February 7, 2016

A book I regret passing on – The Gen-X Librarian

Robbie Franklin of McFarland Publishers was generous in his advice when I was first starting Library Juice Press back in 2005/2006. So I have often thought of his press in relation to books we’ve been working on. In 2010 and 2011 there was a project we had gotten going on Generation X librarians and the issues they face. The project was in the works for a few years, at a time when people were still talking about Generation X, and Millennials had not quite yet taken their place in the world. They were thought of as students, while generation X-ers had come back from their post-college slacking in the former Czechoslovakia and were in the workforce, dealing with Boomer supervisors. The editors of this collection of chapters pulled it all together and sent it to me, and at the time I was unhappy with it. I was interested in sociological studies about what made Gen Xers different, and the book ended up emphasizing case studies and personal reports of workplace issues. I was not happy with that, but I had also grown somewhat bitter about the discussion of generational issues in general, and increasingly skeptical of that discourse. So I decided not to publish the book, and I suggested to the editors that they take it to McFarland. McFarland published it in 2011, and I think it was a successful book for them. (It is still in print.)

I now regret not publishing the book, because I find myself bothered by the way my generation seems to have been forgotten. The discussion is all Millennials versus Boomers now. Boomers used to be very anxious about Gen-Xers and what our differences implied for society. There was a discussion in librarianship at the beginning of the internet era about the “new breed” of librarians, who had tattoos, etc., and who were more connected to technology. Now that we are no longer the new breed, it has become less clear what we represent. Part of the Gen X discourse in the 90s and early 2000s was about how we were getting the short end of the stick economically, and existed on the fringes of a society that was geared toward Boomers. I think it’s clear that Millennials are the ones who really got the short end of the stick economically, but Gen Xers still seem to be in the margins in some way, at least in the margins of people’s awareness of generational difference.

My feeling about generational differences, really, is that the way generations are described would be more accurately understood as descriptions of what our society is like at the present moment, for anyone who is really connected to the present moment. That is why it always bothers me when Gen Xers or millennials are blamed for their supposed failings. These “failings” are reflections of the society in which the new generation enters, not of character issues that young people can be held responsible for. I hate seeing younger generations bashed by older generations, as though generational differences originate from anything other than the world that older generations have left in their wake.

I also feel that the way generational differences are so much discussed and emphasized is a product of the “generation gap” of the 1960s, which was stronger than previous intergenerational experience. I think that has resulted in a heightened awareness among Boomers in particular of generational differences, where Gen Xers or Millennials might not have found them so important independent of these discussions. (Not a criticism, just an observation.)

So those are the thoughts that fed into my decision to drop the project after the editors had finished it. I regret it now because as long as these generational differences are going to continue to be discussed, I would like to play a part in seeing Gen Xers remembered in it. Not that it makes a difference; the book has done well with McFarland. I hope people will continue to buy the book and read it. I think it’s still relevant.