21st Century Library Customers – Boomers & GenX

Baby Boomers
Baby Boomers are probably more of an enigma than the other generations, because they span a broad range of background, interests and activities. They were generally defined by the end of WWII in 1945, and theoretically cover birth years from 1946 through 1964. (Census records actually show an increase in the birth rate beginning in 1943 that then declined beginning in 1957, but 14 years is not a generation, so I guess we can let the sociologists have this one.) Their upbringing was based in God and Country, family and community, Pledge of Allegiance in school, and they were instilled with a desire for the American Dream – work hard and become successful so you can have a model family for which you can provide all the modern luxuries of the 20th Century.

But, Baby Boomers were also influenced by Rock ‘n Roll, the Vietnam War, civil rights, and the Cultural Revolution (so to speak) of the 1970s, and the Flower Power (geeezzz I hate that label) movement. Most have come back to the “establishment” (hate that label too), worked for their American Dream, and now generally constitute the core of leadership in American communities and business. 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. Many say the truth is they have been drug into the world of computers and cell phones (kicking and screaming) by their GenX kids. Boomers want to stay in contact with their kids and grandkids, and in the 21st Century cell phones and email are the only feasible way to do that.

As library patrons, Boomers represent virtually all library services, traditional and cutting edge. Most are Digital Immigrants by necessity more than desire, but they have typical traits of DIs in that they still use punctuation in their emails, IMs and even tweets. (Maybe you can tell I’m one of them.)

Generation X
Generation X are primarily the offspring of Baby Boomers, and for the most part represent those now reaching middle age with birth years ranging from 1961 to 1981. GenX statistically holds the highest education levels when looking at age groups. Raised by Boomers mostly during their later rebellion, establishment and settling down years, GenX reflect that spirit in their approach to work and life that gave them a blend of “smell the roses but don’t forget you need to work”. Where Boomers invented the “smell the roses” (because their parents didn’t get to do that), GenY thinks that is all they have to do because its the fun part of life, and they have never seen or heard of the struggles the Boomers had, which GenX only heard about – repeatedly. GenX generally think Boomers have a lock on things and need to move on now that they’re moving into being eligible for Social Security.

GenX is a generation that struggles with parenting without a model. Not because they didn’t have great parents, but because the cultural, technological, and societal changes have been so significant between their own childhood and their children’s, that none of the old models fit. From a childhood of rotary phones comes the generation raising tweens who stomp the ground insisting that “everyone” has a cell phone with unlimited texting. GenX generally do not remember living without entertainment such as video games and computers, but do remember when that was just two lines and a dot called “Pong”. So, while GenX is often called the “microwave generation” due to their desire for instant gratification, they still struggle with their children who say they’re bored as they stand in a home with three different gaming systems, multiple computers, and 500 TV channels.

GenX is the generation that has truly mastered the art of adapting to change. They have straddled the technology in a way in which they 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, while being told not to turn the dial too fast or it would break. And now they proficiently handle the five remotes that sit on the coffee table in their home.

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, and another generation with better technology skills that is breathing down their necks because of their over-indulged upbringing, where everyone who participates gets a trophy, and wants everything yesterday. The GenX generation must reinvent everything from parenting to career paths without a model. (Its no wonder they are tired. As they enter their mid-life crisis years, one might consider they are more of a threat to society than armed postal workers or Korean bombs ever have been. Remember, they grew up when you could just take your dodgeball and go home!) (Contributed by a GenX approaching 40.)

Since most GenX did not grow up with technology (as we understand it today), but were exposed to it early in their adult life, most are Digital Immigrants, and never acquired most of the traits of their parents regarding technology. They can all be considered Digital Immigrants, but many resemble Digital Natives.


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