORT IN THE FUTURE. WHAT ARE SOME OF THE PROGRAMS, EVENTS, AND OUTREACH THAT YOU ARE PROVIDING TO YOUR TEEN AUDIENCE?
Being a teen librarian is one of the most rewarding things I’ve been able to do in librarianship. Teens can be fickle, and earning their trust and commitment allows things to fall into place. This is true to the VolunTEEN program I’ve been doing, now in its 10th year. Since its inception in 2009, it has taken years of tweaking the program before getting it to where it currently is. At first, it was challenging to get teens to commit to volunteering. The idea that they’d have to do something for free was daunting. But after explaining the benefits of it, and incorporating interesting programs, it was a win-win. Over the years, hundreds of teens have participated. With thanks to the Municipal Alliance and partnerships with local businesses and organizations, I’ve been able to sustain this program.
During the school year, I have an afterschool program called Teen X Change. Because of its success, I created a summer edition where I invite guest speakers from various backgrounds to stop by and hang out with teens. While this is a part of the VolunTEEN program, there’s an emphasis on communication and leadership skills.
YOUR LIBRARY IS IN ESSEX COUNTY, WHICH USA TODAY CALLED ONE OF THE “MOST DIVERSE COUNTIES IN THE USA” BACK IN 2014. IN THAT PIECE, YOU NOTE THAT YOU’VE “ALWAYS SAID THAT THE PUBLIC LIBRARY IS THE LIVING ROOM OF THE COMMUNITY.” HOW IS YOUR LIBRARY—AND YOUR WORK AS A TEEN LIBRARIAN—FILLING THAT ROLE?
South Orange shares a school district with our neighboring town, Maplewood. Once the weather breaks, teens travel to South Orange, making the library one of their stops. There is a group of teens who come in to play Dungeons & Dragons after school, and Friday is their day. And at the beginning of the week, when perhaps homework and projects are the focus, the library is a place for teens to collaborate on ideas—and a space that offers recreation—all while maintaining an environment where they’re learning independence. Isn’t this what you do in the living room?
CAN YOU TALK A LITTLE BIT ABOUT SERVING A VERY DIVERSE COMMUNITY? WHAT ARE SOME STRATEGIES, PLANS, AND EVENTS AT YOUR LIBRARY?
I couldn’t imagine working anywhere else, although if I had to, the skills that I’ve learned and have been able to develop in South Orange would definitely come in handy! I have replaced the word “diversity” with “inclusion.” South Orange is a town that has someone from every corner of the world, regardless of race, ethnicity, gender, ability, sexuality, religion, or socioeconomic status. To serve a community with a robust makeup of people is special. People in South Orange love their library. As library professionals, we all know libraries are more than books. Being able to partner with community organizations is essential in making visible what the library does. So many of my peers who work as teen librarians speak of creating spaces for teens in the library. With the partnership from fellow teen librarian Emily Witkowski of Maplewood Memorial Library and the South Orange-Maplewood Community Coalition on Race, we were able to conceive the idea of Giving Teens a Voice, a two-part program in which teens discussed race and race relations. Because of this program, Witkowski and I were recipients of the New Jersey State Library’s Multicultural Program Award in 2018. Due to the positive feedback from teens and their parents, we’ll look forward to doing this program, though with a different approach, in the fall of 2019.