“If I didn't define myself for myself, I would be crunched into other people's fantasies for me and eaten alive.”
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When I worked with Jim Danky at the Wisconsin Historical Society, he would often talk about how very young I was to have accomplished as much as I had in a very short period of time. After a while, I got used to telling him "I'm older than I've ever been!"
With Jim, I think that the acknowledgment of my age was was a compliment. I think he also liked to point this out in an effort to encourage me to slack off a little too. Alternatively, I've been in situations where my fellow librarians have told me I look very young, inquired directly about my age, or have asked me if I am "old enough to drink." I am going to chalk most of these up to a poor work environment with a lack of clearly defined boundaries.
What I found myself thinking about at the LACUNY Institute yesterday was about all of the really great librarians who are older than me (and, in all honesty, most are at this point) who have made me feel welcome in the profession. As I felt myself bristling over the discussions of generalizations, descriptions of individuals and differences, I thought about all those amazing people who never made age something that got in the way for us to get to know each other and teach each other things. I thought about how I really enjoy that I have a colleague now who I can ask about how reference has changed over the last 30 years, and how the card catalog was better in his eyes than an ILS.
It was discussed that young undergraduate students might be able to relate better to young librarians, but at Brooklyn College I am finding the opposite might be the case as well. Older patrons ask me for help specifically because they assume I will know how to help them print or open a PDF, they know I can help them read tiny type or get them to that database that they have been assigned to use.
We kept talking about age at the Institute, but I was wondering about leadership. Having been praised for leadership skills in the past, I always wonder how leadership and management may or may not go hand in hand. How our perception of labor, work, and our professions are so closely intertwined with how we are managed and how we manage (in both the business and personal senses). I think these leadership questions are also at the heart of generational divides and whether everyone is able to be heard and enabled to participate as they would like in a work environment (do you have to be capable, charismatic, and vocal as a younger or older librarian to be heard?).
Jenna did a good job of confusing the "aged" panel by being more in the middle than anything, and by totally changing the blue-haired stereotypes (I think there was mention of blue hair=old, but gray was much more popular. The panel was called the "graying" of the profession, but I wonder how much the manic panic did shape the vocabulary used).
The afternoon panel representing the younger professionals was great. I appreciated that Emily, Erin and Jason took hold of the conversation made it their own. I found Emily and Jason especially good panelists together, perhaps through their backgrounds in other groups and communities (and as activists), they know what it was to have an open, inviting, and supportive environment (even complimenting one another!).
Finally, when talking with Jenna a bit more on the train, I decided that one way to get through generational barricades that I have found is to get back to my initial library goals. I became a librarian so that I would be insured that I was continually learning things that I may not have been otherwise. I think that having colleagues that are part of a generation other than your own can be viewed as another way to learn; about life in general as well as other library-related perspectives. I think that the conversations we had at the LACUNY Institute about collaboration and mentorship were one of the most valuable things I took from the day (the idea that mentorships could go both ways; younger librarians teaching older librarians about 2.0, and older librarians helping to remind younger librarians about print reference materials, for example), and I hope that some new intergenerational projects arise from the day’s talks.
Finally, in full confession:
Resolution for the next LACUNY Institute: get more sleep the night before, or at least drink more water before going to bed. How many of the older librarians that day had head-splitting hangovers due to friends in from out of town? (yes, I am old enough to drink.) I hope at least a few, just to screw with all of the stereotypes that I helped to fulfill.
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