Blogger Jaime Eastman

Progress Over Perfection: Embracing Imperfection in Library Work

An open book sits on a white blanket with a pair of glasses and a bouquet of flowers on top. Text reads progress over perfection.

I’m not really a big resolutions person, but starting a new year makes me reflective. What are my big picture goals and ideas for the upcoming year? Here’s the thing: those plans need to be in pencil. In light of life’s changes, single, inflexible plans often spell disaster. One thing I’ve learned in library work is to embrace progress over perfection. Let me explain.

It’s hard for me to admit, but perfection isn’t realistic or attainable. Library work requires our passion. We love connecting patrons with resources, sparking a lifelong love of reading, or supporting community needs. We feel strongly that we can, should, and will make an impact. When reality doesn’t match our expectations, we feel like failures. Spoiler alert: perfect isn’t necessary for success. Putting your imperfect heart in your work means you make an impact. And when you’re willing to learn and do better, you’re making progress.

Programs Aren’t Perfect

A yellow sticky note with the words give yourself grace.

If you’ve ever had a beautiful program idea turn into a complete disaster in reality, you’re not alone. However, there’s probably something to learn from your experience. I hosted a ball painting program designed for 20 that had over 100 attendees. While I spent a lot of quality time scrubbing paint out of our carpet, I also learned about room management and program capacities. One of my first solo storytime themes was squirrels, with books that were too long and elements that flopped. I felt like a failure, but learned how to evaluate materials, document storytime wins, and write better outlines.

Not all programs will be successes.
Learn from your mistakes and improve next time.

Spaces and Services Need Adjustment

I’ve lost count of the number of iteration of our play area. In fact, we constantly change it based on observations and patron feedback. To create separate spaces based on how different ages play, we’ve moved furniture. We’ve created intentional spaces for caregiver seating in or near the play area. Based on usage, we’ve adjusted the number and type of available toys and how we display them. Some change work, and others don’t, but we constantly consider what families need. That’s progress over perfection in action.

It takes time to learn and adjust.
Try out new ideas, but be willing to tweak them as you learn more.

Conversations Take Practice

As front line staff, we often have uncomfortable conversations. Sometimes, it’s asking a caregiver to manage an unruly child. Other times, we’re redirecting families to the best place for snacks. Perhaps it’s letting a caregiver know this program isn’t appropriate for their child. No matter how many times I have hard conversations, they aren’t any less hard. But even if a conversation is rough, I learn common frustrations, better words to use, and empathy. Then, I’m more responsive to community needs and better prepare for future conversations.

Conversations are human and unpredictable.
Give yourself grace, but evaluate and add to your skills.

Leadership Has a Learning Curve

A yellow sticky note with the words you do enough you are enough

Imposter syndrome is real. It’s a huge drain when you feel like you’re not good enough or the right person. Whether it’s motivating a project team, trying to inspire your colleagues, or serving in a supervisory role, leadership happens daily. Sometimes, we take on leadership roles before we feel ready. I’ve taken the lead on projects (and even joined the ALSC Board) before I felt ready. While it’s daunting, being willing to ask questions and learn from those around you improves your success. There will be days that you’re really good at it, and days you miss the mark.

Ask how you can do better as a leader.
Be willing to say you aren’t perfect, but you want to do better.
Then, follow through.

Focus on Progress Over Perfection

Libraries and communities constantly change, and we have to change with them. In a way, we’re all works in progress. Library work, whether you’re brand new or decades into a career, is something we learn as we go. Embracing that growth is all about finding a unique combination of grace and optimism. First, forgive yourself when you mess up. Then, be confident you’ll do better next time. Don’t let searching for perfection undermine all the good of your work. Take a breath. Remember, you are trying (and that matters).

How have you seen progress over perfection in action?

Jaime Eastman is a senior Public Services Librarian and Family Place Coordinator at the Harrington Library, one of the Plano (Texas) Public Library locations. She’s currently serving as a member of the ALSC Board of Directors. Jaime is also working on at least two ambitious cross stitch projects, dreaming of future travel plans, and reading far too many books at once. As a child, she wanted to grow up to be an author. Writing for the blog and publishing with Children and Libraries feel like a good start, and she regrets nothing about her adult decision to be a librarian doing storytimes who didn’t have to grow up too much. All photos are courtesy of the author.

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