This blog represents most of the newspaper columns (appearing in various Colorado Community Newspapers and Yourhub.com) written by me, James LaRue, during the time in which I was the director of the Douglas County Libraries in Douglas County, Colorado. (Some columns are missing, due to my own filing errors.) This blog covers the time period from April 11, 1990 to January 12, 2012.

Unless I say so, the views expressed here are mine and mine alone. They may be quoted elsewhere, so long as you give attribution. The dates are (at least according my records) the dates of publication in one of the above print newspapers.

The blog archive (web view) is in chronological order. The display of entries, below, seems to be in reverse order, new to old.

All of the mistakes are of course my own responsibility.

Wednesday, March 31, 2004

March 31, 2004 - wanted: old folks

While driving into work the other day, I was listening to NPR. There was a story about trend-setting rural Minnesota. That's not usually how we think about Minnesota.

In brief, the disproportion of generational populations was a big problem. Following a wave of retirements, many local government agencies and businesses simply didn't have enough people to keep the doors open.

So they tried what organizations in similar situations have tried before. Recruit young people!

But it wasn't working. Or it wasn't working fast enough. So they tried something else: hire back the retirees.

And that's where the story got interesting. The effect on the retirees was wholly positive. Combined with various other advances in medical technology, people were suddenly living a whole lot longer. Workers in their eighties and nineties were leading vigorous lives.

The effect of work clearly had something to do with it. People need to feel useful. And these folks were not just useful, they were desperately needed.

Some adjustments were necessary on the employer side. There were limits on the number of hours seniors were willing to work. Benefits were very important. It's possible, too, that the pace of the work might have ratcheted back.

On the other hand, I'm guessing that the agencies and businesses found plenty of happy tradeoffs. People returning to the work force need some update training, but not core training. They already know all about customer service, and how the world works.

Such employees don't have some of the attitude or performance problems that young workers may have, who are trying to work out precedents for a lot of other life issues at the same time.

Older employees may have something else we don't usually associate with government agencies and businesses -- wisdom.

One of the things age brings is some skill in greasing social situations. Today, when our national politics are bitterly divided, our state legislature is term limited, and business leaders either make short term profits, or are shown the door, the perspective of age might be transformative. When you're trying to build relationships that will last, patience is a virtue. So is humor, and tolerance.

I wrote a couple of weeks ago about what is shaping up as a recruitment crisis in librarianship.

Some pundits are saying that a piece of that will be addressed by new technologies. A second round of automation, far more capable than the first, may enable libraries to handle more routine, clerical tasks with software and new machines.

But that just underscores the fact that what's left in the library requires more education, more training, more good judgment, than what the technology took over.

It just might be that one of the answers to recruitment is retention -- finding a way not only to appeal to the brightest of the new folks, but the wisest and most capable of the old folks.

Statistically speaking, the senior population in Douglas County is very small, far overshadowed by people in the 35-55 age group. But if time teaches us anything, it is that time picks up speed. In just a little while, that generational bubble will find itself on the other side of 65.

That will be a good thing, not only for the rest of the county (Douglas County is a wonderful place; a showcase of diversity it is not), but also for the many organizations that will be looking for some good help.

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