Monday, November 24, 2014 · 3:07 a.m.

A chat with Justin the librarian

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Justin Hoenke has accepted the position of coordinator of teen services with The Public Library. (Photo: Zachary Cross)

The Public Library has seen tremendous change in just a few years.

One of the major changes was the transformation of the second floor into a completely awesome teen and tween community.

On any given day, you'll find teens and tweens playing with robots, video games and Pokemon, and even learning the basics of coding.

The hiring of several teen librarians—such as Justin Hoenke, Megan Emery and Delia Phipps—has fostered an atmosphere of creativity, learning and absurd fun.

Earlier this week, Hoenke announced that he had accepted a promotion as coordinator of teen services at the library.

We spoke to him about the new position, living in Chattanooga and his plans for the future of teen services at the library and beyond.

Coordinator of teen services, eh? Using video game jargon, explain what this means in terms of "leveling up."

If my old title as teen librarian was level one, this would be level two, and I'd have increased abilities! Think of level one as me just being able to use basic magical abilities in a video game, like the ability to jump super-high. Now that I'm at level two, I can do awesome things with my magical abilities in this video game, like use magic to heal myself and maybe even use magic to cast fire and ice spells. You know, librarians are actually magicians.

What changes with the new position in terms of daily responsibility for you?

Now I'm more focused on teen services throughout the entire Chattanooga Public Library system at all of our locations (downtown, Northgate, Eastgate, South Chattanooga). In my old role, I was just working on all things on The 2nd Floor of the downtown library. This new position allows me to stretch out and help the other branches in our library system achieve greater things for teens in the community. Is it more work? Of course! But it's awesome work, and I'm so happy to be the person selected to do it.

You mention in your job announcement that you've started enjoying the "big picture" part of public libraries. Help us understand your vision.

To most people, libraries are a place that you visit to get stuff .... That stuff can be books, DVDs, audiobooks and other physical items. But I've always seen the library as the center of the community, a place where you go to experience something special. Now that I'm working with all the branch libraries, I'm helping each location be more of a community center for teens in Chattanooga. I want the library to be a destination for teens. I want them to answer the question "Where should I go today?" with "The library, of course."

Outside of the library, what have been some of the highlights of your time thus far in Chattanooga?

When I moved to Chattanooga, I had this idea that most folks in the South always sat on their porches and relaxed and enjoyed life. I do that a lot! I just sit there in a rocking chair, listen to music, chat with friends and enjoy life. I also like cutting the grass. I have a yard now! Also, the City Café has some killer milkshakes that I really enjoy.

Look ahead. What are some of the things you're excited about as you step into this new position?

Personally, I'm excited about growing as a person and as a librarian. With a new position comes more work and greater responsibilities. Some folks see that as something that's difficult, but I just see that as growing up and becoming a better human being ... I'm just excited about bringing more neat things to the teen community here in Chattanooga. I moved here one and a half years ago for this specific reason: to help bring excitement and happiness into the community.

"Move ahead, do what is best and have fun." That your motto?

Totally. Especially the fun part. You always have to have fun. If you're not having fun, you need to fix that.

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