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 May/June 2020 to November/December 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 5 | Part 7 | Part 8 | Part 9 | Part 10
You can read the full interviews in Information Today, starting with the September 2017 issue.
If you’re doing something exciting at your library that you’d like to share, email email@example.com or tweet @ITINewsBreaks.
Keep Building, Keep Growing, Keep Working
As I read through Stephanie Chase’s answers to my questions for the first time, I was waiting for the moment when she dropped one of her truth bombs—something so profound and honest that it begged to be listened to. There were many in the piece, but the one that stood out to me the most was her comment on communication and dialogue: “My commitment to transparency has always been to tell as much as I can as soon as I can.”
WHAT WAS HILLSBORO PUBLIC LIBRARY (IN OREGON) LIKE WHEN YOU BECAME ITS DIRECTOR, AND WHAT WERE SOME OF THE THINGS YOU LEARNED?
Hillsboro’s libraries were great when I arrived. As is true throughout much of the Pacific Northwest of the U.S., the libraries were well-loved and well-used. But I could also sense that there was a tremendous amount of energy in the staff to do something more. This wasn’t about turning around a failing library; it was about taking a B+ library to an A. I would always share with staff that what we were doing wasn’t a process, because it didn’t have an end point. We weren’t going to be done; we were going to keep building, keep growing, keep iterating, keep working to find what resonated.
What was a process was transforming the structure the organization used to respond to that new reality; that’s organizational development in a nutshell. To truly transform staff culture is significant work, and the organization went through many iterations to get to where it was when I left it.
The most important thing I learned was something that I knew in my heart to be true: In our organizations, we have all we need to be truly great. We just need to tease that out. Getting staff more involved and finding ways for staff to lead from every level was so rewarding. But you also have to, as management, let go. You will not know everything that is happening; decisions will be made, projects will be started, and money will be spent on things you didn’t know about. You have to trust your organization to do what’s best to meet the goals and strategies that have been developed.
Always a mistake in these situations is not communicating enough. As things move fast, we forget, and people’s feelings get hurt. My commitment to transparency has always been to tell as much as I can as soon as I can to as wide a group as I can, but as things get trucking along, and especially as work and authority get further distributed, keeping everyone up-to-date with clear communication becomes a real challenge. Many of us don’t have true communications experience on our staff, and it is a real gap.
YOU HAVE RECENTLY LEFT THE LIBRARY WORLD TO WORK IN CONSULTING AT YOUR COMPANY, CONSTRUCTIVE DISRUPTION. WHAT HAS THE JUMP TO CONSULTING FELT LIKE FOR YOU SO FAR?
Well, I left my job on March 5, 2020, which feels like it was literally the day before the COVID-19 pandemic really started gaining steam here in the U.S. So my experience so far has been having to reschedule (and hoping to reschedule) all of the work I already had planned while also trying not to really, really freak out.
I have always felt one of my greatest strengths in an organization is to help it go from good to great, and the idea that I could help multiple organizations in many different areas structure that transition is thrilling to me. When I can get down to work in a stabilized environment, my hope through my work with Constructive Disruption is to help libraries and other local government entities work through organizational change and restructure and to support innovative practices.
I LOVE HOW YOU STAND UP FOR WHAT YOU BELIEVE IN. YOU SAY WHAT’S ON YOUR MIND, AND YOU DO IT SO ELOQUENTLY. CAN YOU TALK ABOUT THIS QUALITY YOU HAVE?
I’ve had to learn a lot about being strong, confident, and thoughtful as a woman in leadership. While librarianship is a female-dominated profession, at the upper ranks of management and certainly in municipal management, the opposite is true. I have frequently been one of the few (if not the only) female department heads at the table. I have throughout my life been told I am aggressive, when really, I am assertive; my assertiveness would be praised (and expected) if I were a different gender. I long ago decided to lean into all of that and say the things that others are thinking and say the things that need to be said. If you’re going to be criticized for being outspoken, then you might as well actually be outspoken.