Librarian Lifestyle

It Takes a Village: Mentoring for a Better Profession

In Workplace Issues on February 20, 2012 at 5:50 pm

We owe it to ourselves and our future coworkers to give them good advice. How are we going to have eloquent, well-qualified job applicants coming onto our campuses and into our libraries if we don’t help create them? Or, if that’s too Frankensteinian, at least don’t give them the wrong advice.

This was going to be an article about work-life balance and taking time off to take care of a family member. But then, something happened. Twice recently, I heard from LIS students who were actively discouraged by their advisers from engaging with working professionals. The reason given in both cases was that presentations and scholarly activity wouldn’t be required resume criteria for those students, since neither one was specifically looking at academic librarianship.

There are four major assumptions here that drive me bonkers:
1. The student will gain nothing from meeting librarians in different types of institutions.
2. The student will never switch gears or will end up exactly where he/she plans with no hitches.
3. Others have nothing to learn from the student’s experience and work.
4. Presentation and networking skills aren’t valued outside of academic positions.
The list could go on, but you get the point.

So, how do we keep these excellent, educated, and talented people from slipping to the bottom of a recruitment list? Be a mentor! Officially, unofficially, whatever. But I can hear some of you saying, I don’t want to walk around offering unsolicited advice, sounding like a total git. Of course not. There are ways you can go about this that aren’t patronizing.
– Go through a structured mentoring program like ALA’s NMRT, or check with your university’s alumni group.
– Keep your eyes open at conferences and seminars. If you know someone at your table is a student, encourage him/her to ask questions and take initiative. Help them begin the conversation.

The important thing is to remember what it was like for you going through the job application process. What skills came in handy during the job search? What made you more marketable? What is a mistake you made? Who can you put them in touch with that would be helpful? Did you hear of a free webinar or training opportunity that’s relevant? When you’re on a search committee, what qualities catch your notice? Let them know! Just as you might forward an interesting article to a coworker on a research topic you know he/she is following, share the information love with those entering the profession!

You might be surprised at how much you gain from being a mentor. Establishing new contacts within the field, finding out about new technologies and methodologies, and meeting a cool person are all part of it.

And new librarians, the ball’s in your court, too. Meet people, talk to them. If we’re around other people, we probably love to talk. Take the initiative. Follow up. Present and write every chance you get.

HackLibSchool recently posted about the value of attending conferences. When writing your resume (or curriculum vita), take credit for your skills! Own yourself. Especially for those of you who have internship or prior work experience (even if it is outside libraries, teaching, or other academia), relate those skills to the job you want. This is where talking to a practicing librarian can come in handy, because they will often recognize what works in the real world and remind you to be proud of your accomplishments.

Let’s start now. Use the comments section below to share programs and resources you have found helpful. Ask questions. Maybe we can make some connections.

So, go forth, all of you. Make it happen and be awesome.

Written by Marliese Thomas. Marliese is the User Engagement Librarian at Samford University in Birmingham, Alabama. She is passionate about technology, sewing, cats, sci-fi, and improving the user experience. You can find her around the web @msthomas and marliesethomas.

  1. […] first article, though, is on the importance of building professional relationships. Whether you are a mentor or a […]

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