Tag Archives: inspiration

Just Thinking: Starting and Failing

It’s hard for me to believe that this time last year I had just completed the on-campus interview for my current job, and then a few days later walked in my masters graduation ceremony. As my first year as a librarian winds down and the adrenaline rush of the academic schedule starts to wane, I find myself feeling… reflective and rather tired. Last week, it was a nice surprise to find several ideas circulating around the web to boost my energy and my spirit to push through the end of the semester and maintain momentum to plan summer projects.

“Start small… but start.”

While attending ACRL 2013, I was blown away by the awesome, inspiring, and interesting work my colleagues across the profession are producing. But at the same time, I couldn’t help but feel a bit like a “little fish in the big ocean,” surrounded by those more experienced and more successful than me. Although I enjoyed the opportunity to co-facilitate a roundtable discussion, I couldn’t help but wonder when I’ll move on to bigger opportunities and when my CV will start to look less like a new librarian’s, and more like a tenure-track professional’s.

And then this week two of my favorite library blogs reminded that life sans banana slicer (or other badge of honor) is still pretty darn good, and that striving for success in my daily work is valuable as I continue to take small steps working towards larger goals. I also attended Maryland’s Council of Academic Library Directors meeting, where Debra Gilchrist reminded librarians that it’s better to “start small, but start” than to never start important, potentially daunting, projects at all.

Upon closer examination, I can already look back to see several instances where starting small has begun to pay off. For instance, while I’ve lept at the opportunity to apply my undergraduate degree, previous work experience, and natural interests to my duties as the Psychology department liaison, it’s been more difficult to get “into” the department than I originally imagined.  Last December I was allowed five minutes at the beginning of a Psychology department meeting to introduce myself to the faculty (and then I was promptly asked to leave). Though I was skeptical five minutes would make any sort of a difference, right after the meeting I received two quick email questions from psychology faculty members. And the following semester, two faculty members I had not personally met contacted me to help find and recommend resources to be used in a Psych 101 course redesign. A small, but growing start.

“Failing forward.”

Of course, there are several instances where “starting” something does not lead to completely positive results. I don’t personally care for the word “fail” (for me, it carries a negative connotation of dejection), but failure is a natural part of risk taking. The problem is we like to focus so much on success I think we brush aside that most learning comes from failure. And this year as I’ve happily watched my colleagues present papers, give lectures, win scholarships, lead professional associations, and achieve promotion, it’s been equally helpful to talk with them about what has not gone so well. The classes that fell apart. The requests that were denied. The proposals that were not accepted. Because, quite frankly, working through problems and disappointments with successful people that I admire reminds me that success if often the product of perseverance through, and learning from, failure.

This idea was summed up nicely last week when a tweet appeared in my Twitter stream reminding me to “fail forward.” How can learning from failure propel you forward?

While I was catching up with a graduate school friend at ACRL, I learned that a paper we submitted with fellow graduate school colleagues had been reviewed and rejected for potential publication. Although this was not entirely unexpected, the news still stung. A few days later, my friend sent along the reviewers’ comments and in the 10 or so minutes I spent taking a preliminary pass at the mostly constructive criticism, I learned more about the practicalities of the peer review process than I have in any single sitting since my undergraduate years when I learned about peer review for the first time. And now, as we pick through the comments and strategize options for moving the project forward (or not), I’m learning about picking priorities in my work – which parts of the project are worth further time, and which are simply no longer a priority for me. And while “failure” stings, I now feel more prepared to anticipate some previously overlooked research pitfalls as I turn my attention to new endeavors.

Looking forward to Summer

So, as classes wind down and my summer rapidly fills up with those projects that get neglected or pushed off in the heat of the semester, many of which have no clear starting point or are the result of a previously failed attempt, I am re-energized through recommitting to these two goals – start small, and fail forward.

Finding Topics & Time for Scholarship

Laura’s recent post about faculty book projects has me thinking about writing. Even though I’ve been at my job for over a year, I still feel lucky to have landed a tenure track position at an academic library that I truly enjoy. During my hiatus from the academic world between my time as an archaeologist and when I started library school, I hadn’t realized how much I missed research, and even writing. So I’m pleased to have a job in which research and writing are required.

Of course, it’s one thing to be happy that scholarship is expected of me, and another to actually do the research and writing. When I first started at my job my biggest stumbling block was about the What. What topics could I write about? What could be a subject for a research project, big or small? What ideas were better suited to more informal writing?

Many librarians write about aspects of their jobs: projects and programming they’ve worked on, issues or problems they’ve addressed. So looking to my job responsibilities seemed like a good place to start. At various points over the past year I’ve made a list of everything I’ve worked on at my job and used the list to pick out possible writing topics. As an extra bonus, the lists came in handy when it was time for me to fill out my annual self-assessment a few months ago.

I also keep another list, one I call “research thoughts.” This one’s for ideas that come up as a result of something I’ve read, heard, or seen in the blogosphere, journal articles, conference presentations, email lists, podcasts, and casual conversation. Sometimes they’re directly related to my job, and sometimes they’re not — these ideas are usually not much more than half- (or even quarter-) baked. I check in with this list every so often, and it can provide a much-needed jolt of inspiration during a dry spell. In fact, my current research project started out as an entry on this list after attending a particularly interesting presentation at a conference two years ago.

The other big factor affecting my scholarly goals has to do with the When. When do I research and write? How can I make the time? As a junior faculty member I’m very lucky to have reassigned time during the early years of my tenure track, as do junior faculty in other departments at my college. So I do have some time specifically set aside for scholarship, which has been an enormous help in getting research and writing done this year.

Over this year I’ve found that, for me, frequency counts: I need to write often to be able to write often. This is certainly not unique — many librarians, academics, and writers offer this advice. But it’s a realization I’ve come to slowly as I’m unsure where to fit near-daily writing into the rest of my life. Some days I can grab time in the mornings (I am definitely a morning person), but some days I can’t. Figuring out how to make space for frequent writing is a major goal of mine for the near future.

If you’re a librarian-researcher and -writer, what are some of your best sources of inspiration? And how do you find time for scholarship?