Millennial Librarianship

I more or less live-blogged this, but of course now that I’m posting a day late the term “live” doesn’t really apply. I impressed myself with my stenography skillz, but then I realized I had created an extremely long blog post. Not for the faint of heart! I promise in the future I’ll be more brief, but I’m hoping some folks might find this “full transcript” (I did edit a little) useful.

Oh, and if anyone was in the audience and asked a question, feel free to leave a note with your name in comments–I’d love to attribute your wonderful questions to you!

Linda Braun opens the program with excerpts from a video on librarians’ and library students’ favorite part of librarianship. (At least in this portion of the video, the interviews are more than a little female-heavy; I cheered inwardly when a guy finally appeared.) My favorite line is from Cindy Fisher, a Simmons student: “And then my brother told me librarians don’t have any friends. So I decided to be a meteorologist… because I’m sure meteorologists have so many friends.”

Jami Schwarzwelder opens by asking several prepared questions.

Jami: What’s your favorite part of being a librarian?
Sarah Krygier: Variety. No two days are ever alike.
Georgia Lomax: It’s a creative field. It’s exciting—libraries are going someplace very cool and I have no idea where that is, and I think that’s very fun. I ended up in an elevator at the Disneyland Hotel with kids I served in my library!
Candace Mack: The moment of showing someone the book they’re waiting for.

Jami: What’s different about librarianship from what you expected when you decided to pursue this career?
Georgia: It’s not about the books, it’s about the people. And if you don’t know that going into a library, you’re in the wrong field.
Sarah: I never expected to see two teenage girls fight over a book. (It was a Walter Dean Myers.)
Candace: The whole men’s bathroom key thing… So many positive things. There are always so many questions when someone finds out [in social settings] that you’re a librarian, so you feel like you’re on the job. Every time is a moment to cheer on librarianship as a career.

Jami: [Question inaudible; there were some microphone difficulties, but the question was clearly something about serving diverse populations]
Sarah: Older folks in the field seem to think you have to be specialist in the area to answer any questions. I don’t direct all adults to a certain person, so why does everyone direct teens to me?
Candace: If you look young, you sometimes have to prove yourself. At the same time, you need to make sure you know your stuff!
Georgia: My job is to mediate between the generations. Our library staffs both millennials and folks who have been in the same jobs for 42 years. You’re working with different learning approaches, work approaches, philosophies… You have to make them all fit, understand how each group works, respect [each group], recognize what each group brings and pull it all together. Like to match 25 year olds with 70 year olds as mentors for each other to build skills. Recognize that age isn’t the important thing in the generations. It’s not about your age or generation necessarily, it’s the whole run. We need to appreciate what they all bring and that’s not an easy job at this time. But the more we welcome different perspectives… We need to be about choice being open. We need to apply all the things we say about the public we serve to ourselves as well.

Jami: How does working with customers of different generations have an impact on your job?
Candace: People thought I was a volunteer, which is a challenge. But challenge is a big reason a lot of people went into librarianship. It’s about the people and the information, but so much more about the people. If you can get a handle on navigating that public and staff-wise, and you’re pretty golden.
Sarah: Teenagers perceive me as young—they often peg me at 19. Which is nice because teens can relate to me. One teen felt comfortable enough to tell the book club she broke up with her boyfriend because he was abusing her. But it’s hard to walk that line between being a friend and keeping them in order. We have one adult patron who watches every DVD you can imagine. She’s close to 80, feisty as all get-out… She watched a kind of racy film called Tipping the Velvet, and she suggested that I watch it—but not with my boyfriend because he might “get ideas.” I think they take joy in seeing shock on younger people’s faces.
Georgia: How do I make sure our facilities accommodate different needs of all those ages? People who say “I remember the quiet library…” Whether it was really that way or not, how do I make sure I have pin-drop silent places? They’re annoyed by anyone else in the library. Teens come in, they work collaboratively, talk on their cell phones, occupy all the computers—they’re functioning differently. We have staff of all ages who are louder than some patrons want us to be because we’re enjoying ourselves at work. How do we accommodate all this within relatively small space? You need room for computers, staff, people, programs—how do we balance that all?

