Failure terrifies me. While I feel like I’ve gotten over most of my perfectionist tendencies, this one remains. Really, who wants to be a flop? However, nineteenth century Scottish author Samuel Smiles wrote, “We learn wisdom from failure much more than from success.” 1
When did you learn not to speed: when you got let off with a warning or when you had to pay a ticket? For me, the costlier of the two was the better lesson. Still, how does this apply to libraries? (Yes, everything I write here, no matter how convoluted, will somehow tie back in to libraries). Libraries are at risk of becoming obsolete, so we have to evolve. Evolving requires change. Change involves big risks. Big risks produce an increased likelihood of failure.
So, how have I been failing lately? Español. Necessito hablar español perro muchos gentes aqui hablan español y no ingles. I don’t know if I said that properly. My intention is to say, “Spanish. I need to speak Spanish because many people here speak Spanish, not English.” If I am incorrect, please feel free to place your correction in the comments section. Still, I am willing to try and flop because that is what I have to do if I want t communicate better with the patrons who primarily speak Spanish.
As I was writing this, I received an e-mail that told me I’d misinformed staff members about a policy in our creation of Educator Library Cards. I have taken the informational sessions about these cards to nine library branches. Pull out the fork and knife because this vegetarian was eating crow.2 Was I embarrassed? Absolutely. Did I intentionally misrepresent what these cards are? No way. Was immediately correcting myself so that we were serving educators consistently and well the right thing to do? You bet. So, I updated our informational sheet and attached it to an e-mail with the accurate information. Then, I marked the e-mail as important by giving it a big red exclamation point. I sent the e-mail to all of our branch managers, desk staff, and youth services staff.
I do not in the least bit regret my work in creating these cards. We serve educators better by gearing our services to their particular needs. I also do not regret telling people across the district how to create these cards that differ from standard library cards. If I hadn’t been willing to implement this new service, with assistance and approval from my supervisory team, I wouldn’t have made this mistake. However, by sticking to the status quo, we also would have continued to serve educators less well than we do now.
Also, we don’t need proof of educator status to make these types of library cards. We take patrons at their word. See how that is etched in my memory?
- When we do something new, we may fail.
- To remain relevant we have to try new things.
- Therefore, we have to be willing to fail. It is the only way that libraries can improve.
For further information about the important role of failure in learning, please see Nurturing Failure: creating a risk-tolerant library culture that embraces change and innovation, a 2010 Slide Share Presentation by Christopher Sweet of Illinois Wesleyan University: http://www.slideshare.net/christopherasweet/nurturing-failure-acrl.
- Thomas, Heath. “For reporter, success and failure are more than stories.” Washington Post, The July 0001: Newspaper Source. Web. 22 Nov. 2013.
- I had to swallow my pride. “eat crow.” Roget’s 21st Century Thesaurus, Third Edition. Philip Lief Group 2009. 22 Nov. 2013. <Thesaurus.com http://thesaurus.com/browse/eat crow>.
Anna Francesca Garcia is a public librarian who serves teachers at K-12 schools as well as homeschool families. While she would like to pretend that she is perfect, she is aware that you know better if you’ve read this blog—or if you have heard her sing. As a mom, she has learned that failure is part of the landscape but that persistent efforts reap rewards. (That’s fancy for keep trying, and it will be okay). She welcomes comments and e-mails to firstname.lastname@example.org.