Libraries thinking

Breaking things and making progress

One of the big “themes” in the libraryland literature (and conference programming) is failure in libraries. One of my friends, Amy Buckland, is moderating a “Failcamp” at Internet Librarian this year with Krista Godfrey, Jan Dawson and Char Booth and, though I won’t be able to attend, I do have some thoughts on the matter.
I attended the NAGW annual conference last week in St. Louis and heard Jared Spool give the opening keynote. In it, he said that “risk averse organizations produce crap” – a very twitterable statement if ever I’ve heard one – in the context of spending an hour and a half talking about a study he and his company did on organizations that produce good stuff.
Between those two themes, there are a lot of good ideas to take away. One, the fact that you have failed in a program or project does not mean that you, or your library, is a failure. Two, failure is the best way to learn. If you succeed, there is no incentive to discover the cause of the success – failure practically begs you to discover the cause and learn from it. Three, if you are afraid to fail, you will be unable to do the risky work required to truly succeed.
All of these points are applicable to everything from creating programs and events for our libraries to coding and network maintenance. I quite regularly break our Drupal installation by doing something a bit risky and I learn more about Drupal and its inner workings every time I do it. One of the major things I’ve learned is how to *very quickly* recover from a system meltdown in Drupal…
We could be scared and unwilling to try anything new and let the status quo stand, but that will never get us anything but more of the same. The definition of insanity is trying the same thing over and over and expecting different results – if we want to improve ourselves and our libraries, we have to be willing to try new things. Those new things come with the risk of failure, but, as the many articles, blog posts and conference programs show – failure isn’t the worst thing that could happen to your organization. In my opinion, not trying anything new and not innovating is.

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