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.
I suspect there’s more than a dollop of male technologists’ frequent contempt for and inexperience with women mixed into your “old school” vendor representatives. If it hadn’t been your apparent age, it’d have been something else.
“DTD, RelaxNG, or XML Schema?” I asked one vendor at ACRL who’d been talking down to me. (I’m somewhat difficult to talk down to, being the size I am.) Wish you could have seen his jaw drop.
And yes, “years and years of experience…” typically means “out of touch and don’t care, but need something to intimidate les autres anyway.”
I also get handed the age card a lot from vendors. Most just won’t waste their time with anyone unless they think it’s someone high in the decision making process. I usually don’t mind as I can tell whether their product is crap or not and people in the library listen to me, despite my age. I’ve also been underwhelmed with the metasearch offerings out there. I’m sure his product is a feat of engineering though it is probably near unusable for most people. Eventually someone will come out with something that works better and the others might see that their half-assed products were used because that’s all there was. With as slow as development of some of these products are they would be wise to listen to the younger generation to see what they expect.
Meredith, just as an encouragement–I’m a library dean with years and years of experience. Yours is one of several early-career librarians’ blogs that I read to try to keep myself current and humble. Thanks to all you bloggers out there, the information from whose posts help me keep from feeling too much like a dinosaur, and make me feel like I can somewhat relate to new librarians. There really are some older administrators out there who know it’s essential to learn from staff of all experience levels.
All I can say is, Amen. BTW, even though I’ve been doing this for (gasp! has it really been?) 10 years now, I have always experienced old-school vendors and princessy cat calling when I cruise the exhibits. Fortunately it does seem to be declining.
That is so terrible: being talked down because you don’t have the “experience.” Unfortunately, it happens in our profession and in others as well. So, you keep calling them out on their lack of professionalism and even more lack of vision. I like to recall the words of Tom Hagen to the movie producer about once the Don was refused a favor, he would not take another one. Some day, we will be the ones running the place, and we will remember those condescending folks who thought we there just for the freebies (you mean they have freebies too? 😉 ). If there is anything I have learned by now, is that experience does not equate to wisdom. Have a great time at ALA.
Thanks everyone, but especially thanks Verla. It’s so refreshing to hear about a library director who is reading blogs! There are plenty of experienced librarians and library directors who do care about keeping up with what’s new in the profession and value the insights of their less experienced colleagues, but sadly, there are still too many who let ego and old ideas about “paying dues” rob them of valuable knowledge. And does the library suffer for their hubris? I’m sure with your attitude, Verla, you must have a wonderful library that really meets the needs of its patrons. 🙂
I did a study pseudo-ethnography on “experience” between managers and reference librarians. One of the things I observed is that “experience” is one-part accumulated knowledge/know-how and one-part aculturation.
Don’t let people use the experience card on you, just because the job market had you beat down for a little while. You have experience! I have over 20 years of experience using technology and I’m only 34! 🙂
Steven, Aaron, and Karen
Originally uploaded by Rikhei.
On Sunday, I took the train into Chicago to take in the exhibits with my mother and to attend the OCLC Bloggers’ Salon.
I had a great time looking at the exhibits, a…
Here’s my Age and Experience assertion (both of which I have in spades): I finally gained enough age and experience to know that neither one is a substitute for thought and attention, but they’re awfully easy ways for established folks to ignore the hard questions from people who have been thinking and paying attention. Easy and wrong.
As for “princess”…the mind reels. Mostly, ALA exhibitors know better (you don’t see too many true “booth babes” at ALA either), but there are always exceptions. (If you wish to substitute “chauvinist jerks” for “exceptions,” feel free.)
Meanwhile, keep on keeping on. Great to meet you Sunday.
It was great meeting you on Sunday. I do think we tend to be dismissed occassionaly because of our age, but woe to them I say. Soon we will have the experience and we will have to remember to respect the younger librarians. I also think there are a great number of people in our profession who are willing to accept differing opinions, even if it does come from the 26 year old with a crispy new degree.
If I was there I probably would have rumbled with that vendor! Sakes! There’s no room for that in the exhibit hall as far as I’m concerned…
It is godawful. Yes, indeed, there is ageism and sexism in our industry. Blatant.
I don’t think a vendor spoke to me at my first ALA exhibits–1989? I was very shy and overawed. For years, I just treated the exhibits as theater and as a way to get swag.
It is only since I began to get grey that I started to feel that practically anyone paid any attention to my opinions. I could make a self-deprecating joke here, but anger is a better response. (This lack of attention and respect has applied to library administrators, supervisors, representatives of other organizations, colleagues, patrons, as well as vendors.) I am rather informal in dress and approach. But I’ve seen the guys in tie-dye and raggedy jeans schtick–and they get taken seriously.
Who knew it would actually take grey hair for me to have vendors at the exhibits dying to talk to me? I was told forever that it was good to have a “young face”. Maybe I’ll feel that way about it when I hit 60, but that’s a ways away!
Some vendors are complete wastes of time/space/breath. I’ve asked some vendors repeated questions about their products for two-three years and they still have no answers. I do hold it against them, and I do have a budget now. But other vendors have become good, reliable colleagues. Unfortunately, we have to sort the wheat from the chaff.
Information gathering is a big reason why we go to ALA. Meeting and networking is lovely–