Teen Librarian – Portland Public Library

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Recently, The Telling Room in Portland was named an Imagination Intensive Community (IIC) for 2012. IIC is a project that was started two years ago by the Maine Alliance for Arts Education and Maine Department of Education (MDOE). The project received funding this year from the Kennedy Center, MDOE, the Maine Arts Commission, and Bangor Savings Bank. A panel visited in May to learn more about The Telling Room and to present them with a certificate, banner, and a cash award. They also visited the Portland library since they are one of The Telling Room’s partners. We met the Teen Librarian, Justin Hoenke, who is a fascinating, personable young man. He agreed to answer questions for the blog.

Justin speaking with panel participant Bette Manchester

BF: Tell us about your role at the Portland Public Library as Teen Librarian
Justin: I’ve been at the Portland Public Library now for about 1.5 years.  I’ve always been a teen librarian, having worked at different libraries in Pennsylvania and New Jersey before. While I’m a professionally trained librarian (I got my master’s degree in Library Science from Clarion University of Pennsylvania in 2008), I see myself as more of a community resource for teens. I’m here to help them get through those really tough years of 12-19. I’m here to listen, provide some direction, and to just be a positive person in their life.  Of course, I still have a lot of librarian related duties as well…I’m in charge of creating and maintaining a dynamic collection of books, movies, music, video games, and more for the community.

BF: How do you engage students in after school learning/playing?
Justin: I come from a blue collar background. My Dad is an optician who makes and sells glasses. He helps people find the glasses they want, make them himself, and then delivers them personally. It’s a very hands on experience and that’s really rubbed off on me. I do my best to connect with each and every teen that comes into the library. I aim to know them…not just their name, but who they are, why they’re here, and what I can do for them. I find that this works out better than any kind of programming, book/movie video game recommendations, and more. Get to know the people using your library, become their friend, and that will engage them more than you can imagine.

BF: How do you collaborate with The Telling Room?
Justin: The biggest collaboration we’ve had together is the Game On! Program, which you can read about in VERY full detail here. http://blog.8bitlibrary.com/category/game-on-program/
It was our major attempt to convey the important storytelling points of video gaming…how games are much like books, with plots, characters, and more.
Other than that, a lot of the programs that The Telling Room offers are often held here in the library.  We’ve hosted many of the Young Writers and Leaders in the library as they’ve worked with their mentors. The library has almost become a second home for a lot of the teens that The Telling Room works with. We all share ideas, space, and community.

BF: What kinds of ways do you connect with middle schools, students, teachers in your work at the library?
Justin: I try to do as much programming as I can. We have a lot of movie and game nights where teens can just come, hang out, talk with friends, and experience this building. We give tours to educators and schools, showing them the things that the library can do for them. There’s a lot to discover here and it can be overwhelming if you just try to discover it on your own. We do our best to show you everything we can offer.

BF: How do you see library’s changing and the role of the librarian changing in the future?
Justin: I feel like we’re becoming less of a place where people come to consume materials (meaning like just check out items) and more of a place where people create material and experience life. We’re still a library, but in a way we’re also the modern day community center. We’re becoming the place where you can do it all….read, write, learn, create, communicate, and more. The librarian is no longer the gatekeeper of information. We’re now like guides, there to help out our community. We’re here to help you unlock your fullest potential.

BF: What place do you see technology taking in the education of young people during the next 5-10 years?
Justin: I’m a firm believer that technology is going to blow the roof off of education in a positive way.  For the first time in what seems like forever, there are going to be so many ways for young people to learn. Have trouble reading a print book? Why not experiencing that book as an interactive ebook?  Look at all the tools that are out there now because of technology. It’s easy to record your own movies/music/more, edit, and upload them to share with the world. I think we’re going to see more creativity blossoming in the world, all because of technology. And this will shape how we learn.

You can learn more about Justin, the work that he is doing, and opportunities for Portland Public Teens at the following blog: http://pplteens.wordpress.com/ Thank you Justin for taking the time to answer the questions.

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