“The Millennials are coming! The Millennials are coming!” Perhaps you heard the hue and cry? Since the early 2000s, market research about the Millennials—also referred to as either the Next Generation, the Echo Boomers, the Y Generation, or the Generation Why?—has filled business and professional magazines, in print and online, delineating who they are, what they believe, how to manage them, and, most importantly, how to survive their incursion. These individuals, who were born in the early 80s to 2000—depending on which source I consulted—are further divided into the Digital Immigrants (those who learned technology at some point early in their lives), the Digital Natives (who since birth never knew a day without technology and social media), and the Millennials’ most recent members—as of yet not nicknamed—who know only smartphones, mobile apps, and who live in the iCloud.
According to the Pew Research Center, these Millennials “are relatively unattached to organized politics and religion, linked by social media, burdened by debt, distrustful of people, in no rush to marry”—yet optimistic about the future. They have placed themselves in the center of self-created social networks, and over 55% have posted a “selfie.” Ironically, they express a lower level of social trust in spite of their social networking and have detached themselves from traditional institutions. However, as in any generational group, they insist they are not all alike, and hold a wide variety of opinions on political and social issues. As for their educational status, over a third of them have a four-year-degree or higher. The Pew Research Center concludes that they are the most racially diverse generation in American history, with 43% of them non-white (i.e., Hispanic, Asian, African-American). In addition, the 2014 Millennial Impact Report reveals that approximately 80 million Millennials live in the U.S., and by the year 2020 they will comprise 50% of the work force.
Frankly, I didn’t pay too much attention to the Millennials’ impending arrival. Many decades ago I burst shouting out of the “Silent” or “Seniors” Generation—a part of the Greatest Generation—and have been working alongside members of other generations ever since: the Traditionalists (1900-1945), the Baby Boomers, (1946-1964), and the Generation Xers (1965-1980). We have shared a great deal of collegiality in both the educational and the library world, along with a deep passion for the mission of libraries in general. I assumed I would relate in the same way with this Next Generation (1980-2000).
However, my curiosity about them was piqued when I spoke recently with a “newbie,” a part-time clerk who had stopped by Technical Services to deliver something to me. I asked her how she liked her first-time public library position. Her response was almost bombastic.
“I have talent and capabilities that aren’t being acknowledged! No one understands how to work with me.”
“And how is that?” I inquired.
“Give me something to do that’s not busy work, work that means something that can do some good, and then let me do it!”
She told me she expected to be approached as an equal, no matter what title or position that she or anyone else held, and to work on projects that allowed her to move beyond the status quo. I reassured her that several collaborative projects are strongly in motion and that she could easily become a member of those committees already making a difference in patron programming.
“But, I can see so much that needs to be completed that I could do myself. I’m a Millennial!”
I hadn’t encountered too many individuals who identified themselves so strongly with their generation. She used the word Millennial as though it were the only key to understanding her, a password that would open doors just for her. She made me wonder if our other staff Millennials held the same view about themselves. In our library system we have seven professional librarians who definitely belong to the Millennial Generation, and another three who fall on the cusp between the GenXers and the Millennials. In addition, there are six young Millennial staff members who are either full or part-time. Determined to know more about what they feel about technology and their attitudes about how they are perceived, I asked them if they would be willing to participate in a survey, and that I would use their responses in this blog. Fourteen of the sixteen responded in the affirmative.
I used the free template at www.surveymonkey.com, which meant I was limited as to the size of the survey. I asked them to respond to ten statements, paraphrased from several sources and relating to either librarianship or technology, by either agreeing or disagreeing with the statement, or to select “no opinion.” If they were not degreed librarians, I asked them to consider the statements in view of what they did in their library job. I also provided a text box for their comments. All survey results would be anonymous. I followed this survey with two additional questions, to be answered “yes” or “no,” with opportunity to provide additional responses.
I admit that my survey is flawed. I provided no way to compare them in light of their ages and length of library experience. I did not provide a distinction between those who are classed as professional librarians and those who are not, thus risking skewed results. I should have refined the third statement, as it deals with two concepts. The survey statements, the follow-up questions, and the results with their comments, are as follows:
Survey statement #1: Technology was a major factor for a Millennial when deciding to become a librarian.
Results: 64% disagree
Technology itself is not why I chose this field. It’s like saying “Oxygen is part of the atmosphere, [but] is that part of the reason you became an air-breather?” Technology is available and present everywhere, in all job fields, and [in] all aspects of life.
Survey statement #2: Millennials have more interest in libraries because of the way information is accessed, stored, and applied.
Results: 77% agree
I became a librarian because I like books, I like learning things, I wanted a job where I could do many different tasks, and where I could help people. Technology is a tool to accomplish that.
Survey statement #3: Millennials believe that they can quickly learn any new technologies, but they are not used to creating it or understanding its infrastructure.
Results: 43% agree
…people my age are tenacious and dogged in learning new skills.
…a lot of new technologies are created by Millennials.
Survey statement #4: Millennials want to transform libraries into technology-enhanced spaces.
Results: 86% agree
(No comments on this statement. I think it spoke to the obvious.)
Survey statement #5: Millennials are not “wedded” to particular technologies because something newer and better will always come along.
Results: 64% agree
“Millennials are more wedded to a brand, not a type of technology (example: Apple vs. Android). Technology updates are making devices outdated and unusable within 2 or so years.”
“…every generation is going to have a technology paradigm that they are most comfortable with. Ours just happens to be a very morphable and accepting paradigm. If there is a fundamental shift in tech provision or access, I think a lot of Millennials who think themselves open to changing technologies are going to realize they are actually rather comfortable with the status quo.”
