Home > innovation, libraries, library relations, theory thursday > Changing the winds of library leadership or It’s not a schooner it’s a sailboat

Changing the winds of library leadership or It’s not a schooner it’s a sailboat


In a recent article from Library Journal, Brian S. Mathews shares his thoughts on where he sees the “Gen-X” generation taking libraries in the future. Having just seen a thought-provoking presentation on a similar topic (Gen-X vs. Millennial trends) at the WPWVC ACRL meeting, I began to muse as to whether I shared Brian’s ideals. For many of his points I did but there were some things that seemed less than exciting.

One point was raised as to the value or library organizations and the behaviors of these groups. Being a part of a professional organization has countless benefits but may carry the flotsam and jetsam of causes championed by earlier librarians. The phrase “It’s always been done like that,” was applied to another area of contention, cataloging, but it remains true here as well. True that much of the groundwork for our profession was put forth by our predecessors, but relying on tradition only takes us so far. As an analogy, we could mow our lawns with those amazingly entertaining push blade mowers, but things are a bit easier with a rider. We could also start using coal driven steam engines in our cars since older engines seemed to work like that years ago.

There is nothing wrong with tradition, other than it tends to cloud the visions of the future. Many of the great ideas we utilize in technology and library tools, have been adapted from or inspired by inventions of individuals who know little about library science. I could throw in a “thinking outside the box” metaphor here but it seems hard for us to think outside of a box that we can’t define in concrete terms.

This sort of mentality seems to be causing ulcers left and right in the library community. The acceptance of Gen-X, and quite soon Millennial, ideals will be a topic elder librarians will simply have to face. New ideas and changes to the way we provide services, do not necessarily equal the end of libraries as we know them. What is does mean for us, is a shift in perspective that could very well make libraries less of an afterthought on the minds of our governing bodies; but instead, a force for change and source of inspiration.

Sometimes it pays to step back and look at things with new eyes. Remember you can’t make the sailboat move forward by sitting behind the sails and puffing with all your might. Your only choice is to wait for some wind or break out the paddles. Ahoy.

  1. Keturah C.
    06/29/2007 at 1:13 am

    Do you have any suggestions on how to bridge this generation gap, Captain? It seems that the Gen-Xers and Millenials are often the ones who must make the most concessions because the people in positions of leadership are from the more traditional generations. While I feel that the younger generations have some respect for some traditional aspects of librarianship, I do not feel a mutual respect from them for the ideas and developments of the younger generations of library professionals. How can we conquer this?

  2. 06/29/2007 at 3:30 pm

    Interesting point. By “traditional” I am guessing you are referring to the Baby-boomers. This is part of the issue when dealing with multi-generational work settings. Trying to see from the same point of view can be quite difficult. Personally, I would say that change will come when the voices of the new generations can speak about the methods of their changes in relation to the issues defended by the others. Sometimes actions speak louder than words and in that case, individuals who can enact their visions should show their colleagues just what they can do.

    The heart of the matter is that we all like to feel that we are right when we present our approaches to an issue. The successful leader shouldn’t spend hours trying to convince everyone their ideas are right, when their time could have been spent moving forward from a compromise point. We don’t sail to new lands arguing about who has the better map.

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