The challenges faced by younger librarians were examined at the 2009 LACUNY Institute. Library Leadership: The Next Generation was the theme of the October 23 event at the Graduate Center. Joseph Deodato (Staten Island) and Brian Lym (Hunter) were co-chairs of the Institute.
LACUNY President Jane Fitzpatrick introduced keynote speaker Stanley Wilder, University Librarian at the University of North Carolina Charlotte. Wilder, a controversial figures since his 2005 Chronicle of Higher Education essay about the false assumptions of information literacy, discussed “Demographic Change in a Turbulent Era: Librarians in the 21st Century.”
The library workforce is old and getting older, according to Wilder, who displayed an American Research Libraries (ARL) chart of the age shift. The average age of academic librarians was in the thirties in 1986 but had jumped to the fifties by 2005. This change has resulted in part from delayed retirements, resulting in fewer opportunities for new librarians. Ironically, at the same time, library-school enrollments have increased.
Wilder described the rise of what he called feral professionals: those with backgrounds in publishing, information technology, and human resources. These workers are younger, more ethnically diverse, more likely to be male, and less likely to have MLS degrees than traditional librarians. According to Wilder, feral professionals are getting more money with their non-traditional backgrounds.
Wilder is not comfortable with the emerging importance of what he calls technologists because they lack “deep immersion into the academic process and community, as libraries do.” People with information technology backgrounds also cannot provide the liaison approach practiced by traditional librarians. He worries that when senior librarians, especially catalogers, retire, they will take irreplaceable skills with them. He thinks that 2010 may be a watershed year for the profession.
Wilder also briefly discussed his essay “The Geometry of the Academic Library,” which argues that libraries should take more active roles on their campuses.
Wilder was followed by the first of two panel discussions moderated by Marie L. Radford, Associate Professor at the Rutgers University School of Communication and Information. “The Graying of the Profession: Intergenerational Collaboration and Succession Planning” was considered by Erik Sean Estep of East Carolina University, Jenna Freedman of Barnard College, and Shelly Warwick of the Harlem-Touro Medical Library.
Radford noted that intergenerational tension in the profession is highly noticeable. Warrick’s objection to the way younger librarians dress helped spur comments about appearances throughout the panels. Freedman feels that younger librarians are too often condescended to. Estep pointed out that he is a co-editor of the forthcoming collection Gen-X Perspectives on Librarianship. Radford said that younger librarians do not want to be managers and want flexible work schedules. All the panelists noted the importance of developing interpersonal skills.
“Issues in Next Generation Librarianship” was the topic for Erin Dorney of Millersville University, Emily Drabinski of Long Island University Brooklyn, and Jason Kucsma of Metro. Dorney emphasized the importance of new librarians being mentored by both younger and veteran colleagues. She also explained that the new generation of librarians is used to dealing with change and can help their libraries remain relevant. Kucsma discussed the importance of realizing how libraries are affected by social media such as Facebook. He also said communication theory needs to be stressed more in library school, while Drabinski pointed out that library schools have neglected to emphasize how important instruction is in academic libraries.
The Institute also featured three poster sessions: “Librarians in Metamorphosis: From Shushing to Shining, from Isolation to Integration” by Jeanne Galvin and Devin McKay; “The Times They Are A-Changin’” by Kathleen Dreyer, Cristina Ergunay, and Colleen Major; “ Beyond Geeks and Grannies” by Scott Rummler.
In his remarks which closed the event, University Librarian Curtis Kendrick said he was glad to hear from those who will succeed Baby Boomer librarians. He warned that libraries should not “silo” librarians in certain areas or opportunities. Kendrick worried that slowness to change may push new librarians out of the profession.
He emphasized the importance of mentoring to help those new to the field to realize their potential. The one value shared by both new and veteran librarians, he said, is the devotion to service, a core value that will sustain librarians for years to come.
Michael Adams (Graduate Center), with help from reports by Mike Handis (Graduate Center) and Sarah Laleman Ward (Hunter).