How to kill a young librarian’s love of librarianship

I had a very interesting conversation with a young librarian at the SUNYLA conference. This librarian has been in a SUNY library for over 5 years. He is enthusiastic, excited, and extremely intelligent. However, the library he works in has gone through a major regression in management style over the past decade. It has gone from being a dynamic forward thinking and innovative environment to one laden with unwilling and staid librarians with a bureaucratic and fifties style organization structure. It has added many layers of middle management in the last couple of years instead of being a flat organizational model as most libraries in SUNY are striving to become. Many librarians there that used to be innovative when I first knew them 24 years ago are now protecting their turf and working on maintaining the status quo. The worst part of it is that librarians there do not even recognize what has happened.

After this conversation and others I had with new SUNY librarians recently, as well as my attendance at the recent SUNY Council of Library Directors annual conference, I have come to the conclusion that at several SUNY campuses, new librarians are not being allowed to thrive and grow as much as they could. I am not going to name any such campuses.

Here is my list of how to kill a young librarian’s love of librarianship:

  1. Do not allow out of the box thinking.
  2. Award only those that maintain the status quo.
  3. Blame people for failures.
  4. Call young librarians “cute” and ignore what they can really do.
  5. Tell them “NO.”
  6. Do not allow new librarians to try out different duties. Limit them to only what is listed in their job description.
  7. Maintain walls between departments.
  8. Demand unquestioning trust in what you do.
  9. Veteran librarians know best because that is the way it has always been done.

What would you add to this list?

35 thoughts on “How to kill a young librarian’s love of librarianship”

  1. I think this is happening across the country. There are some huge generational gaps, which also bring about problems in dealing with change, technology, innovation, etc. I’m experiencing the same thing where I am at and it’s been extremely frustrating. It’s exhausting to have to fight every step of the way. And even when I’m allowed to try something, the lack of support and enthusiasm makes it hard to go on. If I didn’t have an extended network of librarians outside my workplace, I’m not sure how I’d cope because there isn’t any sense of a team environment.It’s unfortunate that others are finding this as well. But in the spirit of one who wants to improve things, what can we as newer librarians do to change the culture and environment? I’ve tried a few things but haven’t been successful. Any ideas are welcome!

  2. This happens not just to “young” or “new” librarians — unless 40ish is young and ~15 years of librarianing is new :(To add to your list:a. Hold librarian responsible for actions and activities where librarian has no authority or, if on a computer, where librarian has no sys-admin privilegesb. request a unreasonable project with an impossible delivery date, formally make negative comments in personnel file about lack of follow throughc. request a reasonable project with a mutually acceptable deadline, then a week or two after praising on-time delivery and how acceptable product is — tell librarian “you don’t do anything around here” in the middle of the faculty meetingI’m sure you’ll get plenty more for the list, more’s the pity 😦

  3. some others:1. Take credit for their ideas/work.2. Discourage experimentation and open discussion of ideas.3. Take a good idea and micromanage it to death.4. Dismal pay rate/no faculty status.5. Secrecy of decision process.

  4. I must agree with these observations, as a young librarian myself. Though I haven’t been the victim of many of them, yet, I have felt the winds of such storms swirling about.I am most often irked by the “that’s the way it has always been done…” manner of thinking. It’s funny to hear the same librarians who say that also add a line about libraries having to change the way we do services for the new audiences. You would think that logic would permit one to accept that if change is required in the output, the input may also require change. Then again maybe I am wrong. Where’s my box, my comfy comfy box. 🙂

  5. one more:Every time the new/young librarian demonstrates professional knowledge in an area where your own knowledge is lacking, attribute it entirely to them being “raised on computers”, even if it’s not really a technology or generational issue.