Georgia: I have a question for the audience: what did you come here to learn?

Audience: I work in a high school library. If kids work collaboratively and outside the library, what skills do they need to be working on for future jobs?
Georgia: How we make our library world relevant to them becoming future adult learners… When we have places that have rules that don’t reflect how they work, how they learn, the skills that need to be developed… If you’re in charge of your high school library, you’re lucky. One of the things we’re working on is really connecting with a target audience, say 16-22 year olds, and really finding out how they want to use the library, how it can support their needs, what would make it work for them, what are the barriers that keep them from being successful… Why don’t you come into the library? To answer those questions, start out with low-level research to build data. There’s lots of literature out there about how the next generation learns. It’s a lot about collaboration. When I went to school, I knew I could listen, read, memorize and parrot back, and I’d get an A. But I don’t remember half of what I learned in college. The more collaborative your are, the more discussions, the more you talk with others, the more you’re learning and understanding. That’s a real key. That’s a trend in the education world we as librarians need to really support. Make a case to whoever you report to.
Sarah: The aide shushing all the time [referencing a statement from the audience member] is something that has to change. Silent models don’t work. Libraries have changed so much in the last five years, even adults don’t whisper anymore. If kids are in there and happy to do schoolwork, shushing does more damage than good. Have “ambassadors” within the system. Aides who come in can be spies, go into the high schools and find out what’s going on. Don’t just rely on surveys.
Candace: Talking to teachers… If they’re on your side along with students then you have a much better strategy for changing policies in the library.

Audience: I was hoping to hear some tangible, practical things—examples programs and services public libraries should be offering to the millennial generation.
Sarah: Don’t be afraid to fail. There’s no sense continuing to provide something if no one attends. Provide what teens actually need and actually want. Our homework help didn’t work as a free for all, but our tutoring is phenomenal. If your library doesn’t already do gaming, get them to. Whatever research you need, there’s all kinds of fabulous information. We have one Playstation circulating amongst eight libraries and it works. And provide what your boss tells you to provide.
Candace: It takes time. At my first program I had maybe eight people show up. I’m hoping that was because maybe no one knew me, but after getting to know the teens… Have patience, don’t be afraid to fail. Just ask them—they love to tell you.
[Sarah plugs the excellence in service to teens program, with 25 award winners.]
Georgia: There’s Big P Programming and little p programming. Big P is overall services. We used to technically have teen services, but we didn’t think about it. They came in when they did, they annoyed some staff, and we just let things happen. Staff who liked teens helped well, those who didn’t rolled their eyes and said “Can’t you get them out of here?” It got to the point where we said it’s time to look at this age group and provide great service like we do for pre-schoolers, like we do for senior citizens. The Big P of teen services: volunteering, which is important thing for teens to be involved in. They build skills for employment, interpersonal skills… We have homework help. We use www.tutor.com so we don’t do it ourselves. It’s very expensive, but the difference made for students is huge. We’re totally committed to continuing to provide that sort of Big P Program. It helps kids, it helps the community. Little p is exciting things that come and go—anime clubs, manga… For older millennials, 20-somethings, we did speed dating, which was a very interesting experiment. Our millennial librarian said “This is something my age group would be interested in,” so they promoted in bars, on Facebook, guerrilla marketing… It worked great. One couple wandered off at the end of the night talking books, which made us feel warm and fuzzy. Games for all age levels… There’s lots of research to back up games as learning, personal skills, embracing change—these are all important things that developing brains need. We have Wii, Nintendo, all sorts of little fun things to go and share around branches. Jump in there, take some risks. All of a sudden an age group that sometimes doesn’t notice the library looks at you differently.

