Please note: We are not the new generation
My generation is called Generation X, but I’d like to start thinking of us as the Silent Generation 2.0, because the world we found is similar in some ways to what the Silent Generation found, and because we are pretty quiet. We don’t make a lot of noise about what our generation represents and what we want to do differently than the generation that came ahead of us. The Baby Boom generation really likes the spotlight as a generation, and that’s okay. We have learned and continue to learn a lot from their performance.
As time goes by and we enter middle age (I’m 41), I and some others, however, have started to feel like speaking up as a generation. I don’t find this easy, because I think it’s unsavory. I would like generational conflict not to exist. I think it’s an ugly form of opposition, as oppositions go, because I think relations between generational groups should mostly be about learning (in both directions).
Usually when I speak, I don’t feel that I am speaking as a Generation Xer, so much as an observer of what exists who came on the scene after most of the people who are doing the talking did. But there is something I want to say as a Generation Xer. Probably only this one thing.
What I have to say is, please notice that a decade has gone by since we were the new generation.
I got my MLIS when I was 31, ten years ago. At that time, my cohort was the first group that came through library school after the World Wide Web had suddenly changed everything in a big way. This meant that we naturally had a different perspective from people who had gone through library school just a few years before. It also meant that we had the same teachers (whereas many of us are now teaching today’s library students, and my favorite teachers from library school are all retired or deceased).
We were talked about as the new generation of librarians. I remember being interviewed for an exciting and colorful website called “New Breed Librarian” that Juanita Benedicto and Colleen Bell created. That website made a big statement at the time. It disappeared from the web several years ago.
The idea of a next generation of librarians that began at that time has since persisted and morphed, but today I am officially too old to be a part of the now-existing Next Gen Librarians group and listserv. I am also too old, as well as too experienced, to be a part of a number of other groups and initiatives that are about the “next generation.” There is indeed a next generation of librarians, but it is two generations removed from the Baby Boom generation that still does most of the talking. While we’ve been talking about the “next generation” there have in fact been two “next generations.” (This may be part of the reason we’re talking about Web 2.0.)
Lately, I have been tolerating a lot of really annoying discussion that refers to the difference between the Baby Boom generation of librarians and the new generation of librarians in such a way that my generation seems pretty much left out or lumped in with the Millennials. (As an example, take a look at Stephen Abrams’ recent pair of open letters to “the two generations.”)
In a way it is not surprising. We have been quiet as a generation, and we are smaller in number in the profession than the Baby Boomers. But our numbers are not so small as to be insignificant. We are present in libraries and are often in management level positions. We also have a perspective, given our experience in library school with both an older generation of teachers and a world of new technology, that allows us to serve as an institutional bridge between the old and the new.
So, what I would like is to ask Baby Boomers to distinguish us, in your thinking, from the Millennial generation. Don’t lump us together with them as the new generation, because we are not the same generation. And please don’t dismiss us as slackers with punk attitudes. I think our attitudes have been misunderstood. I think we tend to be thought of according to the way we acted in late adolescence. Having had time to mature, I think we now tend to offer practicality and realism, as well as efficiency, where as young people I think we were displaying a natural reaction to what we were presented with. Having thrown off the weight of a difficult cultural situation, as now not-young adults I think we can best be described as quietly driven, a fact which Baby Boomers don’t seem to have noticed.
The past ten years have gone by in the blink of an eye. I want it to be recognized that my generation is no longer new.