Category Archives: Mentoring


By: Pamela Martin, Utah Library Association President and Reference and Instruction Librarian at Utah State University

As a society, I think we focus on success far too much. It certainly seems like success is all we are ever able to talk about at professional conferences. It’s all “I did X and it went great!” or “Look how well my study on Z went! LOOOK!” Very often these tales of success, rather than being inspiring, can be depressing.  Success can seem unattainable to your audience, especially when we never see the failures that precede all stories of success. And ignoring our failures just encourages fear of failing and discourages risk taking and innovation.

So in order to encourage a culture of sharing failures (and after being publically goaded by Dustin Fife), here are some of my favorite failures.

In the Classroom

As a Reference Librarian at USU, I teach, and I have made a few mistakes in front of classes. If you know me, you’ll know that people do NOT describe me as “laid-back” or “calm.” I’m the same in front of a class. I can be warm and engaging when leading classes, but I’ve also overreacted to students’ behavior in the past. Once, a student was not following directions after being gently reminded 3 times. Another time a student started talking loudly about how women aren’t funny. Both times, I reacted emotionally and loudly, and I am not proud of this.

However, these situations taught me to be a better teacher. Both situations caused me not only to seek out better classroom management skills, but also to focus on not taking it personally. It might sound like an easy thing to do – not take it personally – but I am used to taking EVERYTHING personally. Gaining some distance from students and realizing their behaviors are not always about me has helped me both inside and outside the classroom. (Also, the student in the latter situation was just dead wrong. I’m hilarious.)

IRB: Bane of My Existence

When you work on a research project that studies people (as we do in library science), you must get IRB approval at your University. As a young librarian (never really trained in the art of research – thanks, Grad School!), I, along with some of my colleagues, made the mistake of soliciting survey responses without first gaining IRB approval. In order to proceed we had to destroy all the data, gain IRB approval, and send out the survey again.

This failure was a necessary one on the road to becoming a competent researcher. I am now much more detail-oriented when embarking on a research project, and I have several IRB-approved research projects in the pipeline.

I share these stories because, like Dustin, I think it is important not to hide our stories of failure while highlighting our stories of success. Odd as it sounds, sharing your failures can be far more comforting and perhaps even more inspiring than success stories. Oftentimes you and your audience can learn just as much (perhaps more?) from failure than from success. And without failure (or at least a willingness to fail), there is no success. Failure is a necessary and helpful part of life, and any successful librarian has had more than a few epic failures.  We should not let failure keep us from taking risks.

Episode #056–Shawn Bliss, Cache/Rich Bookmobile Librarian for the Utah State Librarian

evillibrarianslogoToday we have Shawn Bliss on the podcast. Shawn operates a bookmobile in north-east Utah and shares with us some of the perils of having to be both a librarian and truck driver. We also discuss outreach, being among the people, and not ascribing needs to patrons. Shawn loves his work and has great perspectives about librarianship.

Evil Librarians Podcast 056


logo_808707_printI just want everyone to know, though I may have already made this abundantly clear through past podcasts and blog posts, that I AM A HUGE SUPPORTER OF ILEAD USA Utah! The deadline for applications is only two weeks away and I encourage everyone to get involved. Creative Libraries Utah is a product of ILEAD USA Utah 2013. This program and our project have been an important success in my career. I had the opportunity to work with colleagues and mentors from across the state and country. I was taught skills that helped develop a participatory technology, but more importantly, that helped develop me professionally.

A great example of what ILEAD USA Utah can do is Librarians from several universities and the Utah State Archives built a beautiful and still growing digital collection about historical Highway 89. ILEAD projects are not constrained by your walls or your communities, but by your ideas and willingness to explore.

This program allows you to take chances with new ideas in a safe environment. The primary role of each ILEAD Team is to create an innovative program directly addressing an identified user need. Individual participants will join together in diverse teams, including public, school, and academic librarians, as well as specialized library staff members.” This is an amazing opportunity to work on one of the many innovations that are stuck in your brain or in the pipeline. Success will not be measured with a year-end review, but by how much you take away from the program. 

If you are a library manager or in charge of an institution, find ways to get your people involved. There are great ideas among your staff and they are waiting for a forum and opportunity to blossom. You can help your staff develop professionally and be more fulfilled (and that is never a bad thing.) Encourage them to apply. Encourage them to grow.

Creative Libraries Utah’s own Kristen Stehel is the Program Director for ILEAD USA Utah for the Utah State Library. If you have any questions please contact her! [email protected]


By: Dustin Fife, San Juan County Library Director and ULA President-Elect


ILEAD USA 2015 Leadership Program




Innovative Librarians Explore, Apply and Discover (ILEAD): The 21st Century Technology and Leadership Skills Institute for the States

The primary goal of ILEAD is to implement national programs that develop the knowledge, skills and abilities of library staff members who will apply participatory technology tools to understand and respond to users needs. ILEAD was designed to help library staff understand and respond to user needs through the application of participatory technology tools and the creation of an easy-to-replicate model program.

More information: