The LIS Mentor: Teaching From Experience

One of the most interesting and wonderful aspects of the teaching role is that at its core, being able to help someone learn not only stems from knowledge of a subject, or ability to explain it, but from a deep conviction that the individual being taught can succeed and encouraging them down that path. This is found in different professions, in anyone who has been successful in defining a chosen career for themselves, and in gaining expertise in a specialty. They have found others who believed in them, who encouraged them, who saw something great in them and wanted them to do well. The LIS profession is no different in that great leaders within libraries are helped there by others who saw something great in them. Whether formally or informally, the mentorship role either of a senior librarian or professional to a younger colleague is valuable in professional development. These relationships are about helping one not only grow in the LIS profession but to help gain perspective as they travel down a road of learning what it means to work in this field.

The most obvious aspect in a mentor/mentee relationship comes in that a good mentor can offer guidance and perspective to a potential library student/professional/leader in many different areas. From choosing classes, to internship opportunities; all areas that help a growing LIS professional. In her article, “Mentoring to Grow Library Leaders”, Suzanne Sears (2014) in addressing her role as a mentor explains, “Fostering a love for librarianship among new students, encouraging new librarians to develop their scholarly and professional careers, and guiding new managers into future leaders gives me a sense of satisfaction and fulfillment” (p. 129). The perspective offered by a mentor is that of a seasoned professional, who understands the workings of the library but can also meet a student where they are. From the outside view they have they can possibly see roadblocks, offer feedback on projects, or simply be a sounding board for different ideas. They can teach, coach, and relate on a very intimate level.

In my own experience, both through formal and informal mentoring relationships, I have found deep value in being able to have the perspectives of my different mentors. They offer me insight on many levels from understanding professional relationships, to the importance of diversity within the LIS field. They all have a wonderful knack for showing me how this affects my own life, and career as a student and professional, and challenge me to express my own ideas along the way.

Mentors can also have a great impact on the career of a young professional.  From the basics of offering their direction on networking skills to introducing the mentee to their own network of people to connect with. If a mentor is aware of the mentee’s skills and interests, they can have ideas for internships – either creating or finding one – as well others connected to a specific specialty the mentee may have in mind. They can offer advice about possible career choices, especially if they work within that area themselves, or know anyone who does. Along with enthusiasm for the different types of librarianship, the mentor can also have an influence in helping the student/professional remain grounded as they seek out opportunities. In speaking about a former mentee’s career anxiety, Tami Echavarria Robinson (2011) in “Mentoring Aspiring New Librarians: One-on-One Relationships that Matter” explains, “part of the one-on-one encouragement of [the] relationship [is] keeping [him] optimistic about the profession and his role in it” (p. 14). This optimism is valuable when the job market may seem in dire straits and serves as a chance for the mentor to bolster the mentee’s confidence about obtaining employment in the future.

Although, I am only in a paraprofessional position within an academic library, my mentors have been great in helping me understand the potential that I have. They are keen on offering me advice from their own experience as prior graduate student or library director. They are excited to see me grow and discover my leadership abilities as well. Their interest in my career and desire to help me along the way has been inspiring and a great motivation when I’ve needed it.

I hope that as I continue to explore the different areas of librarianship and one day find a place within the library world, that I am able to pass on the wisdom that I’ve learned from my mentors. I hope that I am able to give back in helping someone learn, grow and become the leader they aspire to be.

References

Robinson Echavarria, Tami. (2011). Mentoring aspiring new librarians: one-on-one relationships that matter. Alki, 37. Retrieved from http://www.wla.org/alki-home

Sears, Suzanne. (2014). Mentoring to grow library leaders. Journal of Library Administration, 54(2), 127-134. doi: 10.1080/01930826.2014.903368

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4 thoughts on “The LIS Mentor: Teaching From Experience

  1. Mentoring makes such a difference in the professional world! When I was hired as a Graduate Student Assistant, I had no direct library experience. Through the support, patience, and guidance of the librarians and staff I have learned a great deal about the profession and my role in it. The librarians I work with don’t always wait for me to ask questions but seek me out to see if I have any new questions or concerns. Like you I hope that in the future I can assist others in the way that the library staff has helped me!

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    • I have had the same experience, when library staff take an interest in others that are hungry to learn about the profession and all that it offers it really does make a difference! It has helped me stay motivated and also challenged, as I’m always presented with opportunities to learn more and engage on another level.

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  2. The idea of mentors for librarianship is great and definitely needed. There is only so much a student can learn from an MLIS and so much more to learn about technology, patron’s needs, etc. that can be learned from working in the field and learning from other professionals. I hope to learn so many things in my career and that I can share them with others to create passion and understanding in them as well.

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  3. I definitely think that at times we forget just how much we can impact each other through our work. From colleagues or co-workers. And it is important to grow from the experiences of others. Passing on knowledge of learning how to be a good librarian is valuable and as I’ve found, deeply appreciated.

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