I hear and read a lot about innovation, creativity, organizational culture, assessment, and basically everything related to building a better library organization.

In all of this I also hear a lot about failure. That we should learn from it. That we shouldn’t be afraid to fail. That it is inevitable, especially if we are taking risks, trying new ideas or services.

But that’s it. We talk about failure as this “thing”, this concept, this idea. It’s usually so abstracted that I don’t ever really hear about actual failures. Sure, there’s always talk about “well, we tried this thing and it didn’t work (ie, it failed).” But I can’t remember the last time (or first time?) that I’ve been to a conference or a meeting and the actual failure was talked about. It’s mentioned, but it’s not discussed, as though the often-used quote or platitude is enough. We can’t get past a certain level when talking about a specific failure.


you know, don’t worry about defining or talking about failure or success, just do it (sorry nike) image from

Why did it fail? What were some of the issues and/or causes? Was it completely a total failure or can we change just a few things?

I don’t want to be overly pessimistic or unappreciative. Libraries (and librarians) do talk about how to improve, difficulties of implementing new ideas or services, and that’s important and helpful.

In the end, though, discussing difficulties isn’t quite the same as discussing failure. Along with the platitudes about failure – it’s inevitable, we can learn from it – the positive and encouraging leaders tell us that we should feel like it’s okay to fail. If we don’t ever talk about it, we never really get comfortable with the idea of it, and if we can’t be comfortable talking about it, I doubt we’ll be comfortable enough to actually take those risks that might lead to failure (and then, possibly, success).