The focus of this issue is on fantastic failures, and boy, do I have a lot of those. To narrow it down, I will seek to define a “fantastic failure” for this column not as an instance of being extraordinarily unsuccessful, but rather as an instance of being unsuccessful that led to an important learning breakthrough. I’m fortunate to have many fantastic failures of this type, as well. I’ll focus on one in particular that stands out from deep in the past. The lessons I learned many years ago from this misstep serve as a foundation for my professional leadership and the lessons I pass on to others today.
January/February 2017Volume 56, No. 1
I love a good underdog archetype. Whether they are fantastic failures or lovable losers, these characters abound in popular culture and appear in all media formats in public library collections. Readers and viewers enjoy stories of every folk who have a great idea, execute it boldly (and sometimes badly), fail spectacularly, and learn a thing or two along the way. What’s heartening is that like library staff, the one thing these characters learn is that while failure is certainly an option, giving up never is.
Failure hurts. It really, really hurts. But painful failure can be a great teacher if you have the right mindset and work in an enlightened organization. Your mindset can make the difference between making positive changes and repeating old mistakes.
In keeping with this issue’s theme of fantastic failures, we turned to some of our favorite authors to see how they had navigated disappointments in their own careers. Their sympathetic yet heartening responses are below.
Much has been written about the numerous benefits to be had from a failed experience at work. It’s widely thought of as a cliché in the business world to “embrace failure.” There are, to-date, eight TED Talks about learning from failure. Experts extol the virtues of analyzing mistakes in order to avoid repeating them. Many managers have procedures and policies in place that are designed to help their employees embrace failure in the name of positive change. And yet, denying failure and a reluctance to admit defeat are still the norm, from healthcare to politics, from giant corporations to small-town public libraries.
Patron bashing—i.e. venting, ruminating, gossiping—might be the greatest failure when it comes to customer service and perhaps the greatest barrier to excellent customer service in libraries. It creates a toxic, negative environment that stunts innovation, wastes time, and waters down service. If that isn’t bad enough, patron bashing is a drain on our mental and organizational health.
Contributing Editor CATHERINE HAKALA-AUSPERK is the owner of Libraries Thrive Consulting. If you’d like to write a review or if there’s a new book you’d like to see reviewed here, please contact Catherine at firstname.lastname@example.org. Catherine is currently reading The Whole Town’s Talking by Fannie Flagg. Editor’s note: Public Library Association policy dictates that PLA […]
Contributor GALINA VELGACH is an Editorial Assistant for the Public Library Association in Chicago. If any new library products have caught your eye lately, please contact Galina at gvelgach@ala .org. Galina is currently reading The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes. This issue of Public Libraries deals not only with confronting professional failings, but […]
Contributing Editor JESSICA MOYER is Assistant Professor, School of Information Studies, at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. Contact Jessica at email@example.com. Jessica is currently reading Painted Lady by Elizabeth Peters (June 2017) and listening to Carpe Jugulum (2000) by Terry Pratchett, narrated by Nigel Planer. I love a good underdog archetype. Whether they are fantastic failures or lovable losers, these characters abound in popular culture and […]
PLA President FELTON THOMAS is Director of the Cleveland (OH) Public Library. Contact Felton at firstname.lastname@example.org. Felton is currently reading Whiplash: How to Survive Our Faster Future by Joi Ito and Jeff Howe. The focus of this issue is on fantastic failures, and boy, do I have a lot of those. To narrow it down, I will seek to define a “fantastic failure” […]
MATT SMITH is Collection Development Specialist at Kalamazoo (MI) Public Library. Contact Matt at email@example.com. Matt is currently reading The Fire This Time: A New Generation Speaks about Race edited by Jesmyn Ward. Hermann Hesse once wrote that “nothing in the world is more distasteful to a man than to take the path that leads to […]
KRISTY PASQUARIELLO is a Children’s Librarian at Wellesley (MA) Free Library. Contact Kristy at firstname.lastname@example.org. Kristy is currently reading My Diary from the Edge of the World by Jodi Lynn Anderson. When I first started working as a children’s librarian in a public library, I had grand plans for the successful programs I would run: charming storytime […]
BRENDAN DOWLING works for the Public Library Association in Chicago. Contact Brendan at email@example.com. Brendan is currently reading Lush Life by Richard Price. In keeping with this issue’s theme of fantastic failures, we turned to some of our favorite authors to see how they had navigated disappointments in their own careers. Their sympathetic yet heartening responses […]