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?