June 18, 2018

Jason Johnson | Movers & Shakers 2018 – Community Builders

Jason Johnson


Community Engagement Manager, Spokane Public Library


MLIS, University of Washington, 2010


Buffalo Jones blog; Buffalo Jones on Facebook

Photo by Douglas Gritzmacher


Chords and Connections

When Jason Johnson started at the Spokane County Library District (SCLD) in 2004, he saw it as a day job—one that allowed him to concentrate on the music and other creative endeavors he had moved to Eastern Washington to pursue. He’s been a rock musician for years, mostly playing in the band Buffalo Jones.

Then, he started producing videos, music, and other content for SCLD’s social media department, and he realized that blending his passions with library work could be his path forward. While he continued moving up the ranks at SCLD, his arrival at the Spokane Public Library (SPL) in early 2016 led him to the next step in synthesizing his creative and career goals.

“I felt like I finally got to align my skills and passions in a way that could make a difference in the community,” says Johnson. “Deputy Director Caris O’Malley [a 2014 Mover & Shaker] and Executive Director Andrew Chanse have given me the freedom and support to implement some very ambitious projects and to really drive my vision of the Downtown Library.”

Among those projects is LevelUp, a coworking space hosting new technology and tools, including a Bloomberg terminal (rare in libraries). “Jason turned stale, underused space into something magical and highly functional—a best-in-class resource for local professionals to convene and collaborate,” says Chanse. User interest and attendance have risen accordingly. More than 30,000 people visited LevelUp in 2017, driving meeting room usage up more than 50 percent over the previous year.

“One customer utilized the space’s new iMacs, which are loaded with software unavailable elsewhere in the library, to teach himself how to code,” says Johnson. “He was recently homeless, and the LevelUp space has allowed him to start applying for coding jobs.”

Playing to his musical background, Johnson also oversaw the opening of SPL’s new performance space, the Community Lens, “overlooking one of the best views in the city,” says Chanse. The space hosts visual artists, musical acts, and events such as the Individual World Poetry Slam Championship, as well as the local talk show Lilac City Live, which highlights the work of artists and performers from around Spokane.

“Spokane has such a vibrant arts, music, and comedy scene,” says Johnson. “I wanted to find a way to showcase that aspect of our city.” This packed calendar has helped make the library a downtown destination for Spokane citizens and a cultural anchor in the community. “The sky’s the limit for what we can accomplish in the Community Lens,” says Johnson.

This article was published in Library Journal. Subscribe today and save up to 35% off the regular subscription rate.

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  1. Ellen Miller says:

    Congratulations, Jason! It has been a pleasure following your accomplishments through the years.

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