Whether you are an experienced librarian or someone new to the profession, networking plays an important role in career development. Mentoring is a component of professional networking. If used effectively, mentoring can be an eye-opening and productive experience for library novice and expert alike.
In the context of this article, I use the term “library novice” to refer to someone who is new to the library profession, for example, a library volunteer, a student who is enrolled in library technology or MLIS programs, or a newbie librarian who has less than five years of professional experience; a “library expert” is someone who has considerable amount of library work experience and skills in areas of his or her expertise. This someone can be a library novice and expert at the same time but in different respects, for example, a librarian can be an expert in instruction, but a novice in budget management. Hence, it is a misconception that mentoring is only beneficial for a library novice, and not a library expert. Mentoring programs are not only simply established to help those who are not familiar with the nuts and bolts of the library profession. Mentoring is also designed to help professional librarians and experienced library staff members to get to know the profession better.
Finding the right mentoring program
The unique aspect of a mentoring program is that it focuses on one-on-one interaction between a mentor and a mentee. Mentoring could take the form of informally unstructured or formally structured. Before I decided to participate in mentoring programs, I thought through the logistics of my involvement. Why am I doing this? Who are my potential mentors and mentees? How much time am I willing to commit to this? What do I hope to get out of this mentorship? I am a new librarian who has only been to a handful of conferences. I did not know many library professionals outside of my institution. I was quiet and did not feel comfortable expressing myself in a group. I was attracted to Baynet mentoring program when I attended their annual meeting in May 2012. Although I previously came across mentoring programs offered by other library associations, the timing was not right and I was not ready at that time. I want a mentoring program which allows me to communicate electronically most of the time but still offers the option of meeting with my mentor and mentee in person.
Preparing for becoming a mentor/mentee
Based on similar interests and skills, the coordinators of Baynet mentoring program matched up the mentor/mentee pairs very quickly. During the one year mentoring relationships, we get to know our mentor/mentee. The mentoring tip sheet and worksheet are great resources especially for first-time participants. In order to maintain a cordial and professional interaction, it is crucial for the mentor and mentee to communicate their expectations and ground rules at the start of the mentorship. We agreed on how we should communicate and how often to check in with each other. Together, we defined our mentoring goals, objectives, priorities, and timeline, intending to take advantage of the opportunity to create a productive mentoring experience.
Providing an insider’s look into the library world
As a newbie librarian working at my first professional job, my views on librarianship are no doubt limited. I have wonderful colleagues to guide me through surviving and thriving at work but I often feel the need to have a second opinion of what librarianship outside my institution looks like. Every library and its parent institution have a different educational philosophy and organizational culture. My mentor and I exchanged our perspectives on academic librarianship, explored ways to stimulate career growth, discussed challenges that libraries and librarians face during the economic downturn, and shared the ups and downs of our work experience.
Establishing connection within the information profession
Mentoring is one way of being involved in professional organizations for new library workers who do not yet know many experienced information professionals in the library field. A mentor is often a mentee’s first connection to a national or regional library association. An experienced mentor could unveil many committee opportunities available within an association to the mentee. With a mentor’s help, the mentee could join the right library association and get introduced to collaboration with other library professionals who share the same career goals and interests. Having a network of library colleagues is a valuable asset for a librarian to prosper in the information profession. In addition to emails and face-to-face meetings, I am now connected to my mentor and mentee via LinkedIn to ensure that we stay in touch throughout and after the end of the mentoring program.
Putting things in perspective
During times in transition, whether there are jobs changing, work reorganization, or morale issues, a mentor can be an excellent confidant. A mentor often fills the role of a therapist who can help the mentee to see and analyze the situations in a different light. A mentor who is an outsider and has no conflict of interest with the mentee’s struggles can offer constructive and rational advice on managing difficult situations. In an effective mentorship, trust and respect must be established prior to the sharing of sensitive work issues. Professionalism needs to be maintained throughout the communication between mentors and mentees at all times.
Promoting the positive aspects of librarianship
Mentorship is an excellent vehicle for promoting the mission, vision, and value of librarianship. Librarians realize that a lot of new library workers do not sufficiently understand the inner workings of the library profession. Many newcomers are unclear about the different types of library operations and responsibilities. Librarians are information experts who provide service to users in need of research assistance. Academic librarians are champions of research, scholarship, and teaching excellence. We are advocates of information literacy and lifelong learning in age of emerging technology. For those who are new to the profession (especially MLIS students and those currently enrolled in library technology certificate programs), mentors could use this valuable educational opportunity to impart their work enriching experience and wisdom to future librarians.
Enhancing professional development
Professional development is an integral part of a librarian’s career. Librarians are encouraged to participate in various professional activities to gain experience and insights beyond their work routine. Librarians are eager to collaborate with others, to develop new skills, and to explore innovative trends in information services. Through mentoring and coaching others, librarians share expertise and strengthen their leadership skills in building a sustainable community support system to overcome challenges and contribute service to the profession.
Rekindling library passion
Job burnout may not be very common among librarians. However, for librarians who have worked in the profession for a long time, mentoring young or prospective librarians could be rejuvenating and bring a breath of satisfaction into their career. Working with mentees can be an inspiring and rewarding experience. By relating their success stories, mentors once again feel the same excitement and passion as when they first became librarians. Their mentoring effort in effect renews their dedication and commitment to the profession.
Reflecting on the mentoring experience
One of the positive outcomes of a successful mentorship is that both library novice and library expert have something valuable to learn from their experience and each other. The library profession is constantly evolving. Every mentoring experience is unique. The more mentors and mentees communicate with each other regarding their expectations the more they will benefit from the mentorship. When the assessment of an individual’s strengths and weaknesses are evaluated without prejudice, mentors and mentees can come out of the mentorship knowing better about the library profession as well as themselves.