Sunday, August 7, 2011

Things 10 and 11

This week's Things are about our paths to librarianship, and professional mentoring.

Path to librarianship

During college I worked in the cataloging department of the library and liked it well enough. Later, when I needed an escape from my first job out of college - a nightmarish retail job - I leapt at the opportunity for another tech services job at a college library. It was while working there that I decided to work towards librarianship as a profession, which in the US means getting an MLS. It was a few years before I was in a position to go back to school but eventually I went to Simmons (which I will be paying for until I retire, and I wish I was exaggerating). Although I've worked in corporate and academic settings, my heart has always been in public libraries. It's been a rough road. For several years I searched in vain for a department head job in an effort to advance in my career, and then two years ago I was laid off. After five months of unemployment, I started working a temporary job at a large library system for extremely low pay and no benefits, even though I worked full-time hours. After two years of job-hunting I'm finally working full-time again, at a nice library the next town over, in a good job with good benefits.

Sometimes I'm a little bitter about the profession and the lack of opportunities. Simmons keeps churning out graduates with promises that many librarians will be retiring soon and there will be lots of available jobs. True, there are many librarians of a certain age and they may retire, if they can afford it, but who says their positions will be filled? It doesn't matter how good you are at what you do if cities and towns are cutting positions and there's nothing for you to even apply for. In the past couple of years while I was job-hunting I spent a long time thinking about alternative career options and I'm incredibly grateful that I didn't end up having to switch careers because I didn't come up with one viable, appealing idea. My new job has a lot of potential and I'm feeling generally optimistic about my professional life again.


I've really never been involved on either end of any sort of formal mentoring, and I'm not sure there's even such a program for librarians. Being sort of mid-career, I'm not even sure which end of the relationship I'd fall on. Certainly I have a lot to learn (don't we all?) but I'm not a new librarian anymore. I do have a lot of friends and acquaintances who are librarians though, and we definitely depend on each other for advice. I wouldn't want to be restricted to advice from just one person, nor would I want to be the sole guide for a new librarian, so I have to admit I don't see the value in mentoring. I looked at the recommended articles here, but none of them explained WHY mentoring is so important, or what value it has that can't be gained through a network of professional contacts. Isn't it best to have MANY different librarians from whom you can solicit advice and get varying perspectives? I would think any sort of professional involvement would have these benefits.

But maybe I'm missing something. Do you have a mentor or have you been one? What sort of benefits did the relationship have that you couldn't have gotten through other types of professional involvement?


Anonymous said...

Not having been in a formal mentoring relationship, this comment is based on what I've learned about the topic, but maybe it will give a little more insight to your questions.

I think the idea of mentoring is to formalize the relationships many people already have. If you formally agree that a person can ask you any questions they have on say, negotiating salary, then you are their salary-negotiating mentor. Someone else might be their resume-writing mentor, and another their green-cleaning mentor. These mentoring relationships last only for as long as it is mutually beneficial.

From my understanding, mentoring is "special" because of the formal agreement. Without it, some people would be hesitant to ask for some kinds of advice. Also, when both parties know they are in this relationship, they are more likely to pass on articles of interest or ask the hard questions.

A colleague may not say, "Joanie, have you noticed that patrons never come to ask you questions, but they ask other staff? I've overheard several complaints about the way you scowl when you work and also, your breath reeks." A mentor is more likely to approach this hard topic because the mentee has given him permission or even directly asked that such things are discussed.

Also, a mentor can also be a mentee.

In any mentoring discussion I can think of, those who have not been mentored ask the questions you asked and those who have insist that it is not as complicated as the literature makes it sound and that each mentoring relationship should be tailored to fit the people and situation involved.

I know this comment is long. Hope there is something of interest in there.


3goodrats said...

Thanks for your insights, Jill! I'm still not sure mentoring is for me, but this does clarify things a bit.