Learning from Losing

How losing taught me more than winning ever did.

There are some pivotal moments in life when one experiences a loss. Most everyone has lost a job, which can be devastating and leave one directionless for a time. Many of us have pitched a presentation for a conference that wasn’t approved or selected. Some of us have worked hard toward a big award or grant for our library and not attained our goal. Many times these losses can cause us to feel down and not want to try again. But hopefully, the losses are something we learn from and move on to greater things.

Everyone Wins

Everyone Wins

The people we meet

When we have a loss, we lean on people and develop deeper relationships that get us through the tough time. In 2013, my library was in need of funds after a major fundraising effort fell through. Many of the grants that are out there for school libraries do not include private schools. I naively decided to self-nominate my library for an award. Through this process, I met a number of incredible people at AASL and specifically those on the committee for this particular award. Those people continue to be a great encouragement.

Check out the links below for information about grants/awards for school libraries:

Learning where to improve

Well, you may have gathered that we did not win the award. We came quite close to winning the prize; in fact, a team of six librarians from across the country traveled to the tiny town of Bell Buckle, TN, to look at our program. But after not winning we started to ask the hard questions. What went wrong? What is lacking in the program? Where can we improve? When we were honest with ourselves we found areas where we were just not ready for the recognition the award covered.

Deeply reflect on practice

So what were our library’s weaknesses? First, there was no record of all of the good work that we were doing with our teachers and students. Although, we taught, co-taught, and provided resources we were not keeping a visible record. We found that we needed a record or evidence of all of the teaching and learning that happened in and through the library. Second, students were doing incredible work in the library but we had no evidence of it in the library. The research projects, maps, art, and other student work that students had created with library resources and library assistance were displayed in the classroom but not in the library. Finally, though we could list ten points of reflection, the biggest realization was that the library should be more than just a building or a collection it should be a program and a group professionals striving for literacy and community.

What are some ways we worked to improve our practice:

Eventually, lose the fear of rejection

Will we apply for grants and awards again? Yes, but always knowing that after the hard work the outcome is not certain. The best thing to do is keep working towards the library goals. Because whether or not we win or lose we always WIN when our program is better! Second place is certainly not the first loser, but it can be the biggest winner.

Making contacts

Yes, I have gained friends throughout the process of losing this award/grant. But I have also developed powerful contacts that take me far beyond my rural setting. I don’t know who approved my requests for writing both in the Knowledge Quest journal and eventually the KQ blog but I am grateful to them for giving me a chance. The opportunity to write keeps me on my toes. Most importantly my online library world helps me as a solo/silo librarian to keep up with the best practices in the industry.

Giving thanks this November

Thank you to my friends near and far in the library world who have encouraged me to keep growing after a loss–Pam Harland, Sabrina Carnesi, Pam Renfrow, and Laura Sheneman. Also, thanks to those who have been so helpful with writing and editing, especially KQ Editor Meg Featheringham.


Author: Hannah Byrd Little

I’m a dedicated Library Director at The Webb School of Bell Buckle, leveraging my background in higher education libraries to guide students through the crucial transition from school to college and beyond.

I am honored to have served as the AASL Chair for the Independent School Section in 2023 and am excited to begin my upcoming role as Director-At-Large for the American Association of School Librarians (AASL) later this year, following my previous experience as a Member Guide in the AASL Emerging Leaders program. These appointments reflect my commitment to advancing library education and professional development on a national scale.

With experience in state-level leadership through the Tennessee Association of School Librarians (TASL), including serving as TASL President in 2012, I bring a wealth of knowledge to my role. My educational background includes certifications as a Library Information Specialist for PreK-12th grade, a Bachelor of Science in Communications (Advertising & Public Relations), a Bachelor of Science in Liberal Studies (Education & Information Systems), and a Master’s in Library and Information Science.

Categories: Blog Topics, Professional Development, Student Engagement/ Teaching Models

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2 replies

  1. Hannah,

    In my heart and soul you were, when I met you, and will ALWAYS be a ROCK STAR! That’s due to the program you built from the ground up, in a sense your inquiry program was built and continues to grow through the process of inquiry. I am looking for a book on the process. Really! Thank you so much for your graciousness. Thank you so much for your commitment to the learning of our children. Thank you so much for standing as an example for me and I am sure, everyone whose life you touch; and thank you so much for showing how you ‘have faith in the law that “Books are for use…[and meant to] go out.., [from that] …growing organism” (Ranganathan, 1931) known as a library.

    Ranganathan, S. R. (1931). The five laws of library science. London, UK: Edward Goldston. Retrieved from http://dlist.sir.arizona.edu/1220/

  2. Much Love, Sabrina!
    You are a great encouragement.

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