Scary, Exciting or Something In-Between: How Do Next Generation Academic Librarians Perceive Institutional Change?
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Since the mid-1990s, there has been an explosion of books, journal and magazine articles, workshops and conference presentations about the multigenerational workplace. Writers such as David Foot (Boom, Bust and Echo), Ron Zemke et al. (Generations at Work), and others have delved into the challenges of bringing together individuals from different generations with very different values and ways of looking at their work. Typically, it is suggested that there is an inevitable clash between the generations, particularly between baby boomers and next generation, that needs to be managed by employers. Academic libraries throughout North America have multiple generations of librarians in their employ. For example, a major survey of libraries across Canada in 2005 showed that in academic libraries, librarian complements were divided approximately 25-25-50, with 25% being “Recent Professional Librarian Entrants” (defined as librarians with less than 6 years of professional experience), 25% being “Mid-Career Librarians” (6 – 15 years of professional experience) and 50% “Senior” Librarians (more than 15 years’ experience). (From The Future of Human Resources in Canadian Libraries. http://www.ls.ualberta.ca/8rs/8RsFutureofHRLibraries.pdf.) It is reasonable to assume that the same challenges and opportunities exist in a multigenerational work environment in academic libraries just as in any other. At the same time, given a myriad of pressures (not least financial), academic libraries are fundamentally reinventing themselves in order to remain a valued partner in achieving the missions of their institutions. This process of change can present a challenge to library administrators seeking to obtain buy-in and support from the librarians and staff in their institutions, while successfully leading the change process to fruition. Change workshops and training are ubiquitous, yet change is often assumed to be frightening or threatening to employees. Is this, however, a universal truth? Is this true of all generations? Does a librarian’s generation have an impact on how they respond to significant change in their workplace? Are there other factors that affect how scary, exciting, or something in-between academic librarians find change? This paper will present the results of a survey of academic librarians employed in the 19 universities (7 of which are ARL libraries) in the Canadian province of Ontario regarding how they view the changes happening in their libraries. Our study will correlate respondents’ ages, years of professional experience and years of employment with their current institution with their thoughts and feelings about significant change in their workplaces. We seek to determine how generational factors may influence how change is embraced or resisted by academic librarians, and how a new generation of soon-to-be library leaders perceives change. We will delve into other factors, such as whether change is instigated because of external pressures, or because the library has taken the initiative to make a change. We hope that the knowledge gleaned from the survey will help to inform libraries and their administrators who are in the process of implementing a major change in a multigenerational workplace.