MLA Conference 2014, Day One (Wednesday), Part Two

Read a recap of the first three sessions of the day in Part One.

Working with and Managing Multigenerational Staff/People

In a day full of really good sessions, this might have been my favorite. Presenter Cally Ritter was fantastic: organized, energetic, a skilled moderator who blended small group talk with lecture and discussion. The lack of diversity in libraries is a common topic, and it’s true that in terms of race, ethnicity, gender, and socioeconomic status, library staff skews toward middle-class Caucasian women, but in terms of age, library staff spans the whole range:

“Traditionals” (b. 1945 or earlier; 69+) 4% of the workforce
“Baby Boomers” (b. 1946-1964, 50-68) 44% of the workforce
“Generation X” (b. 1965-1980, 34-49) 44% of the workforce
“Generation Y” (b. 1981-1999, 14-33) 8% of the workforce

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In small groups, we talked about what characterized each generation, from pop culture (TV/movies, music, hairstyles) to historical influences to preferred working styles. Because of the generational differences, Ritter said, we all need to “upgrade” from the Golden Rule to the Platinum Rule: Treat others as they wish to be treated. In order to do that, we need to listen to what people want. Ritter suggested having a conversation about preferred communication styles (face to face, phone, e-mail, paper memo, text, etc.) and then establishing norms (because it’s not efficient to send the same message through five different channels). In a situation where coworkers’ communication styles are different, Ritter asked, whose responsibility is it to shift their style? Who needs to change? (Answer: Yes!)

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The age diversity among library staff as compared to other professions is remarkable. What could be the cause? One idea is that the age diversity of staff reflects the age diversity of the “customer base” – library users are all ages. One audience member/participant said, “We need all these generations to do what we do.” To which Ritter responded that every workplace needs age diversity. We should remember that what we have in common unites us more than our differences separate us; we are more similar than we are different. We should avoid stereotypes, communicate strategically, encourage collaboration, and capitalize on the diversity of thought. And get ready for “Generation Z” (b. 1999-), the Millennials…

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Building Intergenerational Collaboration & Programs: Serving People of Different Ages

Andrea Weaver developed the Bridges Together program, which brings different generations together. It has been used in school systems, and recently at the Goodnow Library in Sudbury, MA. Weaver started the session at MLA by asking the audience to think of their first memory of interacting with an “older adult” (OA). Many people mentioned grandparents, great-aunts and great-uncles, neighbors, or teachers. Then, Weaver asked what activity this interaction included, and people mentioned reading (of course – it was a room full of librarians), music, games, food, holidays, and gardening.

The term “multi-generational” means that multiple generations are included; the term “intergenerational” indicates a skipped generation, e.g. grandparents and grandchildren.

Demographically, there are more and more OAs, but there are fewer opportunities for interaction. Many kids now have little or no experience interacting with OAs, and that’s what the Bridges Together program aims to correct. OA volunteers are paired with children and they build a relationship over the course of several weeks. According to Weaver, these intergenerational programs help reduce or prevent ageism, increase compassion and respect, give kids a chance to learn about possible careers, give OAs a chance to reflect on their experiences and share their stories, and give kids (and OAs) attention.

Where do libraries come in? Libraries build community by giving people permission to engage with each other. This can take the form of the Bridges Together program, or any other form; potential programming partners include the Council on Aging (every city/town in MA has one), the senior centers, garden clubs, theater troupes or dance companies, the Cultural Council, the historical society, the Parks & Rec department, and after-school programs. Other ideas mentioned: an oral history project; watching and discussing silent films, then looking them up in IMDB; hosting an intergenerational book club. (Weaver suggested books by Jennifer Chiaverini, Adriana Trigiani, and Dorothea Benton Frank; these authors generally write about multiple generations of families. She also read from a book used in the Bridges Together project, How Old Is Old? It’s out of print now, but there are still a couple copies in Minuteman.)

That’s it for the Wednesday sessions! Thanks to those who live-tweeted other sessions on Wednesday, especially Kristi (@booksNyarn), Anna (@helgagrace), Clayton (@cfcheever), Erin (@ErinCerulean), and Beth (@infogdss29).

Thursday session post(s) coming soon.

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4 thoughts on “MLA Conference 2014, Day One (Wednesday), Part Two

  1. Just a technicality, but Millennials are the same as Gen Y. Gen Z is a whole ‘nuther thing. (At least according to the internet.)

  2. And also, I meant to say thanks for summarizing all these sessions for those of us who couldn’t be there! :)

  3. I used the definitions that the presenter used. There doesn’t seem to be a consensus on exactly when each generation starts/ends or what they’re called. The ’80s are especially blurry, no surprise :-)

  4. Pingback: MLA Conference 2014, Day Two (Thursday) | Jenny Arch

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