[A quick reflection.]
I went to mandolin camp this past weekend; a 3-day festival of jamming and lessons and ensemble practice. I came home with sore fingers, tired hands, and a renewed passion for sitting down every single day to practice. We’ll see how long that last one lasts. I’ve been to camp 5 years now, each time amazed at the collection of folks who sign up for the fun with me. It’s a rotating crowd. There are always a few familiar faces, but the majority of campers are first-timers. The majority are also … older.
This keeps happening to me. More and more, I go to concerts and say to my spouse, “Why are all of these old people here?” I go to mando camp and say to myself, “I’ve got to be the youngest person here.” BUT then I am reminded by Lynn OR I remember myself, I’m not 25 years old any more, either. If I stop and really pay attention, the people at the concerts are indeed older because I am older, too. Mandolin camp actually was populated by a good number of folks with a couple of decades or more on me, but as I thought about it longer, I stopped wondering what they were doing there and more, started being inspired by their being there. I can only hope that 25 years from now, I’m still heading off to camp, mandolin in tow, looking forward to late-night picking parties. What could be better in life?
For a good number of years now, we’ve been hearing the cries from our professional leadership about the aging librarian workforce and the dearth of young professionals to fill the gaps. (Note: I don’t personally buy the “dearth” argument.) At the same time, we hear the calls for existing professionals, middle-aged and/or on the downward slope to retirement, to change, evolve, become willing to accept new roles and learn new skills, regardless of one’s point in his/her career (see Julie McGowan’s piece in the January 2012 issue of the Journal of the Medical Library Association, for one of the newer reviews on the topic).
Those thoughts in mind, what I saw at mandolin camp applies to academic and health sciences librarians today. If you have ever tried to play a musical instrument you know at least two things:
- It is never easy.
- You never master it.
There were adults of all ages 50 and up at camp, and all with different skill levels. Some folks have been playing for years. Some picked up the mandolin last week. Some know lots about music (reading it, writing it, arranging it). Others know only how to pick out a tune by ear. Some know every place on the fret board to find every single configuration of a G chord possible. Others can lay down two fingers on the E and A strings, and make do. In other words, everybody at camp had something to learn. Everybody at camp had room to grow as a player.
The same holds true for librarians. Age is a mindset, to a good degree. As is the willingness to grow and change. Maybe we need to love our work as much as campers love the mandolin, to keep coming back to it again and again and again, with a willingness to keep learning and keep changing. The good news is that most librarians that I know DO love their profession. I’m hard-pressed to think of a single colleague that I may have ever heard say, “I can’t stand being a librarian.” It’s a career that people are drawn to for many reasons, but almost all of them are rooted in some passion or love for the work. That passion, coupled with the willingness to accept that it’s not easy to change and we’ll never master our profession, will take us far.