I went to the Public Library Association (PLA) conference last Friday, and it was exactly what I needed to re-energize my library career. I’d been discouraged by a string of low-attended programs, but the combination of a very successful one on memoir writing and the awesome ideas I got from other librarians at PLA has me excited to try new things again. No matter what your career, I highly recommend attending conferences in your field if you’re able. There’s nothing more refreshing than meeting with a bunch of other people who understand what you do every day, who can relate to your struggles and offer advice, and who can spark new ideas during sessions or impromptu conversations.
Something that struck me as applicable to both my library and writing careers was a talk on failure by Megan McArdle. “Don’t be afraid to suck,” she urged, explaining that failure is part of the process that leads to success. When we admire the bestselling author or successful library director, we often see only their amazing novel or the one innovation that revitalized their library as a community center. What we don’t see are the twelve novels that writer slaved over before she even signed with a publishing company, or the eight outreach initiatives that didn’t work at that library. The difference between those who succeed and those who fail is not that the first group hasn’t failed, but rather that they have failed more, and failed better. Failure isn’t fun, but it’s still an opportunity to learn what is and isn’t working and adjust accordingly. So, whatever your aspirations, I encourage all of you to get out there and fail brilliantly.
At lunch, John Green talked about how public librarians don’t give up on anyone. To paraphrase, we encourage the rich, the poor, the professors, the high school drop-outs, the marginalized, the young, the old — everyone — to come in and explore new ideas. Just as you can’t plan a trip to a place that isn’t on your map, you can’t try to build a robotic arm for someone with a 3D printer until you know 3D printers exist. Libraries and librarians help people add to their “maps,” so they can know and be a part of more of the world. Of course, John Green said this much more eloquently than I ever could. Seriously, even his answers during the Q&A were so quotable I wanted to write them all down.
I could go into detail about all the programs I want to try, the new ways I plan to experiment with reader’s advisory on the library’s social media pages, but those are topics for another post. For now, I’ll leave you with a challenge to try something you’ve been meaning to do without worrying about failure. Whether it’s a new program at your library, a new genre you’ve never written, or a new cupcake recipe, give it a shot. If you fail, that’s one more thing you know won’t work, and one more place you can add to your personal “map.” And if you succeed, you’ll have something amazing to share.