Next Generation Librarianship: Examining the Unique Role of GenX and GenY Librarians Can Strengthen Our Professional Future

Article excerpt

Why is next generation librarianship an issue now? Successive waves of younger librarians have, of course, always moved into library workplaces, interacted with colleagues and patrons from different generations, and faced similar issues. Several factors, though, put today's next generation librarians in a unique situation.

* The flattening of workplace hierarchies and the rise of participative management means that younger and greener librarians are participating on equal ground (or on the pretense or perception of equal ground) with their elder colleagues more often than they were likely to in the past.

* Technological change brings a need for new skills and a new way of looking at library services. Technological savvy is often people's first gut impression when thinking about NextGens, and while technological expertise and interest necessarily vary by the individual, this is an important perception for a reason. Growing up with technology affects NextGens' perspective on and comfort with its use. While technical skills are by no means unique to younger librarians, the way they integrate technology into their lives, in general, often differs.

* Outside pressures on librarianship in the 21st century place younger librarians in a unique role. Beyond technology, we need to challenge existing perceptions of libraries and librarians, and show our continued relevance to various groups. NextGen librarians bring in new ideas and are often better able to relate to younger groups, drawing them in and involving them in their libraries.

* NextGens have more options open to them than many younger librarians and potential librarians had in the past. Much has been written about librarianship as a traditionally women's profession. Younger women who, in the past, might have become teachers, librarians, social workers, or nurses now have more options. Librarianship must compete for a new generation of recruits on a different ground. As one NextGen puts it, "[Younger librarians are] also not willing to accept what is given to them and realize that they only get what they ask for. They are more assertive. What is unique is that younger librarians have the opportunity to do this; Baby Boomers were only starting to break out of the restrictions placed on them due to their gender."

* Information skills are in demand and transferable; if traditional libraries are to keep younger workers, they need to find a way to remain attractive in the face of increased nontraditional opportunities.

* The graying of the profession makes it essential for library workplaces to retain and nurture their younger staff. Those who want to ensure the future of a graying profession had best begin paying attention to its greenest entrants now.

* Changing generational expectations and experiences affect younger librarians' attitudes toward the profession and toward traditional practices in many library workplaces. These include changing expectations of work/life balance, a differing view on employer/employee loyalty, and a predisposition toward continuous challenges and lifelong learning.

* Budget cuts and the post-9/11 economy have been less than kind to libraries, resulting in a tight job market for new grads, less professional development funding, and other belt-tightening measures.

These and other changes require that we pay attention to generational issues, looking at intergenerational interactions in the library workplace and at trends affecting our professional future.

defining generations

Different observers define generations somewhat differently; their beginning and ending dates vary somewhat and tend to overlap. The general agreement, though, is that today's workplace is comprised of four generations with these approximate birth years: Veterans (1922-1945), also called the Silent Generation, Great Generation, or World War II Generation; Boomers (1946-1964); GenX (1965-1978), also called Baby Bust; and GenY (1979-2000), also called Millennials, Net Gen, N-Gen, Nexters, or Echo Boomers. …