Monday, June 21, 2010

Thoughts on passing the baton

One of my favorite librarians to follow on Twitter, Andy W, made a great blog post about the age ranges of librarians according to ALA statistics. I was really shocked by the results. Your author, dear friends, (while not a member of the ALA) would technically be placed in rank with 7% of other librarians. In fact, I became a tenure-track faculty librarian at the age of 26. From Andy's blog:
If you apply the percentages to the ALA Library Fact Sheet, it gives the following breakdown out of 149,521 librarians:

45 and older – 89,712

30-44 years old – 49,342

20-29 years old – 10,466                                            

So why, when the stereotype of the gray haired, bespectacled old lady librarian is the norm, would I be so surprised? I'm not really sure. I guess I look around at all the amazing librarians I know, and maybe I see them as being ageless. Anyway, that's not the point I wanted to make here. The following are just thoughts and ramblings based on my experience. They don't necessarily represent my own views, and certainly don't represent the ideas of all librarians, libraries, or anyone else I can think of. I know what I'm writing may be scandalous, but my intention is not to start a fight. I love all my librarian colleagues, no matter their age!


I find that I'm a very sharing person...if I know of something good, I think you should know about it, too. I love my profession, and I think you should love it, too. In professional terms, you could say I constantly have outreach on my mind. So when Andy's post came out, I started to think about what we're doing wrong, or possibly just not doing at all to make sure our baton gets passed to younger generations.

The mentor that initially told me and then taught me about librarianship was in the 30-44 age range (let's call them middlers) when I started on this path. I don't know many 20-29 year-old librarians-to-be (let's call them younglings or millennials) who have solid, close relationships with the ALA's most populous age group (but that's not to say they don't exist). Most of my closest librarian friends are also in the middler group. But that's just me.

And since I'm about to be pointing fingers here, let me point back to myself for a minute. You might ask what have I done to help recruit new librarians? I've engaged with people on various social networking sites that have mentioned going to library school. I've talked to students at my institution and outside about the different types of librarianship, and how much fun librarianship can be. I fought (and won) for the regional library association of which I'm a member to have a Facebook account to do outreach to those who don't know about our profession or may be considering it.

But back to the problem.

Are our younglings looking at the majority group as something along the lines of technologically slow? Since younglings sometimes suffer from the millennial attention-deficit, we tend to "tune out" folks we feel can't keep up with our pace, technologically or otherwise.  On the other hand, I know of younglings and non-library millennials who definitely think that I am too technology crazed/savvy/what have you, and they find that a turn off to librarianship.

But what about our good friends, the middlers? Are they too busy jumping through hoops to get tenure, making presentations at major conferences, or fighting to keep their budget intact to worry about outreach? Based on the experience I had and the experience of a few folks I know, the answer to that is no.

So what's the deal? Where are we going wrong?

I know lately the economy has definitely turned two people I know off of librarianship. Who can afford to take on more student loan debt in this economy? Who wants to go into a profession where the jobs are so frequently based on volatile state/local government funding?

I don't think there are good answers here, at least yet. I'd say once the economy turns back to normal and our youngling millennials get a little older, we may be able to notice an actual trend.

What are your thoughts?


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