Someone asked me recently why it can be hard for libraries to change. She wondered why when her library wanted to try something it required a committee of people and a long process that in many cases meant by the time the something was ready to implement it was too late. I think about this construct a lot and have realized that a part of what is going on is a desire or need to make sure that a program or service is perfect before it launches to the public. When we strive for perfection in libraries we end up creating an environment that isn’t nimble or flexible or responsive to the community. And, as a result, we don’t move forward as quickly as we need.

The conversation where someone asked me about libraries and change led to this Tweet:



That idea, (Fail=First Attempt in Learning) is the message we need to get across to teens, teachers, parents, and librarians. Learning, producing, creating, implementing is a process. In order to actually learn or produce or implement something imperfection, and even failure, is required. Think about some of the things you have learned – how to drive, how to use a particular software program, how to use a particular device, how to cook something… I could go on and on. But, the key is that I bet the first time you got behind the steering wheel or the first time you baked a cake or the first time you turned on a new device, you weren’t perfect at it. I certainly could tell stories about failing at each of those things when I first was learning how to do/use them.

In libraries, and with teens, we have to be willing to fail, learn from our experiences, and then either try again, or move on to something else (if what we learn says this wasn’t a good idea at all). Think about how freeing that is when planning a new program or service. Say you want to start working with some new community partners to help support teen workforce development skills. If you wait until you have built the perfect relationship with the potential partners or have a proved track-record with the partners it could be the year 2044 before you get something off the ground.

Instead of working towards perfection in the partnership give yourself a quick turn-around timeline for building and piloting the program. Work backwards on your calendar to plan out what you need to accomplish by that completion date. Give up the idea that every piece of the project has to be thought out perfectly before you launch. Start contacting partners and asking them how you can work together to create something awesome for teens. Go with the flow and see what happens.

And then, and this is a big thing, at the end of the process look at what worked and didn’t work and then decide next steps. What were you looking for in the partnership and did you achieve that – why/why not? Were you able to support teen acquisition of workforce development skills – why/why not? If you were to do this project again, what would you do the same and what would you do differently – why? Those answers are really going to help you to understand how you failed, what you learned, and what you need to do next.

And, then, be honest with everyone! Yes everyone! About your failures and what you learned. One of the reasons I think we in libraries don’t like to fail and strive for perfection is because, while we exchange lots of information about what we do with teens, we aren’t always talking about what didn’t work and what we would do differently next time. It seems to the world that we are perfect, and we are not.

Take the leap this fall and learn how to fail and how to celebrate that failure. Instead of working towards perfection be nimble and flexible in planning, try out ideas, evaluate, learn, and try again.

If you want to keep learning about taking risks and learning how to fail try out these Twitter hashtags and feeds:

  • #act4teens – is a YALSA generated hashtag all about developing great library services to support teens.
  • @educationweek – the official Twitter feed for the Education Week newspaper and website.
  • @edutopia – the official Twitter feed for the George Lucas Foundation dedicated to innovation in education
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  • About Linda W Braun

    Linda W Braun is a YALSA Past President and the Youth and Family Learning Manager at the Seattle Public Library.

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