There are some libraries that most of us think must be the best places to work ever because of the innovation that goes on there. And in some cases, we may be right. But not always. I think we often assume that places that have good people are good places to work, and that doesn’t necessarily follow. Some people may be innovating in spite of their place of work. I only learned this when I talked to someone who’d left a job at a library I thought must be “utopia” and discovered that it was anything but. However, you’d never know it from that person’s blog.
Obviously, we walk a fine line when we blog about work. I think we all find the line that works for us and our colleagues and avoid crossing it. There’s no one-size-fits-all standard, because some places of work would be furious if you even criticized a vendor and others are very cool with radical transparency. I worry though when I see people making assumptions about someone’s place of work based on what they did (or more importantly didn’t) blog. Someone whose goal was to work in a library developing “killer apps” once wanted to work at my library because they figured if I was there it must be an innovative place. I’m not saying we’re not change agents at my library (because we are; I’m always impressed by how open to change my colleagues are), but we’re not high enough on Maslow’s hierarchy of needs to have an employee who just develops killer apps. Even our Electronic Resources Librarian also teaches English 101 classes, works reference and has a liaison area.
Why do I blog? I blog to start a dialog and to bring up issues I’m having in the hopes that it will help others. I’ve written about the problems I had with performance anxiety in the past because I know there are a lot of people who think it’s an insurmountable problem (heck, I did). I wrote about ALA and martyrdom because I knew there were other people feeling like maybe they’re a bad librarian for not wanting to spend their hard-earned money to participate in ALA (because I have). When I present on wikis, I often talk about my early failures with wikis at work because they offer some good lessons about how to ensure staff buy-in (I sure learned a few). Maybe it’s the former psychotherapist in me who still likes to help people in this way, even if it makes me look less “perfect”. There’s nothing worse than feeling like you’re the only person going through something. Just knowing that someone else is going through what you’re going through is often enough to keep you from falling into the well of self-blame, self-pity and bitterness. Hearing other people’s stories has been helpful to me too. Thanks to those of you who’ve shared them publicly and privately with me.
I think it’s important that we find ways to talk about “the tough stuff.” So many people are feeling the same things and have no one to share it with. Some may think they’re the only person going through this in their career and may perhaps blame themselves for something that just is a reality in our profession. Someone may fail at something and get so discouraged that they never try again (not realizing that a lot of the most successful people have failed time and again). I’m not entirely sure why I get spammed by Dyson, but one of the e-mails I got from them was entitled James Dyson on Celebrating Failure:
When an everyday product doesn’t work properly, our scientists and engineers do something about it. They develop prototypes, and test. Develop new ideas, and test again. And again. And many times they fail. But it’s through those failures they learn even more, inventing better technologies that no one else has thought of before. This was James Dyson’s process in his original workshop, and is the process he leads today.
Man, if only all of my spam was so inspirational! We should write about and celebrate our failures. We should brainstorm with others and figure out what we could have/should have done differently so that we’ll do better next time. When we’re embarrassed about our failures or sweep them under the rug, we’re depriving ourselves and others of a valuable learning experience.
Alan Kirk Gray mentioned at Computers in Libraries 2007 that there should be a Library Failures Wiki, since we learn so much more from our failures than our successes. I have to agree (though I’ll let someone else create that one). It’s the times that things went wrong (both with technologies and my career) that I’ve learned the most from. But will people be as willing to share their failures as they are to share their successes? Probably not, and I find that unfortunate.
Failure isn’t sexy. Disclosing problems isn’t good for your brand. I’ve been given advice to think about my brand when I write a post. “My brand” is human being, with strengths and weaknesses and just as many issues as everyone else. Sure, I could only write the good stuff. I could create a Meredith Farkas brand that is always 100% positive and only focused on the good things I do, but would that be me? And if I got a job based on a brand I’ve created online that doesn’t reflect the reality of who I am on a day-to-day basis, I think everyone involved would end up disappointed (including me). This blog is me and I am this blog. I think anyone who has met me in person would agree that I’m not shockingly different than how you pictured me (other than not being as tall… for some reason people seem to expect me to be tall).
Dorothea wrote an incredibly honest post yesterday reflecting on her year (a year with lots of really impressive accomplishments) and her anxiety about the future of the area of our profession she’s hitched her star to:
I’d be a perfectly happy camper… if I didn’t have the nagging sense that the world is passing institutional repositories by, and me along with them. We’re just not where the action is right now, not in preservation and not in open access. Mind, I’m not worried about open access; it’s doing just dandy these days. I’m not even worried (much) about green open access; disciplinary repositories are popping up like mushrooms and growing like weeds. But I’m not an open-access advocate at MPOW, just a repository-rat—and it’s a damn big ship I’m on, and I’m one very small rat. … Ah, well. I’m still working on this being-stuck business. When I have something, I’ll let everybody know. In the meantime… it’s been quite a year.