Survey statement #6: Millennials like to work in teams to accomplish goals that matter to them.
Results: 57% agree
“Accomplishing goals that matter to me is important, regardless of whether or not I’m working on a team.”
“Millennials like to work individually on projects that matter to them, and to have those projects linked to other projects to create a larger whole. A small difference, but we’ve been “teamed up” all through school and life, and all of us are familiar with the strain of carrying someone else’s weight. Work life is a chance to stand on our own and be judged on ONLY our own work.”
“I enjoy working alone.”
Survey statement #7: Millennials rely on peer influence to attend events, participate in programs, volunteer.
Results: 62% agree
“It’s so much a part of me to text, to facebook, to twitter, to instagram others…I get input, but basically I make up my own mind.”
“I am not influenced by peer pressure.”
Survey statement #8: Millennials don’t want to work in an environment that is not exciting or rewarding to them.
Results: 92% agree
“Many of us are unemployed or underemployed in an economy that the older generations ruined. Studies say that we don’t live for our work, but want a job where we earn a fair wage, are happy, and then can leave at the end of the day so we can pursue our hobbies. We just don’t want to sacrifice our health and happiness for a job that pays us poorly and makes us miserable.”
“I would not thrive in a less rewarding and unstimulating work place.”
Survey statement #9: Millennials want immediate feedback on how they’re performing, not annual reviews.
Results: 92% agree
“Tell me right away how I’m doing. Then I can fix anything that’s not right.”
Survey statement #10: Millennials use multiple methods of self-expression [social networking, getting tattoos; posting videos online], but most have protected their social media profiles.
Results: 77% agree
“We use these tools because they’re there, and they’re useful for different purposes. If other generations were as familiar and comfortable with these platforms and with the relaxed culture of self-expression, they’d be all over it as well.”
“We don’t do these things to make other people look at us; we do them to make ourselves match our ideals of how we want to be. Our “self-expression” is more self-examination and self-inspection, rather than narcissism.”
Follow-up question #1: Have you ever referred to yourself as a Millennial or describe yourself in terms of the generation in which you were born?
Results: Yes: 55% No: 45%
“I sometimes refer to myself as a “Millennial” to be funny…as a joke.”
“I’m comfortable with who I am. I don’t need a generational label to define me.”
Follow-up question #2: Are generational classifications important or useful to you in your job or in your life
Results: Yes: 35% No: 65%
“I think individual differences in work styles play more of a role.”
“Yes, if only because understanding the different generations makes it easier to understand how/why some people treat me in certain ways.”
This is funny to me: so many times I hear older people complain that we are always on our phones or at the computer, but the second they can’t figure out their email suddenly we are the omniscient Tech Gods who can work wonders with their virus laden PCs running Windows XP and Internet Explorer.
“I have trouble sometimes with how other “generations” define me, but in my job, I deal with all age levels…they come to me to help them figure out how to use their tablets or cell phones. I like that age-gap interaction, and they see me in a different way when they get my help. I’m not such a mystery to them, then.”
The results of my humble survey about our Millennial colleagues seem to agree in large part with the most recent research. Technology is ubiquitous for our Millennials; therefore, technology was not the motivating force in choosing their library career. However, because technology is inherent in library work, they want to use their technological skills to improve the access and delivery of information. They want to enjoy their jobs and perform tasks that mean something.
I perceive all our Millennials to be intelligent individuals, collaborative and creative, who work well within the existing institution. Yet they are also able to apply their technological skills in new and exciting ways to provide service to patrons of all ages and to promote more innovative library services. They participate in both their social media world and in the community. They get a little annoyed at how they are portrayed in all the surveys and articles, and are irritated that they sometimes are put in the position of having to defend why they use technology. One respondent told me she doesn’t have to defend why she drinks water, so why does she have to defend her use of her smartphone! They did not abandon one information resource to replace it with newer digital formats. To them print materials are just one way that information is stored. They are not hesitant to use existing technology as another vital tool to help them succeed. They are relieved and happy to use what they know to help others. I have not heard them complain that they are not involved in doing something worthwhile in their library job.
Our Millennials take the steps through the digital environs that the rest of us don’t know how to. They do what the rest of us don’t dare to—or care to—do, and they do so with ease. One of our staff Millennials is our Digital Librarian, responsible for getting the word out about our programs on all possible social media venues and on our website. Another is active in digitally promoting Tween literature and is deeply involved in the Summer Reading program centered around superheroes. The Millennial Librarian in charge of Adult Programming, with the collaboration of our seasoned Community Services director, has obtained a substantial LSTA matching grant—I’ll tell you more about that excitement in a future blog! Three of our Millennials were instrumental in planning and organizing our August ComiCon. And all of them use devices—Apple or Android—at the service desks and carry them into the stacks to help our patrons navigate our system
I feel at this point that I need to mention the obvious: our Millennials thrive at our library because our director and assistant director are not threatened by innovation and creativity on the part of the staff. Millennials blossom under transparent leadership when the hierarchy is bendable.
The 2013 Millennial Impact Report states: “We don’t study Millennials because they’re a part of the culture. We study them because they’re defining the culture.” I firmly believe they are the reason why we should feel so optimistic about the future of public libraries. And I, for one, am going to have a blast having them help me redefine my corner of the library world.
- Anderson (SC) County Library System
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- Inspiring the Next Generation workforce : the 2014 Millennial Impact Report, Six-Month Research Update.
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