Thursday, June 22, 2006

So, I am too old to learn about leadership? Just asking.

I think I would file this under "stuff I probably should keep my mouth shut about were it not for the fact it is offensive and disturbing." I did debate briefly if I should just let the matter drop, after all, ALA is not exactly my cup of tea, and to be honest, I would rather let others fight it out over it. However, after being pointed to Ms. Leslie Burger's Emerging Leaders Initiative, and reading Mark Lindner's post on another nail for the ALA coffin, I knew I could not keep quiet. How could I keep quiet when my organization (who knows for how long? Renewing those dues is less appealing over time) alienates me yet again. So here goes.

For openers, I am older than 35. As Maxwell Smart would say, "missed it by that much" (readers can add the appropriate hand gesture to go along). Mark brings up the question of the age in relation to new librarians, and his commenters add some other questions, some of which I had as well the longer I gave this some thought. Let's go with the age issue first. In the initiative's criteria, it states that you have to be young (under 35). I am older than 35, but as I said, not by much. I am relatively new librarian to the profession as I am now about to complete my second year as a librarian. Meredith Farkas, commenting in Mark's blog, writes:

"So I guess you must not be a fan of library residency programs for minorities either? I just think it's designed to get a group that is underrepresented in ALA leadership a leg-up. They are trying to reach out to young people because they know that we are the ones who they will need to keep around (and engaged in ALA leadership) or risk losing their membership base. The reality is that many more young people feel alienated by ALA than do Baby Boomers and they are very smart in creating a program that encourages young people not only to stay with ALA, but to get REALLY involved in its governance. If it makes a bunch of young ALA members happy and pisses off a few boomers, they'll still be ahead of the game. I'm not defending them, but I do think it's one of the politically smarter things they've doen recently. They have to secure their future existence."

So, on the basis of those words, it is ok to piss off one generation in order to make the other happy? And then people wonder why the generations, for lack of a better label, have their conflicts. It's "politically smart" to alienate one group of people in favor of another? So, is this the message then from ALA, that they should court the young and hip as soon as possible since the boomer geezers don't matter? I am not a boomer, by the way. I fall within the Generation X, but I still find such reasoning disturbing. Is that really the rhetoric that the (supposedly) premier organization for librarians wishes to convey? And no, I am not against any of the minority programs. As a minority myself, I was fortunate there were one or two little programs around to help me get an education. This is not the issue, and pitting it in such terms is unfair and inaccurate given that the initiative claims to be geared to new librarians. At least, that would be given if we look at the criteria in terms of those having a recent MLS (another term that is questionable, "recent") or in an MLS program currently. However, librarianship is supposed to be a field that is inclusive and diverse. At least that is what the organization claims in all those slick campaigns. Hey ALA, let me point something out. Not all new librarians are 35 and under. Not all new librarians go straight to library school after a bachelor's degree either. Some of us took a bit of a longer path to get to this profession. Does that not count? Are you telling us that our experiences would not bring anything to the table of a leadership initiative? Does this mean that these other new librarians could not benefit from getting "on the fast track to ALA and professional leadership"? I would not mind getting on the fast track, but in essence the organization is telling me I am too old. Is the training's content then some secret that only the young can appreciate and grasp? I am just asking.

Then there is the economic issue. It is a well-known dirty little secret that if you want to participate substantially in ALA, that you must either have money yourself or work at a place that is able to support you financially given all the required travel. This was brought up by another commenter on Mark's blog, Laura of The New Rambler. As Laura points out, "going to Annual and Midwinter is not financially possible to many people." A lot of employers do not pay enough, if they pay at all, for their staff to travel anywhere for professional development. I certainly could not afford those two conferences in one year, and let's not even mention that for the initiative, it is a year when the conferences are literally on opposites coasts (Seattle for Midwinter, Washington, D.C. for Annual). Now, I like to think that I am a fairly average librarian, so I can only imagine what those worse off than me may think. The few times I think about the dirty little secret, I have to wonder who does the organization really serve? Is it all its members or just the ones who can afford the travel? Now, I am fortunate that my academic job is non-tenure line, so I don't carry the boulder of having to be involved in some national organization so I can put it on my vita to make some committee happy. If I did, I would be out of a job eventually because there is no way I could afford the travel on my own, and my employer would not be able to afford the bill either. What I really want to note is the (seeming) assumption that you have to travel to be a good participant. Laura goes further to say, "this opportunity will be more available to those who have money, either on their own or their libraries." Now, I will be direct and say that I am not one of those people who think money is evil. If you got it, more power to you. But, I have to ask, how many small rural libraries or small college libraries, who maybe managed to hire a new librarian (assuming he or she is under 35), could benefit from this program but would be shut out because they could not afford the travel costs for that person? Now under "how much", Ms. Burger's site mentions:

"Workshop participation is free. ALA Divisions, Roundtables, and Chapters are invited to sponsor applicants with a suggested $500 stipend toward expenses for each conference. Your employer may also wish to contribute toward transportation and lodging."

