A Ladder, A Rope, or the Stairs: Choose Your Own Career

Last week at MPOW, we had two leadership training days with Maureen Sullivan (who is a great facilitator). Most librarians under a certain age or a certain level in the organization were included in the sessions. It was interesting, frustrating, and medicinal. It was frustrating because a lot of the organizational culture issues we were talking about last year and the year before that are still crippling issues. It was medicinal because there was some laundry airing that felt good. None of the things we discussed are unique to my library.

Much of the discussion, however, was very interesting. The conversations that made me ponder most my place in this library and this profession was the generational discussion. We had everything from Boomers to Millenials in the room. Our ideas of what should be were so different that it was again brought home to me that I may not have the patience to wait for my library to change.

One of the conversations was about “paying one’s dues.” I said that my weakness was maintaining a patience level that would pace me with my organization. I stated that I wanted things to start changing now, I wanted flexibility, and I wanted to be more effective in my efforts. One of my older colleagues replied that I had to wait 10 years until I am in management to effect my idea of The Library. I retorted that I did not want to wait 10 years! I am here now!

At the time I was angry and frustrated, but the more I thought about his response, I knew this was the difference that holds many of us who want change now back. There is a strong divide between the “pay your dues crowd” and those of us that think we should have the opportunity and power to effect change RIGHT NOW. This small, but heated, conversation was the perfect example of generational differences.

I do not want to wait. Gone are the days when the majority of us will stay at the same library for years on end, retiring after a long service to the same organization. The reality is that I will mostly likely only be at my current library for a small number of years before I move on. I want to make this library better NOW, not after I leave. I want MPOW to be fabulous, I want to think big and be able to do something with those dreams, and I want to do it now. There is only so much subterfuge and subversion that can go on before you must gain official permission for things and all that dealing is exhausting.

A friend and co-worker pointed me to a new blog and this post in particular. Penelope Trunk is talking about the changing idea’s of paying one’s dues. There are some other good themes, like the amount of family time that must be sacrificed to achieve the pinnacle of most careers, but the majority of the post is about people who are succeeding well because they are hopping up and around the ladder of success. The climb no longer has to be drudgery and serfdom. The climb to success can vary immensely because there are so many more options available to us. Organizations that plan for this new model will be the one’s that succeed. Ones that do not will continue to drop by the wayside, waiting for a Good Samaritan to take pity and haul them out of their ditch.

The question most administrators should be asking themselves is how can they provide a flexible working environment for staff, especially younger or driven staff, that can and will choose to move in a different direction to attain the flexibility they want and need?

The question for librarians gazing at the top of the ladder from the bottom is thus: Do you want to go straight up, waiting your turn for others to vacate the upper rungs, or would you rather forgo the ladder and try the rope or the stairs?

–Jane, looks around for a rope