the beginning of endings

It has begun.  Ten years ago when I was applying to MLS programs, the professional literature and campus publications were all a-twitter with the news of an impending shortage of librarians as the Boomer generation began to retire.  Enroll in an MLS program now, and find a plethora of jobs just around the corner, they all assured us.

In case you’ve been living under a rock in the interim, the Boomers never actually began to retire.

Until now.  Our much-loved and respected director, Rebecca Thompson, has announced that she will be retiring at the end of the academic year.  One of our full-time building supervisors, equally loved and respected, is also resigning to take advantage of some fantastic opportunities as he moves toward retirement.  One of the campus deans is retiring.  And I have several colleagues who are at, past, or approaching retirement age and eligibility, all with differing levels of enthusiasm, intention, and ambivalence.

Aside from regret at losing great colleagues and excitement for their new opportunites, I have two main questions as I think about all of these things.  One, what information and institutional memory are we about to lose?  Do we even know what we won’t know when those people leave?  And, two, what will our library look like five years from now?  How many faces will be different, how many directions will have shifted, and priorities changed?  And how do those two questions play together?


  1. My department is a very young one (6 of the 8 of us are varying degrees of “young,” and the other two act young). But I really worry about what will happen to us when the elder two decide to retire. Currently, I go to them all the time when crazy questions ranging from “why did we decide to set up X service/model/tool” to “how do I best communicate with so-and-so.”

    And I think it’s those latter questions that are the ones that trouble me the most. I rarely realize in advance that I’m going to have to know how some long-standing member of the faculty or staff thinks and feels. But without my supervisor’s memory for such things, I’d be lost because so often faculty and staff support or oppose decisions not based on the current situation, but on a complex amalgam of past experiences and present situations. Knowing about these past experiences can help us newbies address the REAL issues rather than flounder and get frustrated.


  2. When I was young and considered myself brilliant, I could always figure out several other “better” ways to do something. The way to determine which way was best was by experiment, or so I thought. I soon found that talking to those “over the hill” types was far quicker. They had tried out some of those ways years ago, and could recite detailed results of those early experiments. In a matter of minutes, they would tell me things that would have taken me weeks to find out for myself. Lots of managements today have no clue of the value of years of accumulated experience found in old workers. That’s why it is common to “re-invent the wheel”, or find out later that the same thing was done earlier in a different context or technology.


  3. More experimentation and discovery of the same problems that were solved by years of experience. With experience, you already know something won’t work, so you say no more often. With lack of experience, you try and fail more often. Trying and failing was how we have penicillin.


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