Generation Jones

Hi Everyone, my name is Michael Colford, and I am the on the Senior Management Team of the Boston Public Library in charge of Regional Services.

When Michael asked me to guest blog on Tame the Web, I was both surprised and honored. I’ve done a fair bit of blogging, but not a whole lot in the library profession. That said, in my position at the BPL, I do a whole lot of talking up of using technology in the support of public service, and meeting users where they are using Social Networking and other Library 2.0 tools.

I thought for my first post here I’d share my musings on something that’s been on my mind for the past week orso. We all know about the Millennial Generation, and we’ve been hearing about their traits and how most libraries are failing to appeal to them. Most of them adapt to changing technology easily and are comfortable interacting socially online. We also know all about the Baby Boom Generation, many of whom are nearing retirement and who for the most part, shaped the library world into what it is today. The Baby Boomers aren’t known for a rapid embrace of the recent online social networks, but of course, there are exceptions.

My question revolves around the generation between, a whole lot of Generation Xers and the little heard-of Generation Jones, those of us born between the mid-1950’s and the mid 1960’s. What makes some of the people born in these generations embrace the recent developments in technology and online socialization, while others simply have no interest?

I am part of that elusive Generation Jones, and I have to say I’ve pretty strongly embraced the Web 2.0 concepts, and use them pretty regularly on a day-to-day basis. I dial my cell phone with my thumbs (a signifier of the digital native, which I am not) and I am an Omnivore according to the Pew Internet & American Life Project (a group whose median age is 28 — I am 44). When I think about what makes me different from my contemporaries who do not, I can trace some behaviors back to some pre-Internet activities. As a younger person, I was into science fiction and fantasy, comic books, and alternative music. These were niches that tended to spawn fans groups. I was a member of several musicians’ fan clubs, and corresponded with other fans through letters. Similarly, if I wanted to interact with other like-minded comic book geeks, I either had to hang out in comic book stores, which weren’t the most welcoming places back then, or read the letter pages in the back of the books (and write letters, some of which would occassionally get published.) When the Internet arrived, I immediately found uses for Gopher, Archie and Vernoica becoming active in interest groups for such figures as Neil Gaiman and Kate Bush. Now I read Neil’s blog, and I am a member of a (astoundingly) old-fashioned e-mail discussion group called Ecto that revolves around female singer/songwriters.

I also run an independent film society, the Chlotrudis Society for Independent Film that involves a nationwide group of indie film buffs. When these social networking tools started to pop up and be discussed in the library world, I took an interest because I knew I had an immediate use for them… with my film group. Becoming familiar and comfortable with them quickly translated to using them (or wanting to use them) at work. Hence, I have become a proponent of using these tools in the library. Many of my similarly-aged colleagues just don’t have the time to branch out or they find tangible media sufficient for their needs. They may even know that they need to be aware of newer web-based tools because a large part of their customer base uses them constantly.

So what do you think? Why do some people take to emerging technology trends and ways of interacting while others do not? Do you have any thoughts?

By the way, I am also the Conference Chair for the Massachusetts Library Association, and we were fortunate enough to have a whole host of library luminaries at our recent annual conference such as Jenny Levine, Stephen Abram, Jessamyn West, Karen Calhoun, Sean Stewart, and Nancy Pearl (to name a few). Check out the amazing conference blog to see what went on.