Getting It Wrong

Getting It Wrong: A Lesson in Reflective Practice

I don’t think I talk enough about the times I get things wrong in the library. I’m all about celebrating successes, but let’s be real here: I mess up, I make the wrong decisions, and I say the wrong things. Owning and sharing our mistakes can be helpful for reflection and making sure we don’t repeat these, so here goes.

Wrong purchase

Selecting books and resources to purchase is hard. We do the best we can, check reviews and age guides, but sometimes we select the wrong resource. Maybe we’ve ordered online and what arrives is a too-small, text-too-tiny, cover-not-appealing, ‘why the heck did I buy that?’ book. Or maybe you’ve got swept up in a bookstore and piled up the new releases only to realise that BookTok fabulous novel is not at all fabulous for your school library. Been there! Had to rehome it. Then there’s the licensing. Did I renew that personal licence for a school knowingly? No, way. But it still happened.

Wrong recommendation

This is one I kick myself for, something that goes over and over in my mind. Giving a student the wrong book recommendation. Maybe it’s giving them a book that is too mature for them. Did that the other day. Parent sent it back with a ‘it’s not appropriate, thank you’ warning. How I work in my library is students are aware they might come across content they are not comfortable with. We talk about skipping those sections, discussing it with our adults at home or teacher, or simply closing the book and returning it. But giving that book to a student makes me cringe and wish I’d done better. Here’s hoping that incident doesn’t blow up. I’ve got policy in place just in case, but isn’t it easier to not have to go there?

It’s the same with just not being able to find the right book for that student and trying to make a ‘it’s not perfect but try this one’ recommendation fit them, knowing it won’t be something they love. Then, of course, ten minutes after they leave the right title comes to mind. I also hate the awkward shelf stroll because you just can’t get your brain to turn on and find that book you know you have and would be good. Book recommendations are something we do a lot of and most of the time we get it right or even hit the gold mine with a life-changing recommendation, but other times I strike out or hit a fowl (not sure where the baseball references are coming from, but hey).

Wrong layout

Now, this one I don’t beat myself up too much over because I am forever changing things anyway, but making the wrong layout and shelving decisions can be disappointing and require a lot of extra moving and lifting. Looking at the space, trying things out and then changing your mind is important, though, so I don’t let this mistake slow me down or prevent me from trying something new.

The cringe-worthy circulation desk comment

Sigh. A student brings up a book to check out and I make a stupid dumb comment about their reading choice. I’m much better at this now, but back in the day I made some doozies, commenting on what they were borrowing or just making a throw away comment about borrowing a book for a sibling (no you idiot, don’t assume, they are allowed to like that topic) that could cause real damage. I limit my comments now and I’ve also got a pretty good poker face for when they say something to provoke a reaction about borrowing a certain book. Sure, you want to borrow that? Nice choice.

Making a big decision on the go

In the library space, we have to make quick decisions all the time. Saying yes or no to something might not seem like a big deal, but can have big consequences later on. But sometimes we also have to make big decisions when the pressure is on. I had that scenario play out just this week. As the head of library services, I have to make decisions on behalf of my team, about our buildings, about safety, about our collections. Sometimes you have time to think, reflect or plan and other times you have to quickly react, consider as many of the implications as possible and just act. Sometimes you don’t even know if you’ve made the right decision until later when it’s too late. As I write this, I don’t know if the decisions I made in response to a leak in our library were the right ones, but I believe they are. I believe, given everything, we did absolutely everything we could. My fallback in these situations is to check, take time later to pause, reflect, check in with others about what they would have done and adjust where I can.

A hasty reaction

Sometimes there’s a lot happening in a library. Sometimes it’s all great and other times there are issues. When the stress is high, I know that I sometimes provide a hasty or stressed reaction. This has a massive impact on the people around me. I have to remind myself to think about others, be slow to speak, quick to act when needed but slow to react. Not always easy. And when I mess up, I hope I am always quick to mend fences and apologise for my reactions.


So, here’s to celebrating both our success and our mistakes.


  1. Danielle Emma

    Thank you for this. It’s so easy when we look at other practitioners on social media to think that everyone else’s practice is perfect and we’re the only ones who struggle or make mistakes! I really appreciate your honesty and relate to much of this, especially the disappointment we feel when we know we could have done better with a book recommendation!

    • Madison Dearnaley

      Thanks, Danielle. Yes, we can often share a carefully crafted perception on social media and even through articles and blog posts, but the reality is it’s tough out there! And we can’t always share the tough stuff or mistakes because it’s our jobs on the line. I’m glad sharing this helps. Those book recommendations are so important and my gosh I do worry when I get them wrong! Thanks so much for your kind comment.

Leave a Reply

© 2024 Madison's Library

Theme by Anders NorenUp ↑