Age discrimination

I had an unpleasant encounter with a library patron this week that has me thinking about age (and perceived age) and how it influences the way people treat one another.

There was an unruly patron who was failing to respect personal space and privacy of another patron while also refusing to wait his turn in line. I stepped in and asked him politely to back up a bit and wait his turn. Not an unusual event really in a public setting. His response though, was to yell at me to “learn to respect my elders” and ranted extensively about how he would never take direction or criticism from someone who wasn’t born yet when he started using the library.

All of his hostile words were directed at my age. He felt I had no right to talk to him about his behaviour because I was younger than him. This is a faulty argument as far as I’m concerned. It’s not how long we are alive that matters but what we have done with our time and what we intend to do with the rest .

I find that as a young professional who sometimes may appear younger than my actual age, there are a lot of people who don’t respect my authority when I’m in charge, or question decisions they wouldn’t if I were older. I actually changed my name tag and title a couple of years ago from “Youth Librarian” to “Youth Services Librarian” because people kept thinking that the “Youth” referred to my youth- and that I was a librarian in training. I had a few elderly patrons ask me for the “real librarian” or “grown up librarian” before I even finished greeting them. Why is it that people are so distrusting of information learned from or discipline given from someone in their late 20s? I’ve been completely independent for more than 10 years, I have a Masters Degree, and I run a department- but to them I’m not old enough to count.

On the opposite side of spectrum the tweens in my Lego club think I’m ancient! One kid looked at me and said “Why can’t we have someone young and fun who will actually like Lego, and Star Wars, and Marvel!” which broke my heart because I thought I was young and fun and I DO love Lego, Star Wars, and Marvel movies and comics. Another young man last year asked me if I had grandkids his age, which shocked me because I’m not old enough to have a son his age never mind grandchildren. So you can’t get too wrapped up in how old kids think you are either…

All this has me thinking about the age discrimination kids and teens face. So many adults lump all kids together and don’t see how distinct and awesomely different they are from one another. I have completely lost count of how many times I’ve been asked the generic “What do 12 year-old boys like to read”. Sure I could give them the bestseller’s list, I know what’s borrowed the MOST but that’s not the right answer because 12 year old boys are not all the same. We need to take the time and make the effort to understand what that individual likes. You have to consider the tastes, interests, maturity, reading level, and more when helping someone pick out books.

Many adults have the idea that teens are problematic. They fear teens who are “loitering” . Teens are the first suspects of vandalism or theft. When I tell people I work with teens they groan and act like it must be horrible. That’s not the case at all, there are some fantastic teens in my community and I’m sure in most communities. We can’t let a few trouble makers colour our judgement of a whole generation when some people in our own generations are probably guilty of the same crimes. If we provide positive environments and activities for bored teens I really think we will have more positive interactions with them.

Kids are often dismissed as silly and frivolous. If you actually talk to them like people and listen to their observations you will often find they are thoughtful, observant, honest, and many other qualities I look for in adults. To lump all kids together and ignore their individuality would be a disservice to them and to society. By nurturing their unique quirks and passions we build a community with varied skills.

Seniors can be deceptive too. Some are a lot more up on technology than teens might think and there are actually quite a few older ladies I know who love to read novels from the teen section.

I think it’s important in libraries and in life to respect anyone, no matter their age- and to avoid jumping to conclusions based on appearances.

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