  6. I recently left a job that was “killing me”. I definitely see that there is a big difference between libraries that are “moving forward” and those that are not. In the future, the ones that are not will just fall farther and farther behind, which may ultimately doom them. I think my previous library is up to some serious issues once the current crop retires (all due to at the same time) and there is no one left to fill in gaps. They’ll have to come in with a whole new staff, which will create problems for the institution.Others to add:*Keep telling them, “you’re only here to move on after a couple of years”*Give them ALL technology responsibilities–because they’re young–on top of their job description*Loading them down with lots to do because they’re young, don’t have a family, and have lots of energy–this quickly kills that energy*Not recognize that even though they don’t have 20 years experience that they do not know something about the area they work in.I could go on…

  7. Here are some comments sent to me in email:-Problem – Make it hard and expensive to get the MLS degree. (a solution is to have paid apprenticeships / aide that satisfy part of the degree requirments!)-Whine about “the new generation” with no work ethic – “FBing is not work even if you’re answering ref questions, promoting library events.”-Holding hundreds if not thousands of meetings with no resolutions or action.-Serious lack of funding for ongoing training, collections, outreach etc.-Unwillingness to try new things – I can do it and show it off but if I’m the only one in the library doing it then it almost seems worthless, except that I can talk about it when I find a job I want to apply for.

  8. “Holding hundreds if not thousands of meetings with no resolutions or action.”…oh my god, YES! What is with the idea that the amount of meetings should be pertinent and not the actual quality of those meetings? Why are there meetings scheduled on my calendar for the next whole year with no agendas? I hate the idea of meetings based upon amount instead of upon need. I have stopped talking in meetings because the more I or anyone else talks the longer the meeting takes and the less I get accomplished.In academia, what I find so interesting is that people are so territorial. When I mention a new idea that would aid in the development of something already established by someone who’s been at the organization for a long time, it’s not seen as a good thing. Instead, it’s seen as me being a young, ignorant librarian trying to change everything to be my way and to make them use new technologies that they don’t understand. I always know it’s going to be a fight when I mention a new idea, but at least I still keep mentioning them. I have a lot of friends who feel so stifled that they have stopped mentioning new ideas and instead they just search for new jobs.

  9. Use the word “young.” I find that most professionals in the USA are simply afraid of losing their jobs b/c they bought a house, an SUV, and soon look forward to retirement, so they stay with the status quo instead of taking a risk to try new things. I think that’s why no one uses libraries anymore. The WWW is more interesting. However, someone voted for Barack Obama and someone wants change, unlike the NYSUT who blatantly boosted old-fashioned Hillary Clinton. Also, most new librarians look and act just like the old librarians. After ten years of trying to bring new and edgy things to academic libraries and campuses, I finally realize that it is impossible and am leaving the field to go back to art and technology. Colleges and universities are just tired and boring, and bad investments.

  10. Another in my email:MicromanageAsk for meaningless statisticsDemand meaningless assessment (not anything that helps)Conduct meaningless personnel evaluationsPay them almost nothingKeep reminding them that if they don’t like it here, they can quitRefuse positive feedback on them from faculty, staff, and studentsMake sure they have an endless series of needless hoops to go through to do anythingIf there is someone you like, make sure they get unfair perks Of course, this wouldn’t be the list to discourage some of us ancient librarians…

  11. Bill, This is very interesting to me because I did my dissertation on work values of academic librarians and job satisfaction and commitment as an outcome of shared organizational culture. My research strongly supports what you’re discussing. Most librarians prefer to work in a team organization or flat organization, but sadly, most libraries are extremely bureaucratic and hierarchical. Some other characteristics that are valued highly are recognition of achievements, ability to take risks and experiment, authority to go along with responsibility, ability to grow professionally, open communication. This is not a generational issue, but was reflected throughout all age groups. I’m glad that you’re providing a forum to discuss what I believe is a critical issue in libaries today, especially if we want to attract and retain excellent individuals into our profession. And, yes, I’m an old librarian who absolutely loves working with those of any age who are excited about the challenges and opportunities offered to us.

  12. Something else that is frustrating is the fact leadership development for librarians seems to be targeted at those in the profession for 10 or fewer years. Not everyone is on a short trajectory to move up in libraries and it might be beneficial to includes librarians who have been in the profession longer than 10 years.

