Are you experienced?

Eva —  September 13, 2013 — 6 Comments
groundhog by qmnonic used under a flickr creative commons license.

groundhog by qmnonic used under a flickr creative commons license.

When someone tells you, “I have twenty years of experience,” have you ever thought about what that really means?

Of the people I’ve worked with, I can think of many who have spent those twenty years learning, growing, and trying to make things better. They are energized by new ideas, willing to learn new skills, and are the first to say, “Let’s try it!” They pay attention beyond the library and beyond the library industry. They are the ones who, at evaluation time, have a list of five possible goals for next year that they bring to you. They think things through and are able to take a big picture view. They also tend to be the most resilient; they don’t see failure as a total failure, but as an opportunity to learn and improve the next time. Even if they’ve held the same job all that time, they stretch themselves whenever they can and are always striving to improve. These are people who can confidently say, “I have twenty years of experience.”

I have been unfortunate enough to work with a few people in my time who, rather than having twenty years of experience, seem to have one year of experience that they’ve repeated twenty times. They can’t seem to add to their personal body of knowledge, and so are doomed like Bill Murray in Groundhog Day. I’m sure you can think of one or two people like this, too. Longtime employees who still can’t quite grasp the cycle of public library service, so summer reading is always a surprise. Or long-serving clerks who still take each patron interaction as if it were new and unique, unable to interpret situations or make judgment calls within policy unless a supervisor specifically tells him otherwise. Or the librarian who seems to always need prompting to loop in some important stakeholder or other department. The ones you are feel like you always telling, “We’ve talked about this before…,” “I went through this with you the last time this came up…,” and “Do you remember how you handled <similar situation> last year? This is the same thing.”

Lots of slack should be given to new employees; the learning curve is steep and it really can take a full year to get into the rhythm of public library work. What I expect to see, however, is continued growth beyond that first year. So, what about you, Library Leaders: How many years of experience do you have?



Eva Davis is the Director of the Canton Public Library in Canton, Michigan--not Canton, Ohio, or Canton, Massachusetts, or Canton, Mississippi. (It is an easy mistake to make.) Eva honed her supervisory and management skills working in customer service, research, and publishing before heading to graduate school at the University of Michigan School of Information. She became a librarian in 1998. She was an intern and then the teen services librarian at the Plymouth (MI) District Library before moving to the Ann Arbor (MI) District Library, where she was Head of the Youth Department at the Downtown library, Head of Youth Services for the system, Head of Branch Services, and finally Associate Director for Public Services. Eva has held her dream job as the Director of the award-winning Canton Public Library since 2008. She received the Michigan Library Association's Frances H. Pletz Award for Excellence in Teen Services in 2003, and is a graduate of both Leadership Ann Arbor and Leadership Canton, where she learned that she is moderately Affiliative according to MAFF, her color is "Green" on the Four Color Personality Test, and her Myers-Briggs Type is INTJ (although she has worked diligently and consistently on improving her Sensing, so she now leans ISTJ). Follow @CantonLibrary and @EvaDavisCPL on Twitter. (Photo credit: Susan Kennedy)

6 responses to Are you experienced?


    This really hits home with me and I bet everyone else who reads it. You make an important point about the learners…and the repeaters. Supporting those that “get” it as well as those who don’t is the challenge we face!


    I think this is a great blog post and I certainly would love to work for a manager like Eva. The sad truth is that the type of “good” experienced employee spoken of here is what many managers say they would like but don’t know how to manage. When faced with one of these “entrepreneurial types”, they feel threatened at worst, or, don’t really know how to support and challenge them at best. In the end, they lose the very employee they seek, as the entrepreneurial librarian will always be on the lookout for more challenging opportunities where their innovations are valued (remember, they are resilient). The real questions are: Can you as a library leader provide the right kind of support and challenge for “the experienced employee”? What are you doing to support that kind of entrepreneurial behavior in your library? What are the things that you are doing that demotivate or hinder that kind of employee? If you are finding you have more of the “repeaters” in your library, then perhaps you need to look within.


      Good points, LV. Lots to think about. I may have to do separate blog posts for each of your questions, there are so many layers to each.

Trackbacks and Pingbacks:

  1. Are You Experienced, Again? | Library Lost & Found - October 2, 2013

    […] LV commented on my post last week, “Are You Experienced?”: […]

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