16

Librarians Are Experts In Failing

“I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.”
-Thomas Edison

Research is an exercise in failure. You try a search in Google, or the catalog, or a database and often you don’t find what you’re looking for right away. You then try something else and perhaps get a little closer. Each time you try a search though, you learn a little more. You find new useful keywords to try in your next search. You learn what doesn’t work or what kind of works.

The reason librarians are research experts is because they realize that research involves failure. It doesn’t scare them and they don’t easily lose heart. They often see it as a challenge. They fail, but fail quickly, trying different iterations and learning along the way. Their searches are like the process of evolution involving multiple failed mutations until something comes along that works and flourishes.

Failure is necessary to succeed. It’s what allows us to learn. We should take the same approach in our careers that we do with our research and see failure as a tool… a necessary means to an end. Failure means you’re trying. It’s nice and safe to perpetuate the status quo. You won’t fail doing that. But you also won’t grow, and the library will stagnate.

Do something. Anything! Even if your idea isn’t fully fleshed out, start trying it. Your failures will help you to flesh it out. We don’t start research knowing the answer. We create our answer from a mix of failure and success. We also don’t know exactly how we’re going to build the perfect library. But we can figure it out. Sure they’ll be some failure, but you won’t even notice if you’re focused on what that perfect library looks like and how to get there.

4

Amazon has an Orwellian moment

photo from pcorreia on flickr

photo from pcorreia on flickr

When you buy a physical book you own it. You can read it, dog ear the pages, and even resell it. It’s called the doctrine of first sale. This is not the case when you buy books on the Amazon Kindle. Yesterday they deleted copies of Orwell’s works 1984 and Animal Farm from customers who purchased them on a Kindle, while crediting a refund to their accounts. You can read about it in the Wall Street Journal.

This raises some serious questions about ownership, privacy, and the future of books and reading. People, especially librarians, have been questioning ebooks and their implications since they have come out. Something electronic is much easier to quickly change.  Much like in the deleted Orwell book 1984:

“Day by day and almost minute by minute the past was brought up to date. In this way every prediction made by the Party could be shown by documentary evidence to have been correct; nor was any item of news, or any expression of opinion, which conflicted with the needs of the moment, ever allowed to remain on record. All history was a palimpsest, scraped clean and reinscribed exactly as often as was necessary.”  Book 1 Chapter 3 (Also on diveintomark.org)

Ebooks, as evidenced yesterday, are also much easier to be destroyed. It reminds me of another dystopia: Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451. In that novel the firemen had to come into your house, remove the books and burn them (or just burn the house down). Now books can simply be deleted via wireless internet. Poof. It’s gone. Like you never owned it.

Amazon has now said publicly that they will not do this again. But this makes me question the Kindle and the impermanence of ebooks. Big fail on Amazon’s part.