The absolute total purpose and focus of the 21st Century Library Model is the customer. Customer centered library services that meet the information needs of the 21st Century customer will result in any library remaining relevant to its community.
This premise includes an expressed challenge – knowing your 21st Century customer. The 21st Century customer is NOT the 20th Century patron. The 21st Century customer should be considered “new” – the Millennial Customer – if you will.
A company’s primary responsibility is to serve its customers, to provide the goods or services which the company exists to produce. Profit is not the primary goal but rather an essential condition for the company’s continued existence. Other responsibilities, e.g., to employees and society, exist to support the company’s continued ability to carry out its primary purpose. marketing crossing
Public libraries have been slow to figure out that the 21st Century customer does not need 20th Century library services. School, academic and special libraries have been dealing with the new Millennial Customer for several years. Unless we want to see brick & mortar libraries go the way of the rotary dial telephone, the transistor radio, and the cathode ray tube, we need to understand the Millennial Customer and adapt library services to meet their interests, because they do not appear to have library service “needs”, and may not seek services from public libraries!
Five Generations of Library Customers
There are The Greatest Generation, Silent Generation (often lumped in with the Greatest Generation), Baby Boomers, Generation X, and Generation Y or Millennials (as they have labeled themselves). Obviously, since each was born and raised under VERY different times and circumstances, there are significant differences in each generation, and, a DRASTIC difference between the Greatest Generation and the Millennials – DRASTIC in the sense of being very different library customers! (The graphic below represents a brief overview of where the generations fall within the three types of library customers.)
The Digital Fugitive
This segment of library customers includes the Greatest Generation and Silent Generation, those customers over 65 and who can generally be considered 20th Century customers. Their interests are typical of 20th Century library services – books, newspapers, leisure and recreational print material, a quiet place to read and socialize. Most are not Digital Immigrants, but those who are use a limited amount of technology by necessity, like Internet and email.
This segment of library customers begins the serious Millennial Customer who has adopted technology into their lives – work and leisure. They are the Baby Boomers who are just this year turning 65, and are probably more of an enigma than the other generations, because they span a broad range of background, interests and activities.
In middle age, they realized that they needed to become “life long learners” because their high school education wouldn’t get them very far in the last 20 years of the 20th Century. Technology was changing so fast that they had to learn it to keep up and retain their place in society and the workplace. As library customers, Boomers represent virtually all library services, traditional and cutting edge. Older Boomers are Digital Immigrants by necessity more than desire, and they have typical traits of Digital Immigrants in that they still use punctuation in their emails, IMs and even tweets.
I place this discussion of GenX in the Digital Native category because this is THE generation that has truly mastered the art of adapting to change. They have straddled today’s technology in an amazing way, yet still remember being their parents “TV remote”. Their first introduction to technology was sitting on the floor in front of the TV and changing the channel, and now they proficiently handle the five remotes on the coffee table in their home, or more likely figured out the “universal” remote.
Generation X people are mostly Digital Immigrants by birth, and for the most part represent those now reaching middle age. GenX statistically holds the highest education levels when looking at age groups. Because the technological, educational and societal changes have been so significant between their own childhood and now their children’s, none of the Baby Boomer models fit for the GenX generation. They must reinvent everything from parenting to career paths without a model. While GenX is often called the “microwave generation” due to their desire for instant gratification, they still struggle with their children who sit in a home with three different gaming systems, multiple computers, and 500 TV channels, and complain that they’re bored.
GenX work in the vice grip of two generations. One that has stayed in the work force longer than expected, and therefore created a bottleneck in upward mobility. The other generation with better technology skills is breathing down their necks, with their over-indulged upbringing, where everyone who participates gets a trophy, and wants everything yesterday.
Since most GenX did not grow up with technology (as we understand it today), but were exposed to it early in their late teen and early adult life, and have that uncanny adaptability toward technology, many could qualify as Digital Natives, but are still technically Digital Immigrants. Fortunately, they did not acquire the aversion traits of their parents regarding technology, so they can all be considered Digital Natives in their behavior.
Generation Y (considered to be born from 1982 through 2001) are so labeled as a follow on to the previous Generation X, but self labeled as Millennials (wanting to disassociate themselves with the previous GenX). Most distinctively, they are indeed a “new” generation of learner, consumer, citizen and library customer – the Millennial Customer.
Millennials are typified by their use of instant communication technologies, are also somewhat peer-oriented (which means they prefer the opinions of anonymous peers to that of “experts”), are into self-expression and acceptance, are more culturally tolerant than previous generations, have an inclination for delaying some of the rites of passage into adulthood, and trend toward living with their parents for longer than previous generations. They are generally considered the “Trophy Kids”, due to the “everybody’s a winner” approach to group activities, and as a result tend toward generational consensus building. They like to work collaboratively, and prefer to shape their jobs to fit their lives rather than adapt their lives to the workplace. They also believe in “doing” as opposed to “learning to do”.
Jason Ryan Dorsey, The “Gen Y Guy” presents an awesome overview of the Millennial Generation.
Here is another perspective of the Millennials from themselves.
This is the generation public librarians should focus on and study, not because there are 60+ million of them, but because they are such a different consumer that in order to address their library service interests, public libraries will have to understand them, and literally take services to them. (School and academic librarians are getting first-hand experience with GenY kids every day.) They do not recognize much, if any, “need” for library services, and seldom, if ever, seek “traditional” services from public libraries.
All of the older generations will progressively have fewer consumers of fewer library services, whereas the future belongs to the young. It is understood that Millennials are into email, texting, IMing, Flickr, YouTube, Facebook, MySpace, Twitter, and whatever the latest electronic means of communication happens to be. They communicate using social media technology, and everything is “remote”. They generally only visit the library to collaborate and socialize. They have integrated technology into their life and it is now a necessity for them, because they grew up with technology and the Internet, and are “Digital Natives”.
The successful 21st Century Library will provide services to their 21st Century Millennial Customer, because they know who they are and what they want. The 21st Century customer is NOT the 20th Century patron.
More to come…………………
See A 21st Century Library Model