Friday, 4 May 2007

The ladder or the rope?

I recently read a really interesting post from Michelle at A Wandering Eyre, discussing the generational shift in attitudes from people below a certain age, to those above it. It was good to hear someone else articulate it - how frustrating it is to be young and skilled and motivated and wanting to make a difference in your workplace, only to be told that you haven't been there long enough, that you needed to 'pay your dues'.

We no longer live in an environment where you work at the same job for most of your working life. I enjoy my current workplace, and I still can't see myself staying here much beyond three years or so. I'll want to move on, expand my skill set, meet new people, and continue to grow, both as a person and professionally. But I see it time and again, both in places I have worked, and those of my friends, that the new ideas they put forward (if they are even given the voice to do so) are not seen as valuable - they are discussed and sidelined, or simply ignored. I admit that I am spoiled where I work now - I'm given the freedom to find projects that are meaningful to me, and am given the scope to present ideas that I think will change my workplace for the better. But most people of my age group are not.

It was one of the things that frustrated me most whilst I was studying my MLS. I was being given these skills, and all these wonderful, challenging, exciting ideas were filling my head. And then I was told that I couldn't use them. Maybe, maybe, in ten, fifteen, twenty years time, when I had the experience and was the manager of my own library, maybe then I could think about making changes. And one of the things I enjoy most about the biblioblogosphere (although I do hate that word!) is that it has given us a space to voice these changes we want to make, and see them happen. (The success of programs such as Five weeks to a social library is testament to that).

I think it's different, as well, working within the legal environment. I think that the culture here (well, within the libraries anyway) is a lot more dynamic - there's an awful lot of job churn as people move on to different firms with different interests or more pay or whatever. However, I also think that (comparatively to, say, an academic library) there is a lot less scope for creating large change within the legal library. Lawyers don't want to change - and when you have to present your ideas to partners who scarcely even know what you do half the time, it can be hard to make interesting changes. The library just isn't as well valued as we would like it to be. And I don't think that's necessarily a generational issue, just a cultural one.

But I do know that I won't wait around the ten or fifteen years to make a change. I'll be forging my own path, choosing where I want to go, taking the rope instead of waiting for the ladder.

What do you all think? Do you think there is still scope for a culture that asks us to 'pay our dues'? Or is it time to move onto a new way of thinking about our career paths and where our jobs will take us?

ETA: Reading all the comments on Michelle's original post, and some of the posts in response to it, I wanted to clarify that this certainly isn't just a generational issue, but much more of attitude issue. I know that there are younger people who don't want to make changes as much as there are older people who are just as progressive as we youths like to think we are. And I know this isn't a simple issue - not all ideas for change are good or valuable or viable, and they should be considered thoughtfully within the context of your organisation. But it is about making sure that change does happen, whether that change comes from the bottom or the top.


Michelle said...

And sometimes the change has to come from the bottom. I think we do what we can and when we realize we have outgrown our organization, we move on.

I forget which post said it, but changing the culture is hard. It is easier to change one library at a time, one manager, etc.

James Mullan said...

What a really interesting post. Maybe it is just where I work but my ideas have always been taken seriously and a lot of them have been put into practice.

I think a lot of the issues you talk about could be because of the culture of the organisation or the department. Historically individuals may not have put forward ideas or suggestions, so when they do they are dismissed for the reasons you suggest.

I certainly don't see myself staying where I am forever but some people do and if they are happy to do so then I'm happy to support them.

hypatia said...

Thanks James

I've been lucky in some of the places that I've worked as well, but have also had the frustration and misfortune to bang my head against the wall of people not wanting to listen to new ideas.

But yes, I agree, it is very much a cultural issue, and one that is certainly not easy to resolve (if it can be at all).