Bridging the Gap between New Generation Librarians and Boomers

How do you view your new librarian? Would you have more faith in a librarian who is older but a recent graduate, or a younger librarian with a few years behind her?

Bridging the gap between the different generations of librarians is a difficult issue to tackle. No matter whom you ask, the finger tends to be pointed at the other party and often, the real problem is a lack of wanting to compromise on opinions and ideas. After all, the assumption is that “the problem certainly can’t be me!”

This concept of bridging the generational gap was first introduced to me at IFLA this past August. Since then, I have joined the New Professionals Special Interest group and have taken a considerable interest in this area of librarianship.

Are you a “boomer” or “new gener”? Where do your biases fall? Whether you’re a boomer or a new gener, biases work both ways. As a next gener, you don’t want to be looked at as a “wet-behind the ears you have so much to learn” librarian. But, as a boomer, you don’t want to be seen as a “washed-up, your career is over” librarian. So, how do we meet in the middle? And, how do these biases present themselves in the workplace?

I once heard a sermon where the priest reminded the older parishioners “that they weren’t born martyrs”. Basically, while you have lived a few more years and have life experience, you’ve had a chance to try out your ideas and to make your mistakes. It’s not up to you to judge the younger folks and their ideas. Obviously there was some sort of generational gap issues happening at that parish.

Personalities, perceptions, insecurities and experience all play a role in dealing with these situations. For myself, whenever I feel slighted or pushed-aside because of my age, I set out to achieve something. I’m kind of an “I’ll show you” type of person. I’ve achieved some of my best accomplishments due to someone’s offhanded comment about my skills, my age or their lack of faith in my abilities. You could say that’s my “RED” button – danger, do not go there!

However, other individuals withdraw, ceasing to take advantage of opportunities that are presented, severing professional relationships or declining to contribute new and innovative ideas. In some cases, these professionals might never recover or reach their full potential. That is a shame and a problem.

Here are some simple facts (as I see them) about generational gaps and bridging them:
Age. No one wants to be reminded how old they are and no one wants to be reminded how young they are.

Frequent reminder of age. While an occasional comment meant to lighten the mood regarding age might be regarded as funny once, continual comments about age serve as a reminder to that individual that they are either a.) Older and perhaps their knowledge and ideas are outdated or b.) Younger and their ideas are not developed or worthy of consideration. Either way, it’s a put down and it’s inappropriate.

Acknowledge that a gap exists. This is not a new concept and can be found in workplaces, organizations, clubs, teams, social groups and so on.

Gaps occur in experience as well as age. There are new professionals who are 50 and more experienced professionals who are 40. Taking pains to point out levels of experience or exhibiting actions to create “barriers” is just as much of a gap as the age factor.

Perceptions and Insecurities. Believe it or not, your job can be done without you. You are replaceable. This goes for boomers and next geners. While there is only one you (and of course you’re special!) your job requires someone with a skill set – and we all learn this skill set when we go to library school. If you have the opportunity to work with a rising star, don’t feel threatened by their potential, nurture it. If you’re a next gener and you have the opportunity to work with a talented and energetic boomer, don’t make remarks about taking their job or stressing how you would do things differently if you were them. Learn from each other.

Arrogance, insecurity, self-preservation, jealousy and envy are all at play here. An off-handed comment, your own insecurity about your age or even doubt about your skills are all it takes to create a gap.

Respect and compromise. While there will always be a gap among the generations, there are ways to take advantage of it. Rely on boomers for their experience, knowledge and expertise. Rely on next geners for their enthusiasm, ideas, energy and drive. In essence, it is a great partnership because the gap provides qualities that complement each other.

One thing I’ve come to understand as a librarian working primarily with “boomers” is that a generation gap will always exist. I haven’t lived as long nor do I have the perceived life experience. I have my own experiences, perhaps more than some for my age, and a satisfactory list of professional accomplishments (with hopefully more to come!). I also do not apologize for my age any more than I expect my co-workers to apologize for theirs. I don’t want to be older, I don’t want to rush forward to get past this gap. And perhaps, this is where the gap is finally bridged – in an acceptance of where we are at in our careers and our lives. This comes from within and, as professionals it is our responsibility to attempt to achieve this.

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5 responses to “Bridging the Gap between New Generation Librarians and Boomers

  1. Thanks for the perspective.
    As a boomer (born 1946) and close to retirement I certainly don’t apologize for my experience but neither do I expect that the person who replaces me in a single librarian setting (school) to do things the same way I have. As a matter of fact I’d be very disappointed if they did! I think my style and methods are very much my own even if following in the professional path established by my [continuing] education. See my blog at . I’ve never felt constrained by my age or my experience as I continue to provide (to the best of my ability and interests) the best service to my patrons, students and staff alike.

  2. I couldn’t agree with you more. Furthermore, as soon as we start to divide people into groups according to age (or what we think their age is!), and apply labels to these groups, the possibility of true, professional communication between individuals breaks down. I know many people, myself included, who have the traits of both “boomers” and “new geners.” Pat Wagner of Pattern Research gives a really interesting talk on this very issue (“Navigating the Rapids: Myths and Realities of Intergenerational Workplaces”).

  3. Laurel Tarulli

    Tom and Amanda,
    Thank you for your perspectives on this issue! I think it’s an important one, and a dialogue that should never end. The New Professionals Special Interest Group is really a great addition to IFLA SIGs. And, only recently did it become a SIG. I believe last year it was still a “discussion group”. Obviously, this is an issue on a lot of professionals’ minds.

    I’m definitely going to check out Pat Wagner’s talk -thanks for pointing me in that direction.

  4. marsha

    I’m wondering if there is as much discussion and concern about generation gaps in other fields. If there is a divide, is it about age or about comfort level with new technologies/ways of doing things ?

  5. Laurel Tarulli

    Hi Marsha,
    Good question. I’m not very familiar with what’s going on in other professions, but I do have some knowledge of the legal profession. In law firms, you often have those lawyers who have established the firm looking at retirement and wondering who will take their place. Also interesting is the different treatment new lawyers vs. more experienced lawyers receive in handling files or in court.

    I would imagine that this would result in the same type of generational gaps that we face. I think that if we look at any profession where there is a broad range of ages (from teachers to librarians to lawyers) you’ll find this gap.

    I believe the gap is the result of many factors, including age, skills, commitment to the profession and so on.

    Does anyone else want to weigh in? Any other thoughts?

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