Tag Archives: success

Measuring Success: Beyond the Numbers

Success.Every month, I submit a report to my managers with information about outreach events and meetings I attended, professional development, and programs I facilitated. These reports are largely about numbers — how many LEUs (Library Education Units) I earned for attending a webinar, how many presentations I made to how many students on a school visit, how many hours I spent on a special project. But those numbers often don’t tell the whole story.

For instance, at an open mic night last week, I had three attendees. One wanted to perform, but was too shy until I made a deal with him: I’ll sing first if you sing second. So we both sang for the two other teens, who are regulars at teen programs. After he rapped for us, the shy performer asked if he could bring his own music next time, instead of doing a karaoke rap to a YouTube video. We talked a bit about the raps he writes before he had to leave. On paper, my program with three attendees may not look like a huge success, but it gave me a chance to connect with a teen, and gave him a chance to share something he’s passionate about.

Those numbers also don’t show the relationships I’ve built with teachers, or the students who pull me aside after I’ve talked to their classes to rave about favorite books. They don’t show the times I’ve helped people apply for jobs, find obscure recipes, learn how to train their new puppies. Numbers are great, but they shouldn’t be our only measure of success.

How do you measure success? Have you ever had a program that looked like a flop on paper but went really well?

Inspiration

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.

Thomas Edison quote. 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.

Map.

Photo by flickr user hugovk.

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.