I went to this CUNY librarians event Institute because I was invited to participate in a "Graying of the Profession" panel.
They presumably selected me based on this somewhat obnoxious response to their call for panelists,
Rather then the question y'all have posed about what "next gen" librarians have to offer the library profession, I'd be interested in looking at what I consider to by myths about the impact of the graying of the profession. Maybe since I've been going gray since I was 11, I have a different take on that.
Anyway, there's the obvious myth about Boomers and Traditionalists retiring, which they seem not to be, though perhaps that's changing with recession based retirement incentives.
But the one I really want to look at is perceived ageism and how it differs by generation. Already at 42 I am afraid I would never get another job if I left my current institution, that academic libraries only want young and new librarians. Many of my Gen Y librarian friends think that older librarians view them dismissively because of their youth. Which is true? Either? Neither? Both?
But let me back up and report on the event as it unfolded.
The result of asking for kosher vegetarian meals and hoping that would yield vegan was a big fail, but I was well fed nonetheless. Note to the Grad Center's food service monopoly: tuna is not a vegetable. Luckily the not-kosher vegetarian selection was vegan. Still and all, and perhaps this is Emily's influence, I might have enjoyed a non-dairy cookie for dessert. I must say, making my third appearance on Emily's lunch blog was a nice conference perk. But I'm getting ahead of myself again and contributing very little to library discourse.
I enjoyed Stanley Wilder's keynote. He wrote The ARL Youth Movement: Reshaping the ARL Workforce (ARL: A Bimonthly Report, Oct. 2007). He talked about how librarianship as a profession is aging and that a youth shift will happen in the next ten years. Marie Radford later riffed off this, quipping that librarianship has in fact become the "oldest profession."
As the demographic shift occurs he warned that younger librarians are going to have to "run and hide" if they want to avoid management positions, which is something I've become concerned about. In academic libraries like mine that have no rank or tenure system, there is no way to progress career or compensation wise without moving into an administrative track, and I don't want to.
He framed the increase in men in the profession as women leaving it—to become doctors and lawyers—rather than as more men being attracted to librarianship because of the growing role of technology positions, which I found a little strange. One thing I liked that didn't get much play as the day went on was his statement that experienced librarians need to make themselves new again. Another compelling point was that libraries, unlike computer centers, are integrated into the core academic mission of the college or university.
Next up was my panel, which I sat on with Erik Estep and Shelly Warwick. It was moderated by Marie Radford, who, being a Boomer herself, and having done a lot of research on a ton of related topics, had much to contribute as well. Sadly, our panel never quited gelled. The three of us didn't click, and I found the questions hard to answer and/or not that stimulating.
I pretty much got—or took—my chance to say what I had come to say, that younger librarians will be just fine, that older librarians don't need to "train" them to be leaders, that they just need to be allowed to do their thing, and that my real concern is that as people are living longer and retiring later, we are nonetheless becoming obsolete more and more quickly. We need to figure out how to as Stanley put it, make ourselves new again, unless we want to become managers, which I don't. I managed not to blurt out to all of the under 35s in the room that they, too, would get older. That they wouldn't always be as sharp as they are now. (Illustrating that point at lunch, I cited 90s tv teens and hotties like Jennie Garth and Daphne Zuniga returning to the small screen playing mommies, not wearing bathing suits.) I admitted that while I tweet and tag and all that stuff, that I'm losing my zest for it.
I think the most productive idea that came out of the session is that librarians need to engage in two way mentoring projects, where an older/more experience librarian shares her knowledge with a younger/less experienced librarian, but at the same time the younger one shares her ideas and expertise with the older one.
The one thing my fellow panelists and I agreed on is that the quality we most want to see retained in librarianship is the service mission. I think Marie was disappointed that we didn't have more to say about diversity and other issues, but to me that's a given. While I could go off on a long rant about libraries' lip service rather than real commitment to fostering race diversity, that to me wasn't what this session was about, and it feels like less of a concern than the reality that libraries are increasingly looking to business and tech support models for how we operate and serve.
Perhaps the most unfortunate discussion point, introduced by Shelly, was wardrobe, particularly "underwear" (I assume she meant bra straps?) showing at the reference desk. For the rest of the day, it seemed like one in five comments was about clothing or tattoos.
I've already talked enough about lunch, so I won't say any more about that. After lunch was a 15 minute presentation by a vendor, which several of my companions and I boycotted, standing in the hall until it was over. I thought it was weird that at an event that charged for attendance, it was necessary to force a sales pitch on us. Then again, the registration at $35 for LACUNY members and $40 for non-members, was pretty cheap, and I did like that the panelists got paid 100 bucks for our participation.
The second panel, "Issues in Next Generation Librarianship," went a lot more smoothly than the first. Participants Erin Dorney, Emily Drabinski, and Jason Kucsma managed to turn their session into a conversation. They were really smart and interesting and unlike me, highly articulate and responsive to the questions put to them by Marie, and then by the audience.
A highlight was when one of the audience members turned the young people dressing inappropriately discussion around by citing older librarians wearing food stained shirts. I swear to dog, there were several offenders on hand, so the point was well taken. I don't mean to make it seem like the second panel was all about this annoying topic, but I didn't take notes, so I don't have much else to report. Before I let the clothing topic drop, though, I will mention that Marie reported that casual attire makes librarians more approachable at the desk, though fancy duds command more respect.
Curtis Kendrick, CUNY's University Librarian, and the one person of color who appeared on the dais, gave the closing remarks, which were a thankfully short (nothing against Mr. Kendrick, it's just that everyone was chomping for an early Friday afternoon get out of work free card).
I headed off to a bar with a crowd of usual suspects, Alycia, Emily, Jill, Jonny, Maura, Mike, and others I didn't know as well (Beth and Mariana), and had a productive debriefing session. We realized that the generational differences in socializing is something that didn't come up during the day that perhaps should have. More than one of us admitted that during our twenties, we went out very frequently with coworkers, which may no longer be the case, or even something we desire, anymore.
My own personal debrief, at the end of this long report back, is that while I didn't feel great about my contribution to the day's discussion, I was heartened that a few of my fellow GenXers came up to me and sympathized with my point of view, wishing that my "what about us?" had generated more discussion.
Twitter back channel, for those who are interested.