By Meredith Farkas | June 25, 2005
Just because I’m young and female does not make me a “princess”.
Adam and I had just left the Jybe booth, where we’d had an interesting talk with Brian, the president of the company. As we walked up that aisle, I hear a vendor call out to me, “hey, princess! Wanna sign up to win a printer?” I was so shocked by what he said that I assumed I had heard him wrong, but as I continued walking, Adam confirmed that he had, in fact, called me “princess”. Hmmm… ok. Am I at a professional conference or a construction site? Was it my diamond tiara or my sceptre that made him think I was royalty?
In 20 years, am I going to make new librarians feel like they’re stupid because they don’t have the decades of experience that I have?
Last week, I had received an email from a certain metasearch engineer in reference to a post I had written almost three months ago (I’d assumed initially that he’d meant the post I’d written specifically on federated search, but apparently it was just a small part of my Failure of Middleware piece). I have no problem with people disagreeing with me, and I love a spirited debate, but it was the way he put it that really ruffled my feathers. He didn’t tell me why he thought I was wrong. Instead, he basically wrote that I was wrong and he is right because he has loads of experience as a metasearch engineer and had this many companies using his software. Then he invited me to visit his booth so that he could show me what his metasearch product could do. So out of sheer curiosity I went.
He never really did explain to me why metasearch is so great. But when I said that I wondered if metadata harvesting and link resolvers might make metasearch obsolete in the future, he told me it wouldn’t happen. Why? Well, because they tried to do it 30 years ago and it didn’t work. To me that seems a silly argument and even I can think of better reasons why it may not happen. But what really got to me was that he kept throwing in my face the fact that I didn’t have 30 years experience in the field as if it makes me unqualified to express an opinion.
I get so tired of people pulling the age/experience card. I know that I have a lot to learn from people who have more experience than me. I’m not one of those people who came out of library school thinking she had all the answers. I love hearing about people’s experiences and learning from their successes and failures. But experienced librarians should also be open to new ideas from their less experienced colleagues. We all have something to bring to the table and there is something to be said for a fresh perspective. So when someone starts to tell me why they’re right and I’m wrong based on their years and years of experience, I basically stop listening. Experience does not necessarily equal wisdom.
What I really noticed at the conference was the difference between the “old school” vendors and the “new school” ones. “Old school” vendors operated under the assumption that I was stupid and didn’t know anything about technology. “New school” vendors took the time to ask me questions to get an idea about what my level of tech-savvy was. “Old school” vendors assumed that I’d come to their booth for free things and didn’t bother to tell me about their product. “New school” vendors tried to show me their product demos. “Old school” vendors assumed that because I was young I had no input into the decision-making process at my library. “New school” vendors realized that even if I didn’t have that influence now, I eventually would. And that’s really key. Sure, I may look young, but I won’t be young forever. One day I, and my cohorts, will be managing libraries and we will remember the vendors who talked down to us and treated us like non-entities.
So next time you see someone who is young and female, don’t assume that she’s just there for the schwag, because she may be a tech-savvy professional who is genuinely interested in what you do and is evauluating products to recommend to her Director. And in 10 years, she may be a director herself.