John Berry & Sarah Dribin on Experience

With the help of Dominican GSLIS student Sarah Dribin, I blogged John Berry’s talk at Dom this spring. He, in turn, picked up on the post for an LJ column on experience:

I think it was Dribin who asked me after the talk what I thought about “experience” as a qualification for a library job. My response to the question “resonated” with her. “Experience is possibly the most overrated asset that an individual can possess,” I had said.

My own students complain bitterly when they find “experience” that they haven’t yet been able to gain listed as a preferred attribute of candidates for entry-level library positions. My comment results from decades watching those in possession of that experience. Some are the great librarians of my era; others, however, have used experience to impede library progress in a host of situations.

I know this must ring discordantly, coming from someone with nearly 50 years of the stuff. But experience isn’t just overrated. It is frequently, too often, a quick and easy way to block change. While change isn’t always positive, it is wrong to use experience to prevent experimentation to see if a change might improve library service—and more common than it should be. Experience has stopped librarian reassignment, clogged upward mobility for the young, stifled new ideas and innovations, and stalled new services and approaches. “We tried that, and it didn’t work,” has put an end to more good ideas than all the budget cuts in library history.

I made the last sentence bold because it’s oh so true. Over lunch today with a dear colleague, we bemoaned the fact that so many innovations and people get stifled while the same old same old continues up above. I applaud the libraries that take chances on new hires, “not so experienced” but oh so eager employees and new ways of thinking.