Monday, May 16, 2005

Battle of the Generations

There has been a recent thread on the nexgen librarian listserv about the availability of professional jobs in the library market. (OK, there's been way more than one thread, but the one I'm referring to was the most recent.) Someone on the listserv asked, "When the heck are all the babyboomers going to retire, so we nexgeners can have their jobs?"

Let's think about this for a moment before we kick everyone over 45 out of the library world. With the mass exodus of the older librarians, we're going to lose much experience and institutional memory. While I agree that on the whole, nexgeners are innovative, creative, and often are the main proponents of useful library technology, there's still inherent value in years of experience, and nexgeners don't have that yet. All of that useful knowledge, garnered over decades of learning, will go *poof* when the babyboomers retire and take it with them. So let's not be too hasty to dismiss them and arrogantly assume that we can run libraries without the babyboomers.

The whole thread reminded me of the 60s/70s mantra, "Don't trust anyone over 30." The cry of some nexgeners seems to resonate as, "Don't even like anyone over 30 - they'll just get in the way."


Blogger ...robin said...

Eeeewwww... now I'm not only untrustworthy, I'm unlikeable too...{sob}...

9:23 AM  
Blogger Angel, librarian and educator said...

While I am not one to kick out anyone older right away, I do get leery when I hear the line of "generational experience" and how it will be lost when they retire. Like you point out, a significant amount of innovation and push for new technologies comes from the younger and recently trained librarians. But what really prompted me to post is the assumption that new nexgen librarians do not have that experience yet. On the contrary, many new librarians come from various fields of endeavor, and they bring a broad range of experiences that are both relevant and significant to the library profession. To dismiss new MLS and MIS people as not having experience takes away from the accomplishments many of them have and from the diverse views they may bring in. I was a teacher and college educator prior to becoming a librarian, and my experience as an educator made a crucial difference in me getting a job. If I would have met an employer who said "he does not have that experience yet" I would probably be unemployed. Experience takes many forms, and all those forms should be valued. As for the veterans retiring, while I have a healthy respect for those who paved the way for me, I hate to say I have seen my share of vets who probably should have retired. Then again, so I have seen college faculty, high school teachers, administrators and so on. It is not unique to librarianship that the young guns are waiting for the elders to retire. I think the problem in our profession is that the profession, namely ALA and the library schools, have used the generational issue as a tool for recruitment. And it is a recruitment that is questionable. Even if the veterans were all to retire today, and like you point out, this is not desirable, but if they did, the new folks would not all have jobs. This is because very often libraries not only lose the experienced person, they just do not replace the position due to budgets, or the other reason is that they try to hire another "experienced" person. I am sure readers are aware of this one way or the other.

11:54 AM  
Blogger michelle said...

Hi Gypsy Librarian,

Thanks for your thoughtful post. When I refer to "experience", I am mainly coming from my corner of the world - as a public librarian where most of our staff has been with the same library for many years. What will be lost by those retiring is experience in our community (and yes, in the library world in general.) A public library should be molded so that it fits the needs of its specific community, and that's partially what I'm afraid of losing when those that have lived and worked here for 20 years leave.

I agree with you when you say we shouldn't discount experience outside of the library world - our perceptions, decisions and actions are best formed when we have many different experiences. I worked for a corporation for a couple of years before coming to the public library, and this experience influences the way I work now.

What prompted me to post this was mainly the abrupt dismissal that I felt I read into the nexgen posts. Glad to hear that it isn't a widespread problem.


12:06 PM  
Blogger ...robin said...

Gypsy Librarian’s post is quite accurate as far as it goes. However the converse is often true; in IT I have frequently met (and alas! had to work with) people who were “certified” and made sure you knew it. These particular people I’m thinking of were completely clueless as to what happened in the real world as opposed to the rosy land of the MCSE, and were also in most cases totally lacking in empathy for the hapless consumers of their mistakes. They “did it by the book”; the fact that the book was written from a theoretical rather than a practical standpoint concerned them not at all.

12:33 PM  
Blogger Libby said...

I'm a new librarian (May 2004) and also a baby boomer. I am still looking for a librarian postion. I have been working in libraries for over 30 years and finally decided to obtain my MLS. I work in a government library and I thought, and it was implied, that as soon as I received my MLS I would be promoted into a librarian position. Now I'm being told that there isn't any funding for promotions. Nice.

So, you see, there are those of us in both boats-new librarians and baby boomers.

5:35 AM  

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