“Millennials Aren’t Better, Just Different!”

Millennial library managers discuss how new leadership is changing libraries

February 12, 2018

(L-R) Megan Klein-Hewitt, Micki Dietrich, Erin Shea, and Maria Estrella participate in a panel discussion titled "A New Generation in Charge: How Millennial Leadership is Changing Library Staffing," as part of the 2018 ALA Midwinter Meeting and Exhibits's Symposium on the Future of Libraries in Denver February 11.

We’ve all heard the tropes about millennials being entitled participation-trophy winners who are always on their phones, and who have, tragically, killed the napkin industry. But millennials are also the generation most likely to use their public libraries. So what will happen when this library-loving generation starts taking charge of the profession?

In a packed room, a panel of millennial managers held a discussion titled “A New Generation in Charge: How Millennial Leadership is Changing Library Staffing,” which took place as part of the Symposium on the Future of Libraries at the 2018 American Library Association (ALA) Midwinter Meeting & Exhibits in Denver on Sunday. The panel was moderated by Megan Klein-Hewett, borrower services manager at the Omaha Public Library. The other panelists were Micki Dietrich, a branch manager also from the Omaha Public Library; Erin Shea, a branch supervisor at the Ferguson Library in Stamford, Connecticut; and Maria Estrella, a public services manager at the Cleveland Public Library.

The panelists asked for a show of hands to see how many people from each generation were represented in the audience. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the majority of attendees were millennials, followed by a good number of Gen Xers and a smattering of Baby Boomers.

The panelists began by discussing what they look for when hiring new staff members. They all agreed that millennial managers tend to look for people who are passionate about library work and have a genuine interest in helping people. As Dietrich explained, libraries “aren’t just about moving books around.” Estrella added that library staff members she hires also have to understand the unique needs of the community they will serve.

Dietrich and Shea both acknowledged the effect that “fit” can have on their staffing decisions. As Shea put it, “when you work with someone, you’re basically living with them,” so it is critical to find someone who will mesh well with their team and the library system’s culture. Dietrich noted that hiring staff members who embody what you want the library culture to be is one of the best ways to shift a library in a new direction.

The panelists fielded questions from the audience about topics ranging from intergenerational negativity to their first leadership crises. They were especially passionate when answering questions about how millennial managers can increase diversity through library staffing.

Every panelist mentioned that her staff members are required to undergo diversity and inclusion training, but acknowledged that this is not always enough to cut through the implicit bias of hiring panels, not to mention the hiring process itself. Klein-Hewitt makes it a point to “seek out individuals who aren’t already on our team” throughout the hiring process.

Shea talked about the new HR manager that her library hired to develop a strategic plan to increase the diversity of the library staff. The panelists agreed with her that the library staff should “reflect the city that it serves” in order to be more welcoming to the public and to those interested in entering the profession. Estrella added her personal experience, describing her excitement after meeting two other Colombian librarians and explaining how children of color who see themselves reflected in the profession could inspire a new generation of librarians. Dietrich expressed her interest in continuing to talk about diversity in libraries and treating it as a primary issue, rather than a side or niche topic.

The session wrapped up with some words of wisdom for other millennials who are or will be managers in the near future. My favorite piece of advice, from Shea, was to always “lead from a place of generosity and empathy.”

The panelists’ thoughtful and passionate answers throughout the session left this millennial feeling hopeful about the positive changes that will be made by the next generation of library leaders.


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