How To Be A Giveback Generation Librarian

When I entered the profession a good number of years ago we were all just librarians. No one thought of themselves as members of any particular generation. I got into some local associations early on and got to know some of the seasoned members of the profession, but I just thought of myself as a newbie, and the folks who’d been librarians for a number of years were just that. Now it seems more trendy to identify with a particular generation of librarians. The most common example is the “Next-Gen Librarian“.

While I get it, I have always been puzzled by the term because, well, isn’t everyone a member of the next generation as they enter the profession. I see the students in my academic library class as the next generation of librarians, although technically they might not fit into the “next-gen” category. But I understand that the term was coined to signify that the generation of librarians coming into the profession over the past few years is experiencing something unique from previous generations, and that this is a reflection of the changing workplace, the influence of technology and a rather different perspective on career goals and relations with administrators.

Having popularized the next-gen concept, Rachel Singer Gordon later referred to the Bridge Generation, librarians described as GenX who found themselves between younger Next-Gen and older “traditional” librarians (is that another way to say “boomer” librarians). We all know there are, to some extent generalizations. You may know a younger librarian who is more traditional than a boomer librarian.

I often refer to members of my own generation as “boomer librarians”, but we are perhaps far more diverse than even the Next-Gen or Bridge Generation librarians, and it really says little about my generation other than our age and long service in the profession. So I’ve been thinking lately about in what ways my generation might be characterized other than by just age or time spent as a professional. For lack of a better definition, I’m thinking about academic librarians with at least 25 years of professional service (the 30th anniversary of my own first professional full-time position is coming up next year). So I’m going to suggest a name for this generation – the “Giveback Generation.” To giveback means to return something. As my generation reaches a certain point in our careers what will likely be most meaningful is having the abililty to giveback something to the newer members of the profession that could help futher their career success.

So what should you do to be a member of the Giveback Generation? Here are some suggestions:

1. Get to know the new library professionals at your library. Don’t ignore them. Don’t expect them to kowtow to you. Talk to them. Find out about their professional interests. Do what you can to support them.

2. Support new library professionals by inviting them to participate in a professional activity, such as a local or regional association meeting. Introduce them to other librarians you know.

3. Take an interest in their careers. Make yourself available to provide career advice. What about a second masters or a doctoral degree? What are good committees to get on? How does one get started publishing? If you don’t have good answers, refer a new librarian to a colleague who may.

4. Do more than view new librarians as cheap labor to exploit. They’re professional colleagues. Treat them as such.

5. Explore opportunities to talk with LIS students interested in academic librarianship. You don’t need to be a mentor (but be one if it suits you), but make yourself available to share your experience or provide career advice.

6. Invite a newer colleague to join in the writing of an article or developing a presentation. It’s great experience for that person and should be a learning experience for you as well.

7. Get a clue about the concerns of new librarians and the issues they want to discuss. It’s tough to giveback if you don’t have any sense of what you can return. Tune in to some of the blogs authored by the Next-Gens or X-Gens. That can be a good starting point.

8. Respect the opinions and suggestions of new academic librarians. How many stories must we hear about new librarians frustrated by their senior colleagues who fail to take seriously their thoughts and ideas for creating change in the academic library. Listen and you might even learn something. Even better, ask yourself what you can do to promote the visibility of new colleagues.

Being a Giveback Generation Librarian is actually pretty easy. It’s mostly about making yourself available, listening, and providing advice if needed. Of course, you can be more proactive by going out of the way to develop opportunities for cross-generation interaction. You might want to even offer yourself as a mentor to a new academic librarian if your local ACRL chapter has a program for that. Perhaps ACRL do more to create and facilitate opportunities for Giveback Generation Librarians to connect with newer academic library colleagues. But this isn’t something that requires intervention from a professional association. Share some ideas about what you are already doing or suggest ways in which Giveback Generation Librarians can do more.

5 thoughts on “How To Be A Giveback Generation Librarian

  1. I thought this post was very timely as I am going through some difficulties with an “older” librarian. What I mostly walk away from this post is that I’m not alone. I’m not alone in that I have to constantly struggle to convince my colleague that I am here as faculty with my own research interests and ideas, that I have too much passion for my profession to just follow him. He accuses me of “caring too much” about the library, and that I am “strong.” Combined with his static ideas are his insecurity and unpleasant history he’d had within the library before my arrival. I came to this library with so much hope and excitement, but that hope and excitement get dimmer and dimmer everyday.

  2. I am so glad that Steven wrote about the “giveback librarians”. There appears to be a general shift in society, acknowledging importance of multi generation complimentary co-existence that is beneficial to all. It is time that this is reflected in our profession too. Next Gen, Bridge Gen and GenX are the known terms and now we can add Giveback Gen to the terminology.

  3. I’m curious, since most “generational” categorizations refer to chronological age, how this breaks down when you consider the number of people for whom librarianship is a second (or third) career? At least half the people I went to library school (mid-late 90′s) with were former teachers and many were at least a decade older than me, but they got the same training that I did as a relatively young grad student, and have been in the field for the same decade. Are they “boomers” by age, or “Next-Gen” by number of years of experience?

    W.–I would count those “criticisms” of “caring too much” and being “strong” as compliments. Keep caring and stay strong, and good luck.

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