Audience: What about career events?
Georgia: Career is sort of a hybrid between Big and little p. We need new name for that. We try to do job things, career stuff is good… We try to have fun and support those developmental needs.
Sarah: We partner with Kaplan, and they do free SAT and PSAT pretests and follow-ups. We just put Kaplan on the promo materials. They don’t promote their program or ask anyone to sign up. We had 54 students once to take the test. We also have an annual college night, with upwards of 60 people, teens and parents. We bring in local representatives from area schools, and they do presentations as well as one-on-one time.

Audience: I’m in my second year at a high school library, and it seems to me that programs work well in a public library, but a school library setting is little more formal. We have a traditional schedule, we’re supposed be having a largely quiet space… How do you set up programs operating within a school setting that can get any response from students? We’re completely out of touch and totally uncool, and attempts to be cool are really bad. What do you do for students who don’t need libraries?

Georgia: Relevancy—in rules and attitude—that’s something that’s applicable to any library. Our job is to make sure that in a world of Google, of easy access, we’re not the only show in town for that. Any library has to deal with change and figuring out what customers need. We need a work session where we just go into all sorts of topics like this. So what do we really do? Your job as the librarian would be working with whoever your gatekeepers are and educating them and making them understand how your library is not actually able to fulfill the needs of your students. In a school I’d hope they understand that kids collaborate.

Same audience member: In a school setting where students at home have supportive parents, the internet, but don’t have that urgent need that a lot of people coming to pub libraries have… We struggle to find things that appeal.
Sarah: Have you talked to them? Have you gotten their needs out of them?
Audience: No—they don’t want to talk to me.
Sarah: You don’t need to make the library relevant, you need to make the librarians relevant. Get these people to know you. It looks like you’ve got age on your side. Get out of the library. See if someone is willing to offer their classroom after school for collaborative projects or at lunch, and keep the library a quiet space. Be the one willing to initiate change. Outline, brainstorm… As long as you’re willing to do the work, a lot of times people are a lot more accepting of change.
[Other audience mentions flex time, multiple use for library.]
Candace: School at this point is, what, 80% of teens’ lives or something? Being in a school library, you’re in the perfect place, better almost than a public library, because you sort of have a captive audience. Especially if you talk to teachers and have them bring students in. One middle school in our area had a poetry event, because April is National Poetry Month, and I was invited to participate. Afterwards, kids came in to the library and were like, “Oh, you read that Shel Silverstein poem!” If you can find an in, then it’ll spread.
Sarah: Don’t be afraid to look completely ridiculous in front of teens.
Audience: [largely inaudible] Change the looks of the library. We don’t have a silent library.
Sarah: Speaking of teachers—don’t be afraid of the “dragon teachers,” the ones who’ve been there for 35, 40 years and have power. Don’t be afraid of them.

Audience: Most of the literature is on information use among teens and young adults. How much of that behavior is tied to that stage of development, and how much carries forward as they get older? Are they bringing that into public libraries, college, wherever, as adult learners/lifelong learners? And how will that transform libraries?
Sarah: If they spend as much time on MySpace as adults, the world is doomed. [Blogger’s note: afterward I asked Sara to clarify this statement, and she admitted that she was largely hoping for a laugh, because it was a pretty tough room at this point. She was referring specifically to kids who spend massive amounts of time on social networking sites and aren’t getting real-world social skills. She acknowledges the value of sites like Facebook and MySpace, but worries about some users not being well-rounded individuals.] The styles of learning are very different.
Same audience member: As a teenager I didn’t have computer or a cellphone. Then, having a cellphone meant you were rich, but that’s changed dramatically.
Georgia: Get used to it, because it’s not gonna go away. I worry when a board member or staffer gives the line, “Well, that’s what they want now, and then we lose them in their 20s—” (We lose them because we’re not paying attention) “—and then they’ll come back when they have kids.” I’m not sure they’re going to come back with warm fuzzy feelings. They’re going to go to Amazon, do googling themselves. If we’re not paying attention to the way these kids are learning, behaving… It scares me. Libraries are closing. Not just branches, whole library systems. [Brief tangent into job and budget] We have to be prepared that each generation brings change and differences and this is just a really visible, very different way of operating.

