Learning From The New Generation

Intergenerational learning plays an important role in the development and maturation of academic librarians. In addition to the many senior colleagues I’ve learned from in academic libraries where I have worked, I’ve also been privileged to participate in more formal mentoring programs such as the one for new college library directors. More than a few good ideas and pieces of advice have come from library directors who’ve been there before me. The younger librarian learning from older librarian is the traditional relationship that comes to mind when considering what intergenerational learning means in our profession. But I see a new, less formal type of learning relationship developing in my own work, and I think it’s something members of my generation should be embracing more deeply in academic librarianship.

Over the past few years I’ve been establishing relationships with some academic librarians who are relatively new to the profession, and who are doing interesting work. Why am I doing this? Well, for one thing it’s stimulating to seek them out and better understand the work these folks are doing, and I’m finding it’s a great way to learn about new things that I sometimes am unable to grasp. For example, if you still have yet to explore a social network or try instant messaging it can really help to have a colleague give you a personal introduction to the technology, as well as how it can be put to effective use in a library environment. Often, but not always, the best colleague for that is someone younger who is more adept at using these tools. But these relationships are two-way streets. I can provide some advice for professional development, provide encouragement to them to write or present on their own, or proofread something that person has already written.

The most fruitful relationship I’ve developed with a younger colleague is with John Shank. John is a tenure-track librarian and instructional designer at a Penn State University satellite campus library. We’ve been working on collaborative projects, after a chance meeting at a local conference, for close to three years now. It’s resulted in some articles and workshops, but we’ve also explored our mutual interests in integrating instructional design and technology into academic librarianship through an ongoing project we call Blended Librarianship. This is a whole new skill set I wanted to learn about in more detail, and John had more experience than I did in instructional design and technology. Through our work I’ve learned a great deal from him (e.g., understanding what digital learning materials are). This mutually beneficial partnership lead me to be more open to connecting with younger colleagues, and being equally open about learning from them – and not feeling that I, as the senior librarian – needed to be the one to do the teaching.

More recently I’ve been communicating with Brian Mathews of Georgia Tech. He’s agreed to be a webcast guest speaker in October for the Blended Librarians Online Learning Community, and it’s given me an opportunity to have a few exchanges with him about topics we’ve each been writing about in our blog posts. Brian is adept at using a variety of technologies and electronic devices (he sends a good number of his e-mails from his mobile device which gives me an opportunity to interpret texting, and he’s the only library colleague I have who actually IMs me), and I’m sure if I have questions about them he can provide some insight. I also just recently communicated with Aaron Schmidt who is known for his blog Walking Paper, and is an active conference presenter. We’ll be getting together for an upcoming edition of Soaring to Excellence. Aaron works in the public library sector, but in his work with teens he’s developed expertise in using IM for service provision and he knows quite a bit about using gaming in libraries. His patrons are my next students, so I think there’s a good deal I can learn from Aaron and his peers. I’ve also met some new, younger colleagues through committee work for the ACRL National Conference, and I think they are open to having me question them about some of the new technologies with which they are at ease.

So I’m all for these informal relationships with younger colleagues. We all have a great deal to learn in this time of rapidly shifting technology change, and the baby boomers are going to be better off if they find their guides to it among the newer generation of library professionals. But making these connections is going to take some effort from the older generation. To promote what I might call “reverse intergenerational learning” we need to have more mixing of the library networks because we tend to exist in two rather different cliques, and that’s not a good thing. One step would be to get more of the younger generation involved in traditional library conferencing, whether it’s just having them attend or inviting their participation on committees. I would urge the baby boomers to be more aggressive about reading the blogs of this new generation to know what they’re saying, and discover the technologies with which they have expertise. Are you even using RSS and news aggregators to track the blogs of our younger colleagues? I’m sure there’s more that can be done to promote intergeneration mixing in academic librarianship, so please share your ideas with your comments.

If you stay in this profession long enough eventually everyone will be a younger colleague. But don’t wait until then. Start reaching out to discover the interesting work being done by your younger colleagues, and make an effort to learn more about it – with their support.

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