Part Three: Working Across the Generations—Nobody Likes to be Labeled

Stephen Abram

Stephen Abram

August 10, 2017

A meme in the Millennial generation is that they hate to be called Millennials. Same goes for hipsters, punks, etc. So, forgive the shorthand in this post to describe the cohort of new professionals in our field. They offer as much diversity as there always has been, and no generalization can make up for that. That said, there are some themes emerging as newer professionals comprise an ever-increasing share of our field.

In Part One of this particular series, I noted that I’ve spent a lot of time with new graduates in our profession—those who have started on a path to great librarianship but struggle with finding their footing in the world of library teams. As part of that, I’ve studied the generational changes wrought in the Millennials, and I’ve noticed some themes

In short, they’re frustrated, eager, and excited to step up to more challenges and responsibility.

Some feel that they’re not listened to enough and see a lack of respect in that behaviour. They share that they’re told to earn their right to more responsibility by working the time. Some worry that they’re pigeonholed in technology-focused positions, or are told to wait to “earn” the right to sit at the tables where initiatives and strategies are planned and formulated.

Bottom line: they feel blocked but aren’t willing to invest in more professional development. The concomitant risk to position turnover at the employer or the creation of potentially disengaged employees is higher.

What’s the cure?

First let’s define the issue:

  • Some new peers don’t present their ideas well
  • Some senior staff don’t listen well
  • T’was ever thus!

The future belongs to those who develop the skills to engage decision-makers and teams in conversations about ideas and innovation. So, what do we do? (“We” here is every generation—not just the Millennials).

For My New Peers:

Some ideas to consider:

  • My biggest tip is to lay the groundwork for getting your ideas across. Ask decision-makers, co-workers, and higher-ups for advice. Engage them early in your process and reflect back their advice at them. Do not present your ideas as yes or no options. Ask others to build on your ideas, and accept criticism as a gift not as a personal affront.
  • There’s no absolute need to only develop formal mentoring experiences. Lunch and coffee work just fine. Sometimes we have to break through our comfort zones and socialize with people who aren’t just like us. Invite a colleague (even from SLA or at work!) to coffee or lunch. A lot of advice and learning happens in those social conversations. I made personal and professional friends this way; you can too.
  • By all means attend every SLA, PD, or association event you can. If your employer doesn’t pay, go anyway. It’s often only the cost of a meal and, if my experience is any indication, I found positions that increased my pay many times over the cost of the investment in learning and networking that comes from involvement in SLA.
  • Don’t sit at these meetings in a small group of people you already know. That may be networking, but it is puny networking! Set a goal to meet at least two or more new people at every event you attend. If you need some tips, search Google for networking for introverts (you already know how to do that). I’ve pointed to a number of these resources from my blog, Stephen’s Lighthouse, and, although I am in no way introverted, I found useful tips too.
  • Don’t say no too often. When you’re offered the opportunity to stretch yourself at work or in association activity, jump at it. You’ll be part of a team, and you’ll learn from peers and more experienced folks. Everyone is in the same boat and everyone’s focused on success. Partner with your fellow members in chapters and divisions. Some chapters have calls for volunteers—or volunteer in a general way through the main SLA website on our volunteer form.

Raise your hand

You have great skills and fresh skills and modern skills. Don’t pay heed to that little voice attacking your self-confidence from within. Offer to train local chapter members in some technology that you can introduce. You’ll find willing learners who have something to exchange with you too. You’ll build respect and equity, and build your network of people with other deep experiences to share. I certainly learned how to ask for a raise, even from someone who’d ‘been there, done that’ while I hadn’t.

Be a trainer; be a learner

Open yourself up inter generationally. We need to break down some of the invisible demographic walls in our profession. It’s amazing how quickly old folks like me can learn social networking, instant messaging, wikis, and the new culture of content rules through just playing with folks and learning-by-doing. Help build your chapter Facebook Group as a source of ideas and advice, and ask questions too. It’s reciprocal. It’s a modern way of professional networking.

You have the skills, and our knowledge is bigger together. You are an amazing group of new professionals entering the profession with fresh education and fresh eyes. It’s very exciting. For many decades I have been teaching and visiting library schools across Canada, the U.S. and occasionally beyond. I meet newer librarians and information professionals often. Trust me: you are an amazing group of people. My peers are an amazing group too. We need to talk more. We need to collaborate. SLA is a wonderful framework for this to take place. All of us have an investment (personal, professional, and psychological) in the information profession, and specifically, specialized librarianship. We want to succeed and we will only succeed together.

The biggest tip I can give to all of our professional generations is Listen. Be humans first. Listen to ideas. Don’t dismiss but listen to understand.

Other resources:

HBR: Networking for Introverts

Shhh, quiet: an introvert’s guide to networking

8 Networking Tips for Extroverts

Share your stories, questions, and insights in the comments section below!


<a href="" target="_self">Stephen Abram</a>

Stephen Abram

Stephen Abram is a popular Lucidea Webinars presenter. He is the past president of SLA, and the Canadian and Ontario Library Associations. He is the CEO of Lighthouse Consulting and the executive director of the Federation of Ontario Public Libraries. He blogs personally at Stephen’s Lighthouse. Watch for his new book from Lucidea Press on management tips for librarians, coming in autumn 2017!

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