There aren’t a ton of articles on this topic here at HLS, so today we’re going to talk about failure. More specifically, my failure. I’ve been serving on the display committee at the library where I work for almost a year – we put together monthly displays with timely themes to feature certain books and materials. This kind of work is right up my alley – it involves a certain amount of research and organization while still being creative. At first I felt like I was absolutely thriving, but more recently I’ve come to realize that my efforts might not be as good as I thought.
My first display went up in May, and I inherited its theme from a previous member of the committee – urban gardening. When I saw that on the schedule, I’m pretty sure my brow might have actually, physically furrowed. Urban gardening? It’s hard enough to grow things in Colorado as it is, let alone in the city. To my surprise, however, putting together the display was actually fun – the library had lots of relevant books, I got to use some of my minimal graphic design skills putting together a poster, and I learned a lot about a new topic. This display also started a trend where I went a bit overboard with extras – a habit I have since been unable to kick. I created a flyer that showed the e-resources that were available and another that featured local agencies that have programs to aid gardeners.
My next display was on summer in Colorado (complete with a calendar of local music concerts), followed by one on left-handed authors (displayed in a gallery style with a feature on each author). I had some success with these displays – my coworkers were very complimentary, and the patrons seemed to like the extra information I compiled to go with them.
In November, I took on a display about a topic close to my heart – Native American Heritage Month. In college I took a service trip to the Rosebud Reservation in South Dakota with a really great professor who taught us a lot about Lakota culture, customs, and the way Indigenous peoples are represented in literature. Based on these experiences, I wanted to create a respectful and eye-catching display on contemporary Native American authors in order to show our patrons that Native Americans are still here, writing, creating and saying some really smart and funny things. I designed bookmarks for each author, hoping to feature their backgrounds, accomplishments, and to add a face to the name on the book.
But I didn’t stop there. Oh no, of course I didn’t. After I compiled my list of books and a couple DVDs, I thought about how it would be great to feature some Native American artists. I made interactive posters featuring contemporary art and profiles on the artists. Then, of course, I thought about all the Indigenous musicians I admire, and wracked my brain for a way to include them in my project. I created little business cards with a QR code that linked to a YouTube playlist of songs. When November 1st rolled around, I put out all of this paper, kicked back, and expected the patrons to come flocking to the display. I started keeping stats and monitored the stacks of QR codes and bookmarks to see if they were being taken.
While I didn’t keep stats on any of my previous displays, I can still say with confidence that this was my least successful display. A total of six library materials were taken from it over the course of the month. To this day, my carefully curated playlist has only gotten 5 hits. I felt completely ridiculous as I tossed a bunch of extra bookmarks and business cards in the recycle bin – I’d never seen anyone else on the committee make accouterments for their displays, and I was starting to see why.
Maybe I just tried to hard, or let my passion for the subject get away from me. Perhaps my designs weren’t compelling and my poster uninspiring. I don’t know exactly where I went wrong, but I’m still experimenting. For March, I’m putting together a display on the 1920s. It’s tough, but I’m trying really hard not to make any extraneous things. Consequently, my poster, the one thing I can make, is starting to look entirely over the top. Maybe it will work with the theme, maybe it won’t. I won’t know until I try.
Have you ever worked on library displays – what was your experience? Was there a time that you failed at something you really cared about – how did you face it?