Two sides to every gap

Based on the discussions i had at IFLA 2010 conference in Göteborg, some sort of new or young professional identity has been on the rise in various places. At least Swedish, Danish, German and Latvian colleagues seemed to suggest, that some sort of movements had been emerging in their countries. A handful of common themes seem to emerge among these movements, if they can be seen as separate movements at all. Such themes include failure to stay relevant in the digital age, repressive organizational models, lack of quality library management, uninnovative workenvironment, poor employability and education not being relevant for the worklife.

I don’t know what this is a signal of, if anything at all.

An argument of mine is, that in the discussion about the so called generational digital divide, the divide is seen only from the point of view of the senior generation. In the library world it is not uncommon to hear someone express worries, that the digital natives are now/soon becoming library patrons, and library should become relevant in their lifes too. This is of course true.

However, it should be observed that the first generations who grew up with computers are already within the ranks of librarians themselves, and are becoming established deep within the profession. The Commodore 64 for example, was released in 1982, followed by Amiga and the legendary Nintendo Entertainment System NES in 1985. People who were born into a world with home-computers in middle-class homes, might now already have school-aged children of their own. People who were born in 1994, when the World Wide Web was introduced, are graduating from highschools very soon. People who started school that year in 1994, are now graduating from LIS-programmes in universities and entering our profession.

Above are some calculations of only the information society history. Similar observations could – and indeed should – be made about other developments, for instance Cold War, the popular InterRail -system since 1972, neoliberalism and global capitalism in the modern sense and thatcherism, gaining distance from the socialdemocrat project and so forth. Mental history and psychohistory of librarianship would be a very fascinating thing to reflect on!

To make a long story short: new library professionals might have quite a different view of the world than senior librarians. The generational digital gap is not something that looms between librarians and library patrons. It is a fact within the libraryworld itself. Thus, the digital gap must be acknowledged and taken seriously also from the younger point of view.

Of course my information from the countries listed in the beginning of this post are mere random rumours. I think IFLA’s NPSIG can have an absolutely crucial key role here, bringing together these movements and at least helping them be aware of each other. But what concrete could this mean? Perhaps some sort of a network of activists, who would regularly chat about some aspect of “new professionalism” over some instant messaging system, Skype or somesuch. New professionals could also agree on some mechanisms to solve common problems. Another idea is to compose a graphical timeline of key events, to serve as a backbone for reflection.

How does this sound to you, do you think the generational digital gap works two ways?

5 thoughts on “Two sides to every gap

  1. Thanks a lot for this post, Mace! I especially like your surrounding thoughts, because this is exactly what me and the others (Dierk, Federica, Loida) have been starting to think about before the IFLA Congress: Now that we have raised some kind of awareness amongst New Professionals through our NPSIG conference and social media activities, how can we move on and foster the online exchange to talk about these common themes you mention and to build a “network of activists”?

    At the moment, I am still catching up being particularly busy with writing a summary of my IFLA experience (this is getting way too long 😉 but I hope it will be done until the end of the week), so I did not meet Dierk or chatted with the others regarding further steps so far, also regarding our business meeting in Gothenburg. But during IFLA Dierk and me already agreed that we should just get started and try some regular online meetings via Skype or other appropriate tools. I also agree with Simon that it would be great to cooperate with IFLA HQ for this purpose. We have to keep this in mind while exploring different ways and tools.

    Of course, this should also go hand in hand with connecting to other New Professionals’ initiatives like the ones in Germany, Finland, Latvia ( and elsewhere (I also know about interesting movements in the US, Autralia, the UK, and on the European level – in some cases we already got in touch). Actually, we are going to have a guest post about the one from the UK until next week which could lead to some more ideas and connection points. I think we are on a good way regarding this kind of networking, but we have to work on this constantly. (Just one spontaneous idea for later on: What about asking all New Professionals’ initiatives for at least one person to join our network/workinggroup/whatever to enhance communication between each other?)

    One of the things we will definitely do soon is to invite interested New Professionals from IFLA 2010 and in general to join a working wiki which Dierk and I used to maintain internally (in German) for collecting and sharing information and ideas. I think this would be a good way to make arrangements and to figure out how we are going to proceed, wouldn’t it? As discussed in our business meeting in Gothenburg, we are also going to plan our session in Puerto Rico through this wiki.

    Anyway, I appreciate your ideas very much and I am up for the challenge! 😉

  2. LIKE!

    Good food for thought, Markku!

    As far as IFLA HQ and its possible role in all of this is concerned, I cannot say much yet; I’ll have to think about it and discuss it some more. Not about the need for change, mind you, nor the important role that new professionals need to play in it, because that is a given, I think. But I/we need to think about facilitating the discussion and the potential change.

    Actually, at HQ a diverse group of IFLA people already talked about and advised on some platform for new professionals (that of course can also be used by ‘old’ professionals if they like). Patrick Danowski was present at that IT brainstorming week in Febrary, as was our eminent NPSIG convenor. Sebastian wrote a post about the week in this blog

    This platform really needs to be thoroughly thought out, but I can envision it growing into becoming the tool(s) for your “network of activists”. I applaud your suggestion to have the NPSIG play a key role, or one of the key roles in this all.

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