Blogger Library Service to Underserved Children and Their Caregivers committee

Learning from the Mistakes We’ve Made

Image created on Canva

Please note that for historically marginalized communities, discussions about mistakes in the workplace may be emotionally challenging, especially if their identity is harmed in some way.  I am of mixed race and I find these conversations can be especially rough when the mistakes that have been made are things that I have experienced from colleagues.  Learning from others can be beneficial, but your mental well-being is more important. Don’t be afraid of opting out of these discussions to protect your peace. 

Paper, Heart, Symbol, Romance, Valentine
Image from Pixabay

Intentionally inclusive programming has been on the forefront of my mind for the last few years, but even with intentionality, it’s easy to make mistakes. The thing about equity and inclusion is that the learning is ongoing.  You have to commit to it for a lifetime.  As library professionals, we have a responsibility to ensure what we do is in line with what we say—we can say we want to have an inclusive library, but if we aren’t willing to admit to our mistakes, apologize, learn, and move forward with new knowledge, what does that say about us?  Are we really as equitable and inclusive as we say we are if we aren’t willing to admit that we make mistakes?

The last time I realized I made a mistake was when I shared my list of favorite storytime songs with a colleague at another library system.  Little did I know that one of my go-to diaper changing songs for baby storytime was to the tune of “Mammy’s Little Baby Loves Shortnin’ Bread,” a song that perpetuates harmful stereotypes of African American women. When I first heard “Baby Put Your Pants On,” the tune was familiar to me, but I didn’t do any further research as to where I knew it from.  I don’t have an ear for music the way that many of my colleagues do, so even though “Shortnin’ Bread” and “Baby Put Your Pants On” sound exactly the same, the different lyrics threw me off. 

After that realization, I went through all of my favorite storytime songs and compared them to the tunes of the racist songs that I had researched.  And even then, I worry that I’ll accidentally miss something and make the same mistake again.  In my quest to do better, I found this great resource from the American Kodály Institute! My library is currently not doing in-person storytimes, so this is the perfect time for me to continue researching to find better, more inclusive music for my programs.

I remind myself daily that I’m not perfect, and it’s okay to make mistakes as long as we are actively trying to learn and do better.  The most important thing is to continue educating myself because that’s a responsibility I chose when I decided to become a librarian.

Let’s Turn This Into a Conversation

What are some lessons you’ve recently learned? What do you hope to do better in the new year?  What resources will you use to help you do better in the future?

Looking for new song ideas or inspiration? Check out the “Materials for Programming” section of each of our toolkits.

Erika Miller is a 2016 Spectrum Scholar, a 2020 ALSC Equity Fellow, and a Children’s Services Librarian at the Lake City branch of the Seattle Public Library.  She is passionate about helping others and learning how to create positive changes for the kids in her community. 

This post addresses core competency III (Programming Skills) and V (Outreach and Advocacy).


  1. Chelsey Roos

    I did not know that about Baby Put Your Pants On/Mama’s Little Baby! I have definitely used that one in storytime as well. Thank you for sharing! Now I will take it out of my rotation.

  2. Erica Delavan

    Thanks for sharing that resource from the American Kodály Institute, Erika! I really appreciate how they give context for the ways that different songs might be problematic. I’ve also come to learn through my own mistakes that simply changing the words does not negate the harm caused by a song. I appreciate this reminder on how we can be more mindful in our program planning!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *