21st Century Library Customers – Greatest & Silent

The Greatest Generation
The Greatest Generation (sometimes referred to as the G.I. Generation) were adults before the Great Depression on one end, and also struggled through WWII on the other end. This generation was as much agrarian as industrial, lived in one place and worked at one job most of their life, and for the most part had their extended family also living around them. Although, WWII affected that mind set for several million men of that generation who fought in WWII (then came home to the G.I. Bill that provided them a college education), as well as affecting several million women who dominated the workforce during WWII. Tom Brokaw argued that these men and women fought not for fame and recognition, but because it was the right thing to do. He reflected “… on the wonders of these ordinary people whose lives are laced with the markings of greatness. At every stage of their lives they were part of historic challenges and achievements of a magnitude the world had never before witnessed.” When they came home, they rebuilt America into a superpower.

This generation of Americans grew up expecting to be able to live, work and enjoy life on what they learned in high school. “Life long learning” was not a part of their thinking. They are the 80 years or older library patrons who have lived in your community the longest and may constitute a large portion of your senior patrons. Their interests are typical of 20th Century library services – books, newspapers, leisure and recreational print material, a quiet place to read and socialize. The vast majority are not Digital Immigrants, but those few who are use a limited amount of technology by necessity, like Internet and email, and can generally by considered Traditional library users.

The Silent Generation
The Silent Generation is a term coined in a November 5, 1951, cover story of Time Magazine to refer to the generation coming of age at that time, born during the Great Depression and World War II. The article, (which defined the generation at the time as born from 1925 to 1945), claimed that the Silent Generation found its characteristics as grave and fatalistic, conventional, possessing confused morals, expecting disappointment but desiring faith, and for women, desiring both a career and a family. Time stated:

Youth today is waiting for the hand of fate to fall on its shoulders, meanwhile working fairly hard and saying almost nothing. The most startling fact about the younger generation is its silence. With some rare exceptions, youth is nowhere near the rostrum. By comparison with the Flaming Youth of their fathers & mothers, today’s younger generation is a still, small flame. It does not issue manifestoes, make speeches or carry posters. It has been called the “Silent Generation.”

They were born on the cusp of the Greatest Generation and the Baby Boom Generation, at times possessing characteristics of both, while at other times evading grouping into either population. The label gained further note after William Manchester’s comment that the members of this generation were “withdrawn, cautious, unimaginative, indifferent, unadventurous and silent.” The name was used in their 1991 book “Generations” as their designation for that generation in the United States born from 1925 to 1941. The generation is also known as the Postwar Generation, when not neglected altogether and placed by marketers in the same category as the Greatest Generation. Silent Generation members are generally the offspring of Greatest Generation and the parents of later Baby Boomers, as well as early-half Generation Xers. (Taken from a Wikipedia article.)

As an essential caveat to the above, the Wikipedia article goes on to point out significant figures from that generation.

Describing this generation as the “Silent Generation” is a bit of a misnomer. In fact, many revolutionary leaders in the civil rights movement came from the Silent Generation, along with a wide assortment of artists and writers who fundamentally changed the arts in the United States. The Beat Poets, for example, were members of the Silent Generation, as were Martin Luther King and Gloria Steinem. Most rock stars of the 60s were of the Silent Generation, not the Boomers as some believe (some sources cite the Boomers as beginning in 1942; most claim the oldest of the Boomers were born in 1946). Even if the cut-off for the Silent Generation was 1943, it would still contain bands such as the Beatles and the Rolling Stones, as well as rock stars such as Frank Zappa, Jimi Hendrix and Janis Joplin in the Silent Generation. Elvis Presley was also of this generation, as were some of the most famous movie stars of all time such as Marlon Brando, Marilyn Monroe and James Dean.

The Silent Generation are the 65 years and older library patrons who are the majority of your senior patrons, and whose interests are typical of 20th Century library services – books, newspapers, leisure and recreational print material, a place to read and socialize. Most are not Digital Immigrants, but those who are use a limited amount of technology, like Internet and email, but can generally by considered Traditional library users.


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