Sharing the Bad

December 20, 2007

Meredith Farkas’s blog post a few days ago (Sharing the Bad Stuff, Learning from Failures) was a lot to take in. She was absolutely right: we need to share failures in the workplace. The library community needs to hear what doesn’t work in addition to what does. We need to learn from each other, good or bad.

Expressing the bad isn’t always easy, though. She wrote that “failure isn’t sexy. Disclosing problems isn’t good for your brand.” How true! Transparent libraries are still rare. If you speak on behalf of an organization, you have to watch your tongue. Even if you speak independently, you often feel obligated to err on the side of caution.

As a blogger, I share what interests me. It’s an added benefit if I happen to excite other people about things I’ve found or imagined. I usually write positive stuff because that’s what I want to think about. I’d rather discuss what’s possible than dwell on the negative or complain about office politics. But it is a bit misleading, to be sure. Life is never 100% good and 0% bad. Not everything is wonderful.

I’ve recently had difficulty in my workplace, for instance. A lot of difficulty. Should I share everything? Maybe for the good of the library community, I should. It would let others learn from the problems I’ve encountered. But at what price? I’m one of those “bottom-up upstarts who revolutionized the way things were done at their libraries” that Sarah Houghton-Jan mentioned this week (although I’m not so delusional to think she was referring to me). I championed a tremendous amount of positive change in recent years. In the last few months, however, I hit a wall. Oh, who am I kidding? The wall fell on me. Three times. Sharing the specifics on the Internet might only make things worse locally, but I’d be remiss not to admit there are problems, conflicts, and frustrations.

I still want to produce positive change within my organization. Recent events make that much more difficult, but I’m still hopeful. I like Alan Kirk Gray’s suggestion* of a Library Failures Wiki. It could be a valuable tool allowing us to share common problems. More people might contribute and more experiences might be exchanged if anonymity was part of the forum. Our objective wouldn’t be to embarrass our libraries, after all, but to help improve them. Getting publicly specific about failure isn’t always the best course when the culture in which you work is not yet transparent.

* which I first saw in Meredith’s post