I applaud Dorothea for her bravery in sharing some very difficult feelings about the place she’s at now in her career. I’d be willing to bet that she is not the only person feeling stuck like this in the niche she’s created for herself in the profession. I’ll bet lots of people feel that way and maybe if they read her post, they’ll feel a little less alone. Maybe they’ll e-mail her and will be able to share ideas and support each other. Maybe someone will offer her useful advice. Dorothea could have kept this all to herself… could have never admitted to these anxieties, but in writing this, she opens up the possibilities for people offering help and support as well as the possibility that what she’s writing could support others.
I know it isn’t always easy — or possible — to share the difficult issues in our career. There have been times that I’ve gotten burned (not in my day-job) by organizations that I just couldn’t write about because it would have gone over the line I’ve put up for my own blogging. There have been things that I didn’t share because I didn’t think it would serve anyone but me to write about it (and I don’t see my blog as a space to just vent — that’s what spouses are for!). But when we can, we should try to share our failures and difficulties as well as our successes. Things don’t always come easy for me. Though I do feel incredibly lucky, I’ve worked for everything I’ve had and I’ve had plenty of bumps and frustrations along the way. We need to share those bumps, if only to encourage others and to make people feel a little less alone (though often just reading one’s own reflections can lead to greater insight). We can all learn from the hard stuff.
I certainly agree that we can learn more from “failure stories” than success stories, at least in some cases–and I’ve urged people to tell their unsuccess stories on the Library Success wiki.
Does it happen much? No. Will it? Probably not. I certainly understand why people don’t want to talk about failures, even when they’re really “failures”–false starts and directions that had to be changed after recognizing a problem. (Would I be more likely than others to discuss failures? Probably not.)
It’s even hard to write about negative successes: That is, cases where you succeed by not doing the wrong thing. I’ve had a few of those in the past, and while I’m proud of them, it’s a perverse pride that’s truly hard to share…particularly when those advocating for an unworkable solution usually don’t, in their heart of hearts, believe it was unworkable.
A couple of things. As a long time reader of yours, I respect your forthrightness and ambition a great deal. Traditional libraries are not unique in being areas where you often have to move out to move up. I currently work for a member association. I love my organization, but I’ve been amazed at the turnover in this field. However, association staffs are often small operations and so — you can often only move upward so far. People in this field are driven, so many are not content with a status quo.
That is what makes them (and you) fabulous at their jobs — however it also leads to the very conundrum you spoke of last week. It *is* frustrating and hard. I am dealing with a long commute b/c I own a house so I can relate to that limiting factor as well!
Thanks for being willing to share — I just want to share that the traditional library world is not unique is this issue. I do wonder if some of the larger — central public libraries and academic libraries at large universities have the same issues. Personally, I worked at a large U. library system and I don’t think I want to do it again, but that is my preference 🙂
As far as sharing failures — it can be politically fraught. I once had a poster accepted to a small library conference — that would have showed the challenges in implementing a digital library and collaborative space. I was not overly negative — but my employer ended up nixing the project b/c they felt it put them in a bad light to show they had challenges! People in the knowledge management area often have this very same issue — people take these efforts quite personally, and so often employers will not permitting challenges to be shared. I currently work with/for regulatory professionals that work in pharmaceutical and other similar organizations. They have incredible difficulties sharing successful strategies — much less failures! They often only feel able to share in face to face conversations, where nothing is in writing.
This is a widespread cultural issue. I think it is changing at the grassroots level, in that more people *want* to share — it may take time before they feel *able* to share.
As someone who is currently 75% capable of meeting the information needs of the public (meaning: I’ve finished three of my four semesters) I really want to thank you for blogging about your job.
I know a number of my colleagues have discussed your recent realizations about work, and it’s something which never really occurred to us, but which is so very important. We’re all just focused on “getting ANY job” that we are quick to take the immediate paying gig over something where we can move our way up.
It’s also interesting because many people cite my generation as “the kids who leave” – who resign their positions and barely give two weeks notice, and who have no loyalty. I don’t think this is necessarily true (just as not all Baby Boomers are into conspicuous consumption), and a number of my friends are looking to work for one organization for as long as possible.
So thanks a bajillion on behalf of LIS students.
(And thanks for always having something interesting to say!)
Thanks Amy! I really appreciate your comment; it’s nice to know that what I wrote was helpful. I know it was not something I’d ever thought about when I was looking for a job either and I don’t think most people think about it until they start feeling ready to move up in their career.
[…] one: see http://mistakebank.ning.com and a host of blog posts about this topic, as different as http://meredith.wolfwater.com/wordpress/2007/12/16/sharing-the-bad-stuff-learning-from-failures, http://www.1000ventures.com/business_guide/crosscuttings/failure_managing.html or […]