Audience: Beyond providing them with Animoto, Flikr, how do you keep up?
Georgia: How DO we keep up? Two years ago, our [online] system was so locked down that you couldn’t do anything on it. We specifically choose to take some more risk. You have to strike a reasonable balance—you don’t want to just open everything up. It terrified a lot of staff, totally terrified the IT department. The whole thing about millennials is they like to create. With laptops, you don’t have to lock them down—just wipe ’em and reload ’em between patrons. Simple things, but stuff that feels risky to us. Librarians need to start taking that risk

Linda Braun: I want a t-shirt of that Chris O’Neil line, “She came out clicking.” The web is 17 years old next month. It’s a very different world. To serve our customers, we have to give up what we learned and how we learned, and focus on what they’re doing now. I didn’t grow up with this technology. I agree with Georgia—it’s mindset, not age, and we have to have that mindset. Kids who came out clicking not going to need us anymore. As far as going to them instead of them to us, what do we do to make sure we’re going where the millennials are instead of “We’re here in this building, and come or too bad”?
Sarah: A lot of people get left behind. You have to keep both, [online and physical] possibly indefinitely. How do you keep the few traditional things in place? Lot of places completely dropping that out. There are libraries that have gone completely digital. I think that’s completely unforgivable. People still need both at all times. [Asks Linda to repeat question] Schedule us! We’re willing to go.
Linda: I’m going to push back a little. Does it have to be physical?
Sarah: Sometimes. You have to see the face, point them to the website.
Linda: What about a MySpace widget? Pointing to the website is still really making them come to us. What about being where they are really?
Sarah: Beg automation to let us do it.
Georgia: And then they lock it down. [Inaudible comment from audience.] We can’t sit back and be passive and be loved. You have to get out there. Who’s lobbying for you and your students who have needs that they can’t fulfill because of barriers? CIPA comes out and they lock down computers and filter because of laws, and rightly so, concern for protecting children—but it also has to do with understanding that social networking is the new wave. Not just “Bad MySpace,” not just locking everything down—lobby with whoever is in our way and push and don’t be afraid to do that. We tend to be non-conflict people, but we need to get passionate about it. How passionate are we about intellectual freedom? About privacy? Why aren’t we taking that passion to some of these newer causes? I’m hoping millennials bring this in as staff because they understand. I’m a visitor to that world but I can’t speak from heart about it. I post on Flikr, but it’s fun and that’s as far as it goes.
Candace: As far as keeping up with technology, develop a teen advisory, ask what they do and like. If you have a good relationship with teens, they’re willing to tell you what they’re into. They want to share information with you if you can tell them you’re there to help, you want to give them what they want and need you to support. Students right now can have a lot of structure and rules in general, and once you reach out and give them options and autonomy, they really hook on. They’re happy that someone has taken the time to ask them. Honestly, how do teens find time? When I was UCLA, a woman came in and said to us, “When you join the profession, you’re going to be fighting a lot of battles for what you believe in. Welcome. Welcome to the fight.” It’s not always easy, not always pleasant, but if you’re willing to take the challenge… Be fearless, not afraid to fail, try to be engaged in the challenge. You’re not doing it for you, right? You’re doing it for your teens, for your students… for the future!
Jami: And professional organizations allow you to not be alone.
Sarah: I learned from my father, who’s a probation officer, that a genuine interest in what interests them goes a long way. Kids are unbelievably impressed. A little bit of knowledge goes long way. Find a few token things to learn in-depth about. It goes so far toward building connection with them.
Audience: A lot of it is free, too. MySpace doesn’t cost anything.
Sarah: Also, you don’t have to be them. You’re still yourself. Let them teach you.

