Intergenerational Relations

This topic is so important that it’s a Library of Congress subject heading. As is “Conflict of Generations.” A body of literature is growing that helps us understand how we can all get along better. The value of exploring this topic is that it can illuminate the cause of confusion and discord both at work and at home. Are you a Boomer who is caring for aging parents in your home and unsure of why your parents disagree with the way you run your household or a Traditionalist in the workplace, managed by a Gen Xer who is on her third job by the age of 30? Lynne Lancaster and David Stillman, authors of When Generations Collide: Who They Are. Why They Clash. How to Solve the Generational Puzzle at Work, say that the point in United States history when we were born is yet another factor that shapes our values, our goals, our communication styles, and our general outlook on life. Of course, generalizations can be dangerous, but you may be surprised by how much the characterizations explain about how you think and how you relate to your children, patrons, students and colleagues.

Librarianship is undergoing a shift as we continually hear that many will retire and how few are entering the profession. Employers and managers may want to consider how they can appeal to generationally-determined values, desires, and concerns as they recruit and retain. Appealing to multiple generations when recruiting is a challenge. However, employers have found that a “one size fits all” mentality is detrimental to capturing the best candidates for a position. One way to tailor a recruitment approach is to understand how the generations define and the concept of work/life balance and how the workplace can enhance that balance. Lancaster and Stillman define the groups as T raditionalists (born before 1946), Baby Boomer (1946–1964), Generation X (1965–1980), and Millenials (1981–1999).

Millenials and GenXers may care about flexibility, technology, frequent feedback and informal dress codes. Boomers who come to librarianship as a second career may be more concerned about clarity on organizational structure, opportunities for growth and challenge, and rewards. Traditionalists, because many who are of age to retire will remain in the workforce for whatever reason, may be looking for a position that allows them to take advantage of the skills and networks they’ve developed over their working life, but with a schedule that gives them the freedom to enjoy the activities they anticipated in retirement.

The strategy you choose depends on your library’s needs, its ability to fulfill multigenerational needs and the population available for hire. For once, lack of funding is not a hindrance. If your library is willing to be introspective, adaptive and responsive, you may find yourself attracting great candidates to an environment conscious of what it takes to bridge generational gaps.


Johnson, Amanda B. 2004. Recruiting Future Generations: Libraries and Millenials. Info Career Trends. July. (accessed November 2, 2004).

Lancaster, Lynne C. and David Stillman. 2002. When Generations Collide: Who They Are. Why They Clash. How to Solve the Generational Puzzle at Work. New York: HarperBusiness.