- Our New Public, a Changing Clientele: Bewildering Issues or New Challenges for Managing Libraries?
It is quite probable that, like me, the target audience for this book will remember Pogo saying to Porky, “We have met the enemy and he is us.” Walt Kelly first used that quote on a poster for Earth Day in 1970. Reading this book reminded me of the quotation because, truly, the millennials (often known as the net generation or digital natives) are just much touted baby boomer (BB) generation, are the problem. Back in 1970, we were a generation that our parents did not understand. The revolution then was one of issues the Vietnam War, academic freedom, feminism, and Our Bodies, Ourselves! Today, the revolution is both social and technical. We have not grown up thumbing text messages on little screens; we are looking for our bifocals before we can even answer the cell phone. We have become the fuddy duddies (FDs) that we accused our parents of being. This book makes that point abundantly clear!
How to deal with the millennials and their very different ways of accessing information, using technology, and social networking are some of the profession’s hot topics. These issues have spawned numerous articles, conference programs, think tank surveys, and blogs. On one hand, this seems like an overreaction. Pretty soon the millennials will be running “our” libraries and making decisions on what is left of our Social Security fund. On the other hand, if libraries are still to offer some value and not be sidestepped in favor of Open Library and Google, we need to be doing a better job. Some [End Page 341] surveys, such as the various Pew Foundation Trends Reports and the 2006 OCLC report, College Students’ Perceptions of Libraries and Information Resources, show that millennials are, in fact, using libraries more than some other categories of users, just for different purposes.
The editors are well qualified to address this topic, having worked across the board in all types of libraries. They have assembled a substantial collection of essays that addresses a plethora of issues regarding millennials. It is well worth dipping into for several reasons. All types of libraries are discussed (the solicitation was sent out via the Internet); the topics vary in depth but usually provide interesting and relevant information either in statistical definitions and demographics or in how our patrons are making use of (or not) services and information we already provide.
The very first chapter by Delmus Williams sets the stage for a rethinking of library space. Gone is the awe-inspiring hall of academe that made one feel a little smarter by just being there. He cites Scott Bennett, instead, who tells us that we need to “domesticate” our libraries so that our users can feel just as comfortable as they are at home. (p. 6) This way of thinking ties in with the café movement, illustrated in bookstores and libraries alike. The association of coffee with books and browsing in easy chairs is unassailable. Ray Olden-burg’s concept of the third space is referred to, with the library being suggested to fill the space that the beer halls provided in Germany and the pubs in England.
Several authors have contributed excellent chapters on how their libraries have addressed the national trend toward collaborative learning structures. Susanne Markgren, SUNY Purchase, ably addresses how we need to reach out to, not teach, this new generation. She also qualifies her hope for the future with the caveat that we FDs (or BBs) need to be “willing to go along for the ride.” (p. 53) For starters, that means not being so supercilious, presuming our ways are best. We need to hire some of these millennials and allow them the authority to make changes and help us redesign our libraries and services. Some of the authors do refer to the internal conflicts that arise when new and old librarian...