  13. 1. Hire “newer” librarians with less or no experience at much higher salaries.2. Implement SUNY wide budget cuts and a highering freeze.

  14. What a great discussion. A lot of responses are spot on. I particularly enjoyed the part about endless meetings that have little benefit.However, I don’t think that my love for librarianship will die because of a little harsh treatment from my elders. Eventually, my generation (Y) will be in charge. It takes a lot of patience, a little drama and some extra effort to work effectively with everyone, young and old. I am 26 and have faced age discrimination to some extent, but it’s never stopped me from moving on. It stinks, sure. It’s annoying, oh yes. I daresay it is disrespectful as well. But it’s not killing me. If anything, it motivates me to want to be different as I age.

  15. 1. Have management start a project and then pass it on to young librarian to “just finish.”2. Use the word “We” to create a “we’ve always done it this way” culture.3. Ignore workload inequities.

  16. Move them out of sight in the basement where no one comes looking for them and no one knows when they come in or out.Make them write reports and give them projects that you lose on your desk.

  17. Kill a young librarian? How about how to kill any librarian? Or for that matter, any librarian regardless of any age that wants to try something new? That is not age, experience or generation limited. I think one of things that kills anyone’s love of librarianship is this very urge to start making assumption that it is only the “new” librarians, or the “young” librarians or certain “generations” (yeah, because THOSE exist) think certain ways or want to try new things.

  18. The basement comment is spot on!The other is managers telling the librarians that they have to pick their fights with the administrative office so they aren’t going to approach them with your idea. And the librarians have yet to figure out what the managers are actually trying to get the AO to do.

  19. Excellent post, and on target. I’ve been in libraries for my entire career–I started out as a page when I was 15. The librarians encouraged me to get my MLS degree–and then changed their tune once I got it. I was frequently reminded that they remembered me as a teenager, I was referred to as being “too green” for any important assignments–even when I left, had a great technical services career, and came back. Lord knows why I went back. I was forever 16 (or younger), and forever without any useful knowledge. My immediate supervisor didn’t treat me that way, but those above her did, until we got a director who was younger than me. I was promoted to division supervisor, but that didn’t prevent some of the “veteran” librarians coming in and scolding me like I was a child when they didn’t like something. However, with regard to the age thing–it may be relative to the organization. I think there is a general stigma against “new” librarians, which is extremely unfortunate, because they bring a lot of knowledge that ends up being wasted. On the flip side–I have been turned down for jobs because I have been in the field for a long time, and the department head wants a new librarian that they can “mold”. It’s just hard to win in library culture sometimes.

  20. I have been in l-ship over 30 years – and I have to fight with my young new librarians to get them to try anything new! Tables are turned here…I’m just saying…when I asked one of my staff to create a spreadsheet to track orders she responded “i have to ask my husband to help me – I don’t know how.” When I arranged for her to get training she balked until I insisted…She is finishing her degree this Summer….

  21. It should not be (practically) a requirement that a librarian will have to relocate to get that first professional position (I’m in my mid-40s and just can’t get up and move my family across the country). Also, it should not be so difficult to obtain a job with the local university. Instead of making a national search, they should look at who is in their own backyard.

  22. * Constantly commenting on a new librarian’s youth. It’s not acceptable to remark on other physical characteristics (i.e, “You’re just so short!”), so why is it okay to comment on someone’s age?

  23. I have to second some of the reasons listed above, particularly the dismal pay in the Midwest. Also how about the attitude that “Since you’re young, you should help all of the patrons with computing problems, after all you grew up using computers”. Or you’re young which means you are innovative so make us a myspace and facebook page…now.

  24. I’d love a list of how to kill a veteran librarian’s love of librarianship. Sure, some would be the same. But as a veteran librarian who has lost her love of librarianship (I feel you Eddie Paul–see Library Journal Feedback, 8/15/2008 “I feel irrelevant”), I think maybe part of it is that libraries love to hire in new people, give them new projects and challenges and opportunities, but then neglect their other capable and (at least once) enthusiastic librarians.

