Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Ageism, Technology, & Learning

I've seen a lot of library conference sessions & research papers lately that talk about generational differences in librarianship. In general, I don't go to these sessions nor do I read these papers. Why? Because generational differences are dangerous generalizations at their worst & at their best they're mere strawpeople relative to the real issue at hand. In a way, they're just the Myth of the Digital Native spoken in a different dialect.

One real issue in librarianship is the differences in technological skill in our profession. I could be termed a "techie librarian": I work with Drupal, JavaScript, & web services. I love my browser extensions. But at the same time I'm very new to library web services. I've been in my first full-time librarian position for under a year. I'm still learning JavaScript, RESTful APIs, OpenURL, & a host of other standards. Meanwhile, virtually all of the techie librarians I look up to are from a prior generation. I'm no Roy Tennant; I'm no Ed Summers or Dan Chudnov or [insert your favorite librarian here]. So the idea that there's a lack of technological skill in older librarians rings particularly false to me.

Technological skills gaps are an issue, it's just that generations are a poor proxy. There are younger librarians who are luddites, there are older librarians who are coding ninjas. &, to go one layer deeper, the issue isn't one of present skill level but rather willingness to learn. I may be new to the profession & a web neophyte, but I work very hard to learn. In fact, I'd say that each week I acquire new & useful knowledge, whether it's a software tool or a code snippet. So the problem is when people believe it's OK not to evolve—no, that it's OK to remain the same. We all have to strive to be better, or we risk irrelevance.

A small but incredibly validating experience today inspired this post. An older tutor—not a librarian, but we work in the same building & with the same students—attended a staff training workshop I was teaching on keyboard shortcuts. Now, I'm a keyboard nerd. I love my shortcuts, I love my QuickSilver. & I made a completely ageist, asinine assumption; I thought that everyone would tune me out & get nothing worthwhile out of the workshop. But this tutor, who had previously stated that we had no business going into social media, loved it. She ate it up. She asked a really interested question (Q: "Do you think the mouse will go extinct?" A: Yes, but because of touch screens, not the keyboard.) at the end. & that's precisely the sort of person every profession needs: someone who's curious, who wants to learn, to improve. Age is irrelevant, an egregious red herring. Let's get to learning.


  1. awesome post! i'm at cpl now and find that the one element that is more essential than the skills you know is the openness/curiosity/confidence to learn new things. if that doesn't exist, it'll always be an uphill battle.