We just had our monthly staff meeting, followed by our monthly “Someone must be having a birthday” excuse to sit around and eat cake, drink coffee, and chat with each other.
During the chatting and eating cake portion, the group of coworkers I was sitting with started telling stories about the things they’ve messed up in their years of professional work. We were discussing how with some student workers it’s easier to train them after they’ve made one big mistake; once they understand that their actions have consequences but that they’re reasonable consequences, and that screwing up is bad but not fatal, they’re sometimes easier to work with. They calm down a little, and relax a bit. Once we were on the topic, though… It turns out that in our shared drive we have a folder called “Significant Events”, so designated as the place to record the crazy “OMG I can’t believe I did that…” things that sometimes happen, and the fallout therefrom, so that people have a place to look to get background on some truly odd quirks in our systems and policies.
The prime mover in that folder is the time someone accidentally renewed all the books currently on loan, followed closely by the time someone accidentally renewed all books due on a particular Thursday. Beware the Global functions of your ILS! The laughing discussion of these mistakes led to other people admitting other “oops!” moments, ranging from humorous typing errors on cards in the days of manual data entry, to the ubiquitous “reply rather than forward” email mistake (“Ah! Get it back! I need that back! AH!”), to the advent of the email-auto-fill address function leading to sending things to the “Staff” rather than one person whose name starts with S, to accidentally inviting an entire school of the institution to a meeting using a calendaring program.
The message I’m hoping to convey with that laundry list is not that making mistakes is okay, or that my colleagues are particularly mistake-prone. Neither is true. Mistakes are still problems that have to be rectified, and we were all, under our laughter, fully aware of the consequences, both short and long-term, of all of the above. The message I’m hoping to convey is that everyone makes mistakes. We just don’t talk about them.
I’ll bet that there are other libraries where a staff member has accidentally renewed, checked in, or otherwise modified the circulation or patron record of things that were never intended to be modified. I know there are other people who have sent emails to places they weren’t intended to go. I’m certain that other people and other institutions have sent out mailings with typos, inappropriate content, and other mistakes. I know that other libraries have posted bad information unintentionally. I know that other people have saved a bad copy over good, or deleted the good, or lost the file, or otherwise been forced to start over. And on, and on, etcetera.
We all make mistakes. We just don’t talk about them.
And the thing is, talking about them doesn’t diminish them, or us. It makes us part of a community of people — some online, some eating cake, all trading stories — who live in the real world, who interact with it in real ways, and who sometimes create Significant Events. We can learn from each other. We can learn to put ourselves and our successes and failures into a context that’s meaningful. We can learn tactics for coping with our mistakes. We can learn to be better professionals.
But only if we talk about everything that makes us who we are. Keeping pieces back means we’re limiting ourselves, and our dialogue.