  25. Sometimes I think that it’s really creative or think-outside-the-box type librarians who face problems in librarianship. Perhaps sometimes these ideas or different ways of thinking are accepted better by colleagues if the librarian has age and/or experience on their side.

  26. Can kill-em (librarians and support staff as well) at any age with the things on this list. Lots of casualties where I work–again and again. Wish I knew how wo put a stop to it.

  27. tell them they have to pay their duesmake sure every “professional” meeting they attend lasts minimum 3 hours and involves in-fighting and unprofessional behaviour.

  28. ha ha ha ….after reading this i realised that i am not alone!!!. i am new at my work place and having constant struggle to get the trust of my boss and having him try new approach. all he does is trust his long time colleague who is equally closed to new ideas and trends in library. he is so disorganised and here i am trying to help and tying my best to uplift our unit ( i am trying to safe our unit) however he seems treatened (i think). His colleague is more interested in being personal and manuplating him but he doesnt realise that is putting him in more troublr and makeing the new librarians feel disgusted with him. i came to terms wt myself and told myself “KILL THE DESIRE WITHIN and tell yourself you are here work and earn”. When you cant beat them DROP them. My conribution to the list: When listening to a new librarians ideas or suggestions say YES/AGREE to all and do nothing no matter how good their ideas/suggestions are.Keep making them feel that they are going against the odd…..(this will tire them some day). Gang up with the old school of thought and let them down, work behind their back for some projects (in other words don tell the new ones your plans and decision, till they find out themself)

  29. I agree with Bill’s list, and so many of the comments here. I’ve encountered these problems at many of the places I’ve worked. I wanted to point out one inspiring situation, though. I work for an elite college library, and the library director is in her late 70s. And yet, she keeps up on all the latest trends, encourages all the librarians to attend conferences and bring back new ideas, and is very supportive of our efforts to implement change. So not ALL older librarians kill young librarians’ love of librarianship and not all want to maintain the status quo. Although I recognize that our director is unusual in being so progressive at such an advanced age.

  30. I agree that it is less an issue of generation and more an issue of creative versus methodical personalities. I am in my 40’s, have worked in libraries for 15 years, and am now in a library that is literally killing me. Previous libraries where I worked understood the need for growth and development. Librarians and staff worked well together to innovate and move forward. This library is different.What to add to the list?1. Allow librarians to have flexible hours or to work from home occasionally when projects need a creative push, and then shoot them down because a staff member couldn’t find them during that time.2. Talk about how we need to reach beyond our walls out to the campus and then tell the librarians that they must be in their offices (or at least in the building) from 9-5.3. Assign a librarian to handle a strategic initiative but then tell them it is up to them to “prove” to the rest of the staff and librarians that the change is necessary. When the librarian spends the time and energy to actually try to “prove” it, but someone on staff objects, then the project is stopped suddenly because they couldn’t get buy-in. Never mind that buy-in is something the library should have been responsible to get before the project was ever assigned to the librarian.4. Set up internal committees as a way to seem to want staff input, but then don’t allow them to function.I’ve said more than enough already.

  31. Agreeing with earlier postings about a) how this list is true for any age (except for the comments about how young or cute you are), and b) could be true for many fields of endeavour – in my case how to kill a new/young/old LIS faculty member. It's a great (if sad) list everyone should consider.

  32. Pay them almost nothingKeep reminding them that if they don’t like it here, they can quitI know I'm commenting late on this, but this is so spot on I can't even say. As a young (aspiring) librarian who recently got her MLIS I've come to the point where I almost feel like getting it wasn't even worth it. The only jobs it seems I can be considered for (still) are library assistant jobs that I do enjoy and am good at, but are usually part time and pay absolute crap.And the constant telling your staff if they don't like it they can get out… It's very very discouraging and very very much not conducive to creating a good work environment.

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Bill Drew

Sometime curmudgeon, full time husband and father and librarian and artist.

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