Audience: How do I actually advocate on both sides, for teachers wanting quality research and kids who really don’t have time, or the interest, or the inclination, or any of this—how do I change one side or the other get them to meet in the middle?
Candace: I walk through every step of the databases at LA Public Libraries. I’m hoping people start to realize there’s a lot of bad info out there. Our website has a teen web that has a homework help link, with all the databases broken down into different subjects.
Audience: But you still have kids going to Google.
Sarah: Find your district’s technology plan. If you can name things when proposing a class visit, it goes a long way. Say “I’m helping you accomplish goal 2a and 4c.” So you’re not just saying “I want to talk about me and my resources,” you’re saying “I want to help you.”
Linda: Create assignments that are meaningful to students. For teens and anyone doing research, with things they’re interested in, their research practice is much better than the dry project on the Civil War. Help teachers figure out those topics that are meaningful to them. To me, that solves the whole problem.
[Audience member stresses the importance of working together, once again bringing up professional organizations.]

mk Eagle: You’ve spoken a little bit about diversity in terms of age, but I wonder if you could talk about diversity within your teen populations—particularly how you reach teens with needs beyond research and finding books, teens who might not be the ones in the library already.
Sarah: Our teen advisory board was part of the teen council, which is part of city. They proposed the things they wanted to do. One student had won debating awards, he’s going on to Stanford—he goes to the rich school—he has no idea. So I go to the schools, talk to students… Our library is in the urban center of a suburb. There’s a large variety of kids. There are latchkey kids with no computers, single parents, teens raising siblings or who are single parents themselves… Partner with someone in your community. I partnered with an alternative high school to work with teen moms. One area where they were lacking was anything at all relevant to teens. We provided them with books, talked to them. If you can’t get an audience in the library, find a community partner. Find where the teens are and going to them—especially the ones who are asking more than just “Where do I go to college?”
Candace: Word of mouth is amazing. You talking to a teen has some cachet, but a teen telling another teen is invaluable. It takes time, but you start with a few and then the popularity is just growing.
Audience: We have teen bands play at the library. Then they list on their MySpace saying they’re playing there. We pay a small stipend, and they’re thrilled because they never get paid. Word of mouth.
Candace: Going to schools, fliers in coffeehouses, scanning MySpace for bands, alternative schools, treatment centers… We drop off books at treatment centers for their waiting rooms, and then advertise there.
Sarah: Find your local juvenile hall or probation department. We give boxes of books to the juvenile hall library, where a staff member acts as an ad hoc librarian. But they’re getting really cool books because they don’t have budget. Find a community partner with no money.

Audience: On the staffing side of the equation… In terms of an appreciation of diversity among staff, not just “diversity training…”
Georgia: Staff are the key in everything we do regardless, and having staff who are approachable and welcoming to everyone and nonjudgmental… It’s all really standard stuff, but to people with the hard questions, the really personal questions of any age, any need—it’s critical. As librarians we need to make sure we’re about people, not about books. We need to make sure people coming into the profession, in whatever job, understand that and have attitudes and qualities that make them naturally want to help—not just say the words, but really care about the customer. There’s a huge movement in libraries to be more precise about our expectation for staff and jobs, and to find ways to train and evaluate based on this. Most of us came in and were put on the desk and turned loose. There wasn’t mentoring. You sunk or swam based on your skills. We all think we provide customer service, but no one told us what that was. So maybe I hate those loud, noisy 20 year olds at computers and I think customer service is to shush them or scare them out of my library because I’m thinking of this person over there. Or the reverse—Mr. Johnson reading his financial times, trying to get away from his fifteen birds and kids and whatever. It’s really hard! But we need to be really attentive to each person as an individual. It takes a lot of skills, commitment, energy. If we want libraries to thrive, bring value, make a difference, that’s what it’s going to take. Be there or get there fast.
Sarah: For staff, be a model. Treat any question that makes you uncomfortable or may be sensitive as you do any other question. Make sure you get to the heart of the matter. When you get to BGLT resources, think about having those resources available and on display, so they don’t even have to go to the catalog if they don’t want to. Modeling interactions yourself teaches staff a great deal. I get told I’m a “dynamo” or that I’m “not afraid,” but I’m answering same questions that everyone gets. Just do it!

