Antagonism and the Generation Gap

Yesterday I went to a session at SLA 2008 with a conversation about new “info pros”- talking about their jobs and their expectations. The audience was about half “experienced” librarians and half “fresh librarians”. The perspectives of the three panellists were interesting, but they weren’t Millenials– the generation range people seem most leery of.

The thing that struck me most about the session, other than how important charisma and confidence are to moving up in the world, is how much antagonism there exists between veteran librarians and the newcomers. Why? I think there are a lot of weird expectations and sore feelings on both sides. One person said that the kids don’t respect printed sources and think anything that isn’t digital is obsolete. I can’t say that those people don’t exist, but most people in my cohort aren’t like that. I think if people don’t recognize the value of old sources, then it’s the obligation of the experienced librarians to impress that upon the younger generation. I’m pretty sure they had similar experiences when they started out in the field, but they must have forgotten about that. (Again, I think that’s just a cranky subset- most of the librarians I’ve worked with are excited to help new comers to the profession.)

A little bit later, one of the panellists commented on the supposed job boom from imminent retirements. That’s been rumoured for the last 15 years, and it’s not really happening. Newer librarians are dissatisfied they can’t find jobs because people aren’t retiring as early as before. Now, I don’t think people should necessarily have that much of a sense of entitlement for a job, but with the ALA using this myth to promote library school, it’s understandable why people are frustrated. I’ve met a number of people either just out of library school or ready to graduate that are having a hard time finding a job, and it’s hard because in some areas I know there just aren’t many jobs to be had.

I don’t think that the generation gap is terrible, but I do think people need to stop pointing fingers. If the veterans treat the younger librarians like punk kids and don’t trust them, then the new generation will look at them as hanging on and an impediment. If my cohort of recent grads are arrogant and don’t listen to people with experience and wisdom, then the veterans won’t bother helping us learn. I think it’s like this in any industry, but of course libraries feel constantly threatened- which makes this antagonism even more annoying because we shouldn’t be fighting with ourselves. I also know that it’s probably dependent on the individual library, and I’m fortunate that my colleagues have been a wonderful source of information and an asset to my education as a librarian. I should thank them for that.

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