Andy Woodworth, librarian, blogger, and professional flinger of discussions at fans, blew up the internet a few weeks ago by posing a question explicitly “for the sake of a lively discussion”. He posited that the elder generation of librarians should retire, because,
“Shouldn’t there be some accountability from library leadership in general on this neglect? Why would the profession continue under people who have failed in such a spectacular manner? During an era of the largest information paradigm shift in the recorded history of mankind, libraries are not at the forefront of these issues. It’s a shame, really.”
Like I said, the internet blew up. (What, you didn’t notice? What were you DOING, paying attention to Egypt or something?) That post got 66 comments, and a lot of them focused not on Andy’s assertion that library management has failed to position libraries appropriately in the information age, but on The Issue of Age. Will Manley responded, and got 134 comments. Guess what they talked about, a lot? There was some discussion of the actual issue — agreement and dissent about his posited failure of library leadership to position libraries to lead effectively in the information age — but hanging out with it was the Issue of Age. And the other classic, Not My Fault So Stop Picking On Me, with a healthy dose of You Whippersnappers Are Spoiled Brats So Shut Up.
Andy posted more on the subject — including a post acknowledging that he painted with too big a brush, aptly titled Mea Culpa. None of the followup posts, more carefully focused on the issues he wanted to discuss, got the kind of interest as the one that was intentionally hyperbolic.
This tells me a few things.
- Man oh man do we like our outrage.
- We’d rather be outraged than thoughtful.
- Nothing provokes outrage like Spoiled Brats Being Uppity.
- Second only to Spoiled Brats Being Uppity is Hyperbole Taken Seriously.
Well, here’s what I think. I think we should listen to G.K. Chesterton. I don’t want Chesterton’s size, his glower, or his mustache, but I shall borrow his words.
“I believe what really happens in history is this: the old man is always wrong; and the young people are always wrong about what is wrong with him. The practical form it takes is this: that, while the old man may stand by some stupid custom, the young man always attacks it with some theory that turns out to be equally stupid.” G.K. Chesterton
Or, to paraphrase, we’re all wrong, and we will always all be wrong, which makes screaming at each other sort of pointless, yeah?
So can we just stop talking about age? I don’t care if you’re 24, 36, 42, or 63 — I care that you’re a supportive, engaged, effective librarian serving your users and your profession with dedication, creativity, and your own personal style. I don’t care if you succeeded or failed — I care about what you did next, and how you did it. And I would love to see us debate more than whether or not The Kids Are Entitled Shits or The Boomers Are Stubborn Bastards. Go debate about where the big conversations in librarianship are happening (or make them happen!). Or about Harper Collins and Libraries and why we already lost. Or about women and leadership in our feminized profession. Or about doing good work because it’s rewarding, not because you get rewarded.
Just… no more of the Generation Wars, okay?