Young Whipper Snapper No More – A TTW Guest Post by Dr. Troy Swanson

A few weeks ago, I was doing one of my weekly reference shifts. I went to our lower level to see if students using computers down there needed any help. As I was walking along, I thought to myself that it was great that we had these computers. They were added to help ease the demand for machines. I thought, these students should feel so fortunate that we worked this out with campus IT. What a great service improvement! Every computer was in use. Success!

Then, it occurred to me that we added these machines five years ago, and the machines were not exactly new then. Now, they crawl along straining to perform simple tasks like surfing the web and providing basic word processing. Students use them because they are the only option left. They are better than the old type writer we have on reserve. We have scheduled these computers to be replaced for the spring semester, so we will receive a needed upgrade. But, I can remember back to a time when we didn’t have any computer on our lower level at all.

When I reflect on this, I recognize that I’m no longer the young whipper snapper right out of library school. I am starting to feel like one of the old timers.  I remember when I walked into this library over a decade ago, and I quickly compiled a list of needs to address and some antiquated processes to update. I remember working with my senior colleagues. I couldn’t understand why they didn’t see things through my eyes.

Now, if you ask my colleagues, they’ll tell you that I am constantly pushing for improvements and driving for change. I want us to be as great as we can be, but I also recognize that I am not immune to remembering the bad-old-days. I remember the 1970s-era library that I entered as I look at our “freshly” remodeled library, even though the remodel took place in 2004. I look at our website, and I think of the two major usability studies and redesigns we conducted. I look at that the shelves of old microfilm, and I think of the weeding we did while fighting to get online access to historical databases. I remember how groundbreaking it felt to institute email reference in 2000. When I think about library instruction, I think how we have tripled our sessions over the last decade.

There is a lesson here for me, but also a lesson that today’s new, freshly graduated librarians should keep in mind.

For the new crop of young whipper snappers coming out of library school, remember that where you see needs, your senior colleagues see improvements. This isn’t to say that if you are new in a library that you should not be an advocate for change. In fact, those of us who have joined the ranks of the old timers need you. We need your fresh eyes and your drive for the future. Don’t be afraid to speak up, but also don’t forget that we don’t necessarily see things with the same eyes. It is easy when you are new, to see the need but not recognize the slow grind of progress.

Of course, I also recognize the lesson for myself in all of this. As I am moving from young whipper snapper into the realm of old timer, I need to remember that users should never feel fortunate about anything. They need to be successful, and it is our job to do our best to help. Improvements should not get in the way of success. I am reminded that it is okay to show off our improvements, but I should never feel satisfied that we are improved.

Troy A. Swanson is Department Chair & Teaching & Learning Librarian at Moraine Valley Community College. You can follow him on Twitter at @t_swanson.