Mindset lists and generational divides-food for thought

August 26, 2011

In light of the new edition of the Beloit Mindset List for the Class of 2015 (http://www.beloit.edu/mindset/2015/), and having my nieces begin college this week, I got to thinking about how generational differences are effecting the library profession and professions as a whole (you can also see another, slightly more humorous view of a 2011 professor’s mindset here: http://chronicle.com/article/The-2011-Mind-Set-of-Faculty/128705/?sid=pm&utm_source=pm&utm_medium=en).  A couple of things struck me as interesting on these lists:

  • Beloit list: #5 –women are more prominent in high levels of government and the current generation sees it as normal: I remember when Sally Ride and Sandra Day O’Connor were the “firsts” in their professions; now it is more expected, even if it isn’t as prevalent as it should be;
    #1, #7, #11, #37, #74: they are extremely technologically connected and don’t remember a time when the Internet wasn’t ubiquitous for everything.  Being wired is not a privilege or unusual; it is an expectation of everyone.
  • Faculty mindset list: #2, #9, #16: Faculty may or may not be more comfortable with the online only focus with students and office hours.  They may also have less of a grasp of the immediacy of texting (expecting an answer ASAP, within minutes, not hours).  Students may also expect the faculty to prove their worth to their “customers”–these are all newer ideas in the realm of education.  This can be unsettling, and some faculty may even rebel against it.

Last year, I read a book from Deloitte on “Decoding Generational Differences” (you can read it free here: http://www.deloitte.com/assets/Dcom-UnitedStates/Local%20Assets/Documents/us_Talent_DecodingGenerationalDifferences.pdf).  Whether you completely agree with their assessments or not, it is an eye-opening and sometimes provocative read.  It echoes what some of the above mindset lists discuss, and it tries to layout in a simplified form what the different generations (Boomer, Gen-X, Millennials) expect out of life, education, and work, and how you as an employer, manager, or co-worker with these generations can make it work to the best outcome for the workplace. 

How does all this effect libraries?

As the consumer mindset becomes more and more prevalent in our society,there will be an expectation that there exist in our institutions high levels of customer service, immediacy in need satisfaction, and flexibility in work expectations (life/work balance).  Our future (and maybe even current) patrons will expect the library to be staffed by professional, pleasant and helpful staff who can get them what they want, right now.  These patrons may even utilize the library for some of their telecommuting time, so collaborative or private workspaces may be something to consider.  And, as the Deloitte study says, if the Millennial generation can’t “see it” they will “ignore it”, which means that our library presence online and in person should be highly user-centered and offer as much flexibility and seamlessness as possible.

I believe that libraries cannot just exist as they have, without taking into account how different the next generation or two will be, perhaps more different from any generations in the past hundred years.  Making a true effort to understand these generations, anticipating their needs, and trying new ideas without fear of failure will be key to the library becoming a force for community support and a high-energy center for innovation and knowledge.  The alternative is a stagnant institution, fondly remembered, but ignored by those whose generation has found other ways in the market to satisfy their information needs.

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