Part Two: Working Across the Generations

Stephen Abram

Stephen Abram

August 03, 2017

In an earlier post, I described a problem in our profession that is exacerbated by the double hump (Bactrian camel) in our population curve. How can you bridge the gap?

New professionals are entering and growing in market share while a large population of senior librarians either stay on, or leave and retire. Our profession is separated by a very small Generation X cohort which largely pooled in the technology-driven parts of our field. This demography resulted in the irony of the majority of Boomer library workers being separated by two generations from the generation following. This generation gap has created some dysfunction where some of our newest peers are the age of our children, and sometimes we have communication gaps that make it difficult to mentor, train, and develop. Some Boomers are out of practice with mentoring due to years without being able to hire, and inexperience with new peers. Some new librarians are flummoxed by working with a culture of well experienced, but time-challenged management.

In this post, I offer some advice on how to bridge the gap for my peers (those about my age and stage in the profession). In my next post, I’ll share some advice for the newer cohort.

For my Senior Peers:

Some ideas to consider:

  • When I wasn’t traveling as much, I made it a point to take local special librarians or LIS students to lunch, drinks or coffee. Sometimes this was as individuals and sometimes in pairs or groups. I have great fond memories of what I learned from these folks. I tried my best to address their concerns and dreams. I also developed deep insights into their talents and found opportunities for them in my network.
  • Partner with your fellow members in our associations like SLA. Some chapters have local members who sponsor students to every chapter meeting. Some divisions offer travel stipends and shadowing opportunities for our annual conference. SLA Toronto has a student sponsorship fund that anyone can contribute to. Always try to get your staff to attend meetings and support them. Your organization needs those networks.
  • Make an effort to identify and sit with new professionals (indeed anyone you don’t know) at every opportunity. Have a great conversation by breaking through your own comfort zone and connecting with new contacts, talents and colleagues. If you’re like me, some of the best and most valuable parts of my network are retiring. I need to add some fresh crayons to my box!
  • Play with new technologies by partnering with these folks. It’s amazing how quickly we can learn new skills and the new culture of content rules through just playing inter-generationally. Maybe your Facebook profile is just for this purpose. Link to your chapter Facebook Group as a source of ideas and advice and ask questions too. It’s reciprocal. It’s a modern way of friending!
  • Design a project to capture everyone’s knowledge in your field so that we can share on a higher level. Can we build wikis to share knowledge within the domains we practice in? Can we build social networks that lift us all up across the full range of SLA members? Lastly, I want us to commit to making the entry into SLA and specialized information practice a uniformly positive experience for all involved.
  • When someone says the new LIS grads are not as good as they were, ask that person when was the last time they met and engaged with a bunch of them. I do. Challenge them; their prejudice needs to be challenged. It’s often just an uninformed generalization unsupported by fact or experience. It might make one feel better in the short term but it hurts all of us in our image, marketability and success.
  • When someone asserts that these younger librarians don’t have the necessary managerial skills, remind them that they didn’t have those skills when they started out either. Ask them what they’re doing to support and mentor.
  • When someone says that a candidate must really have too many years’ experience for a job they’re trying to fill, let’s ask “why?” Are they unprepared to experience the great gift of coaching new professionals and learning from them in return? It is professional and social responsibility in its highest form. Let’s expunge these negative behaviours from our experiences, and seek role models for wonderful cross-generational mentoring.

Let’s look to the next generation of information professionals to see our future. Let’s learn from each other and share knowledge, insights, ideas and experiences. What do we have to lose? Too much. We have a lot more to gain.

The biggest tip I can give to all of our professional generations is Listen. Be humans first.

  • Listen to ideas. Don’t dismiss; instead, listen to understand.
  • Share experiences and describe how you manage and how you developed soft skills.
  • Share your perspectives on technologies and their role(s) in our field and practice.
  • Be open and see the kernels of success in new ideas—share how to build them up to make a difference in our field and our operations.
  • Remember and share the successes and failures of your career. Be that safe place.

My Information Outlook columns in March and April 2008 were open letters and seem pretty relevant today. Here they are:

March 2008
An Open Letter to My Boomer Peers

April 2008
An Open Letter to My New Peers


<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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