So, the workshop is "free," but is it really free? And notice that it is only suggested that chapters, etc. contribute a small stipend of five hundred bucks. I do kind of wonder how far that little stipend would go in terms of the various travel related expenses, and before someone says, "well, the candidates are supposed to find their own money, not expect it all from a stipend," go back to my question. What about the small places which can likely be the biggest beneficiaries of such a program but can't afford it? Does this mean that only those in a large well funded public system or, say, a Research I campus with large endowments are the ones who should be going? Again, I am just asking.

Before I go on, a little note in the interest of full disclosure. I was selected to attend the regional Texas Immersion for instruction librarians this summer. Unlike Ms. Burger's initiative, that one is not free. My library generously picked up the registration, which is pretty steep. Now, I am not saying they should not charge for the program, but it does not take away that it is a fairly hearty expense. My luck also lies in the fact that it is happening in town. Otherwise, I could pretty much forget about such a program even though it is something directly related to what I do, and it would greatly benefit my institution. Given the registration is not cheap, I know my workplace could have used that money for a few other things. For instance, another librarian could have been sent to ALA Annual this summer with that money. My director would likely deny it, but I am aware that someone somewhere is really pulling on worn out bootstraps so the library's instruction librarian can do this training. To put it nicely, we are not exactly well funded. Now, I am sure some "altruistic" ALA apologist will say, "you see, your campus found the money for that. I am sure if they really think the leadership initiative is important, they will scrape the money for it." It should not be that way. It should not be a choice of whether we acquire a resource for the library to serve our patrons, or deprive the librarians and staff of some training, or other hard choice just because it would make you a better ALA member if you are involved. And one has to bring up involvement since the initiative is designed to get people to work on committees, etc., something that can then become more of an expense.

In the opening statement to her webpage, Ms. Burger has this quote: "Did your boss or your colleague just hand you this article? 'This sounds like you,' she said. 'You are young and new to the profession and are eager to get involved.'” As a matter of fact, that would not be far from reality for my boss, who often has an eye for making suggestions of things we should do. In fact, a reason I applied to Immersion is that a colleague said to me, "you should apply for this." Maybe she would not point this particular initiative to me; I can think of a couple of colleagues more worthy, but I am not sure which one of them, or me for that matter, can say, "sure, I can make it to the two coasts in a year." Actually, my boss would likely say it to me if it is on the basis of having a recent MLS. And by the way, we are only talking the money/financial costs. If you are a librarian with a family, maybe a small child or two, taking time to maybe a small child or two, taking time to do the actual travel, say a week for an Annual conference, may not be as easy. Is that then another assumption? That the younger folks are more likely to be unattached and therefore have less "baggage"? One more time, I am just asking.

This also leads to another question: how recent is recent when it comes to having that recent MLS? Is two years recent? Three years? Five? I finished my MLS two years ago, and I am still learning a lot of things about librarianship and the profession. Is that too much time since having been in library school? Is the idea here that only people with a recent degree or still in school are the only ones who keep up with the literature, the technology, the theory? Is the underlying assumption then that if you have been out of school for a while, that you have somehow become deadwood and therefore not able/interested/willing to learn something new? Yet again, I am just asking.

Like Mark, I do wish them well, and I say that sincerely. I hope they get an excellent pool of people. For the record, I have never the President-Elect 2006 personally, and, at this point in time, I am somewhat willing to give her the benefit of the doubt. Like much of ALA, to me, she is just some semi-mythical figure that helps run a behemoth organization that publishes some of the journals I read to keep up. And I don't say with any disrespect intended. She really is, to me at least, just a picture and someone who runs things. Whether I still give her the benefit of the doubt over time, that is open. I am the guy who will question stuff. It does sound like a great program, if you are young, "fresh," and have the cash. Anyhow, I am just asking. In the meantime, I guess I better find my learning about leadership someplace else.


Mark said...

Hey there Angel! Not sure if you've been following the comments at my post, but it seems this has struck a nerve with many. [OK, OK, only a few on my blog, but extrapolating from the few who do read and comment there there must be even more.] I haven't gotten this many comments on something in a long time.

If folks do come to my post [possibly poorly titled], I hope they take the time to work through those comments. There is a lot said there, to include a little clarification by me.

I do hope to be *more* than a cage rattler, but if that is my fate in the profession then sobeit. Heck, even Socrates drank the kool-aid at one (final) point. I can certainly think of a far worse role model than him.

Interesting times, indeed, to be a librarian!

Liz said...

I would agree that an age cutoff is not necessary. If there is an age cutoff, 35 seems to be a bit young considering how many libarians are career changers.

Of course, maybe I'm just upset at not being considered young anymore.

Angel, librarian and educator said...

Mark: Welcome back. I did see the comments at your post. You did clearly strike a nerve. I would love to see how the esteemed president would reply to this. And hey, sometimes you do have to rattle the cage.

Liz: Hello there, and hey, you will always be young to those of us who follow your writing and adventures. Either that, or we can say that, rather than old, we are well-aged with grace ;). You do have a good point, and it is that a lot of librarians are career changers. I happen to be a career changer.

Best to both, and keep on blogging.