Recent Events

Learning From Failure

Continuing the track on Innovation, Risk, and Failure, the second session examined how we respond to failure and recover from it.

Bobbi Newman

Bobbi Newman, Digital Branch Manager, Chattahoochee Valley Libraries, said that one of the hardest things to do is to admit you failed.  Identify what went wrong, take something back from it, and learn from it.  Recognize that there will be fallout, and your stakeholders will be unhappy.  Once you have done this, it’s time to move on and start all over again.

Matt Hamilton

Matt Hamilton, Innovation and Technology Manager, Boulder, CO (Adams County, Rangeview District) Public Library described the problems faced by the Adams County Library, which was once rated worst in the state and how they redefined the library.  In 2006, a new Board of Directors was determined to change this.  (Lesson:  ask about the Board when you’re thinking of joining a library.)  They hired a new visionary director and provided some funding to improve.  A new mission statement:  “We open doors for curious minds.”, and an employee manifesto (see photo below) were developed.

Employee Manifesto

The Board members said, “It’s risky, it’s radical, it’s revolutionary.  Why wouldn’t we do it?”  The community embraced the idea.

The biggest risk was designing buildings for people, by designing the spaces. The first difficulty was finding an architect to work with them.  They built 4 new buildings in a year, and will be remodeling the other 3 in the next year, learning many lessons in the process, one of which was not being afraid to experiment.

A radical “fines-free” policy was implemented.  Patrons can keep books for as long as they wish, but they are billed for them after 28 days.  It generated lots of goodwill and freed the staff from being “policemen”, but it had the downsides that the library had to hire a collection agency for the first time, and they are losing many materials.  This may therefore turn into a failure.

So a failure was turned into a great success!


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