While one cannot make the case for librarians to retire simply because they have reached the age of retirement (as would almost be implied solution in various previous positions towards the libraryland unemployment problem), I think there is a better argument for the retirement of older librarians.
The basis? Negligence.
My reasoning is as follows: the librarians who have reached the age of retirement (for the purposes of this argument I will say that this age is 65) are well established in the field. They have accumulated institutional knowledge, the benefit of experience, and a vision that only comes to those who have stayed with a profession for a long period of time. And yet, they have not positioned the profession or the institution to handle the societal, technological, or community trends and changes that currently face libraries. In other cases, they have not built the necessary relationships with those who support the library whether it is the taxpayer or town council. But here we are, deep into a rapidly changing communication and computer age that has revolutionized information sharing around the globe, and rather than be positioned to capitalize on it, libraries around the country are simply fighting to retain funding or even stay open. It represents a failure to lead, a failure to recognize emerging trends, and a failure to act accordingly. That is negligence.
And for those who may balk at this argument, why? Corporations change their executive staff when those people fail to respond to the challenges and problems of the company. Governments changes administrative staff either through elections or appointments. When the senior staff fails, should they not be held accountable for their actions (or in this case, inaction)? This might not be the golden parachute of the former or the nature of politics of the latter, but retirement is certainly not the worst option in the world.
Shouldn’t there be some accountability from library leadership in general on this neglect? Why would the profession continue under people who have failed in such a spectacular manner? During an era of the largest information paradigm shift in the recorded history of mankind, libraries are not at the forefront of these issues. It’s a shame, really.
Before anyone sharpens their pitchfork or wraps another kerosene soaked rag around their torch (for me or the premise of this post), I am just putting forth an argument for the sake of a lively discussion and not suggesting a course of action. It is not meant as a litmus test for anyone to retire. This is also not meant as a blanket indictment of older librarians despite its tone. I just thought it was a better argument for librarians to retire than making it age based. I’m curious for people’s reactions, especially any counterarguments.
So, do you think there is negligence? Why or why not?
Update: Before you hit the reply button, please re-read that last full paragraph. I’d also like to highlight part of my reply to Stephen Abram:
The purpose of the Sunday Speculation posts are to throw out topics for people to toss around and debate. Perhaps it is a vestige of my brief time at law school, but I enjoy the arguments. I’ll argue a counter or unpopular viewpoint for the sake of furthering a conversation (as I am doing in this case). It’s a lab, an experiment, something to ruminate over, and tickle the mind. Edison said, “To have a great idea, have a lot of them.”
Is this my best piece of work? Certainly not. Do I believe in the point of view I’m touting in the post? No. But I do believe that the argument expressed was compelling enough to share and if I’m going to suggest it, I’m not going to toss it casually out there. I might as well make it a good show. This is not disingenuous, this is good debate. Perhaps it is not the best phrasing, but I think I would have gotten hit with ageism no matter how I framed it since I was asking about library leadership from pre-internet days to now.
I don’t have a problem admitting that it is a clumsy, ham-fisted premise that I have put forth. Is it ageism? Sure. Is it illegal? Yes, both here and in Canada. Does it still happen despite being illegal? Yes. Should those people be prosecuted and/or sued? Yes.
Would it have been better to ask, “Should librarians who have held leadership or administrative decisions since pre-internet days be asked to leave the profession?” Or “Was the action or inaction of library leadership of the last twenty years negligent?” Or even “Are the lack of community and political relationships the result of negligent action by library leadership?”
If you want to judge me for making a hypothetical argument even with the caveats I have attached in the post and afterwards, then I find that a bit unsettling. I find that to be a chilling effect on someone posing a question, albeit a distasteful one, and something that is at odds with the principles of intellectual freedom that are so highly regarded within the profession.
Update 2: Mea Culpa. But I will still continue the discussion below. I’m just opening up a new one from the replies that I have received.