Linda: What should library schools provide to your new staff to model fearlessness?
Candace: Give more opportunities for internships to really see the reference interview and these interactions in action. That helps you become really mindful of your actions. There are a lot of things you don’t think about because you can’t see yourself. As a patron, it’s very obvious to you who you want to ask questions. Who would you go back to? It’s very valuable to go to another system, another branch, see how that works out. Both at reference and circulation. Sometimes people don’t know the difference between positions. You just have to make sure that everyone is nice and welcoming.
Sarah: Kent Allen, the former director at San Francisco Public, used the phrase “dead cat on your desk.” You come in on a Tuesday thinking it’s going to be a normal day, and you walk in to a dead cat on your desk. What are you going to do about it? Library students need to be prepared for the completely unexpected. Some—not all, but some—come out very innocent, even if they worked in a library. Something odd is going to happen every day.
Georgia: Lessons in dealing with frustration or patience or something… You come out of library school with all these ideas, recent information, you’re pumped, ready to change the world—and then depending on what your first job its, you run into the wall. There are different levels of knowledge and understanding—welcome them all in. It’s not always easy. I want new people to hang onto that feeling as we try to work with people to get them make to make a difference too. And also some skills in the whole art of negotiation. We’re a little unusual as a workplace in that we’ve hired straight out of library school, no work experience at all. We had to teach some people how to dress. Really basic work skills. Integrating new ideas… can be tough. Skills to keep energized or to help you realize you’re in the wrong place. It’s okay to decide that you’ve joined a great big hidebound institution instead of a nimble one over there. You’ve got to find the right fit.

Jami: What advice do you wish you’d been given?
Sarah: I’m still new, so I’m still happy to get advice. Find a mentor! Whether it’s official or you just find someone in your field, mentors can come in all shapes and sizes. Take advice as it comes. Wherever you can, find someone older and wiser. Not necessarily older than you, just older than you in the field.
Georgia: Or younger than you in the field, but wiser!
Candace: Conferences! Any time you have a question, you know you can just ask anyone walking by. More likely than not they’re happy to help you find your way. And of course, joining ALA and opportunities to network.
Sarah: Make friends with your circ staff.
Georgia: It’s always a team. Learn from everyone. Always take advantage of any opportunity to challenge what you already know. One of our rules for our leadership team is we challenge our assumptions on a daily basis. It’s the only way to get better. I also always say go to areas you’re interested in but attend at least one program that’s totally out of your knowledge area. Do something really out of your area just to get a little bit of knowledge. Don’t get yourself stuck in your own library. Make connections with other libraries far afield. It’s so easy to get used to the way you do it! There are a lot of great ideas out there.

About mk Eagle

I'm the librarian at Holliston High School, a bit west of Boston. In my spare time I advise my school's yearbook and Gay Straight Alliance, write about food, and root for the Red Sox.
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3 Comments

  1. MK, this is so great! I missed this program because of other committments, but this is an AWESOME transcript and it was really helpful. Almost like I was there!! 🙂

    (PS: it was good to meet you at ALA and I wanted to say “Hi!” at the LGBTQ comics session, but I was talking with Robin.)

  2. Yes, this help alot. I’m happy that I took out the time to read this, it help fill in some of my missing pieces , keep up the good work

  3. So glad folks find this useful! I think in the future this is something I’ll do more of, now that I’ve discovered my freakish note-taking skillz.

    (Sorry I missed you at comics, Angie- I was probably too busy trying to string together coherent sentences while Ariel Schrag was signing *original drawings* for me. Swoon…)

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