April 20, 2018

A Rebel Spring | Blatant Berry

I get fresh energy from my LIS students in the cold, gray days as winter hangs on against a new season. It is called the “spring” semester at the School of Information and Library Science at Pratt Institute in New York, but it begins in January, when we are enduring that last, worst part of winter.

And, yet, the students get to spring and each new semester first with their youth, enthusiasm, commitment to our profession, their innovation and creativity. For me that means they have an edge over we older librarians. We are a bit burned out after our endless struggles to serve through the winters of librarianship, the chronic budget and other shortages that have always made librarianship more difficult and, alas, eroded our professional ­morale.

The students, meanwhile, believe anew in our core values and carry on our profession’s enthusiastic desire and willingness to serve. They eagerly observe and share our faith in the redemptive power of good libraries in a community.

The current students and recent graduates of our LIS programs are really good and strong. By that I mean they are true believers in librarianship, just as we were at the beginning of our careers when we rebelled, broke open the closed doors of our library association, pushed for new levels of participatory democracy in our professional deliberations, and told the entrenched elites of that time to move over, or we would push them out of our way.

The young librarians are at it again! They are talking shop and change at their parties and gatherings. They are forming new cabals to reform the profession. The ones who are already out there working with us have brought innovation and have risen fast through our ranks. Now new openings have given a few of them the opportunity to show us what they will do as leaders. So far, I’m deeply impressed with their creativity and their courage to take the risks that come with pushing for change.

Maybe it is caused by the slow end of unpleasant winter, or myriad other reasons, but every year I seem to return to this conclusion just before spring. If I were trying to build a library staff, I would choose these young rebels over the experienced midlife and older librarians. (In my view, experience is the single most overrated trait on which hiring managers focus.) I would seek out the most visible and creative of that enthusiastic young cohort and try to tap their enthusiasm and commitment to serve the people who come to our library.

It isn’t that I’m against older people—hell, I’m nearly 80 myself. Of course I’d like to live forever and do it working in librarianship, but the last few years have brought a harsh reality in the guise of death collecting some of my favorite rebels from back when we were young together. Jim Welbourne led us through the Congress for Change, a meeting of LIS students who marched on the American Library Association (ALA) conference in Atlantic City that year where we took the first steps to open all ALA meeting to all members. Missouri’s Bill DeJohn was our first coordinator of the Social Responsibilities Round Table, and he did it with courage, even though we tried to make him be more radical. Carolyn Forsman fought hard for our most central value, intellectual freedom, while she converted the beads she strung as we debated through our raucous meetings into a hugely successful jewelry business from which she contributed big money to that effort until she died this year.

As I always hope to do at conferences, at ALA Midwinter in Seattle I tried to connect with the young librarians once again. They were there, in much greater numbers than I expected. Better yet, they were partying their way to the revolution, with all the gusto and energy I remember from long ago. Not only that, they were debating the issues, discussing what was right and wrong with ALA, and sharing what they thought would strengthen libraries and guarantee their survival. It was a timely rebel spring, and it was inspiring.

I ran out of energy earlier each night than they did, but I was reinvigorated by meeting and mixing with them. My faith in our professional future was restored.

John N. Berry III

john berry signature  For All the People of NYPL | Blatant Berry

This article was published in Library Journal. Subscribe today and save up to 35% off the regular subscription rate.

John N. Berry III About John N. Berry III

John N. Berry III (jberry@mediasourceinc.com) is Editor-at-Large, LJ. Berry joined the magazine in 1964 as Assistant Editor, becoming editor-in-Chief in 1969 and serving in that role until 2006.

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  2. Jackie Schector says:

    We, the students, may love librarianship and see it as the key to supporting American democracy, but we need great professors to continue to foster our idealism. A burned out professor can easily diminish our youthful enthusiasm. The truly great professors (like Professor Berry) inspire us to have faith that we can make a difference in librarianship… and the world.

  3. This column is seriously ageist – among other things – and I’m not going to go into all the reasons why here. Take a look at this article regarding the new Dean of the Columbia Journalism School:


    Experience DOES count, as does perspective. And I won’t even go into the diversity thing here.

  4. Seriously ageist! There are burned-out young people and energetic older people. Some of the most dynamic student leaders in my MIS program were either parapros who had worked in libraries for years and were now earning degree, or they came to school after a previous career. Just one example, I know. But I am tired of the glorification of the 20 something recent grad. We all contribute, and should stop drawing these unnecessary boundaries.

  5. Joneser says: