Are you allowed to fail at work?
While it’s probably not great to continually fail at work, failure is an unavoidable part of work, and it should be welcome. Failure teaches us what we are doing wrong and challenges us to be better. As a reference and instruction librarian, I expect my students to be aware of this. I try to teach my students that failure is just part of research – that you actually learn to search better as you fail at searches. In the databases, seemingly perfect keywords will fail you, and titles that seem pertinent will disguise useless, irrelevant information. Researching is a process of trial and error that can all too often be a little heavy on the errors. However, even if students believe me, they don’t like coming to terms with this truth.
And why should they? None of us enjoy failing. While this is particularly true in the workplace, fear of failure is also heightened online, where we post our successes and hide our flaws. Social media can be a powerful sharing tool; however, all we can really share is a small part of our true experience. And if the partial reality reflected in social media is often deceptively rosy, so, too, is the reality portrayed at most professional conferences. At library conferences, our best and brightest discuss their shiniest successes. While this kind of event can be inspiring, it can also be demoralizing. Often we listen to stories of success that seem too far out of reach or aren’t replicable at our institutions. Presenters often don’t mention the many failures along the way, or if they do these failures are seen as trivial obstacles, barely worth mentioning.
That’s why I’m excited to attend Strikethrough, ULA’s failure workshop. If we expect our students to embrace failure, we must do the same. We need to allow (encourage?) failure in the workplace. Failure can teach us as much as – if not more than – tales of success. I believe by demystifying failure within librarianship we can encourage innovation and enjoy more success.