On Mentoring

October 26, 2013 at 12:44 pm | Posted in Professional Development | 1 Comment

A while back, an acquaintance of mine was at a turning point in her career. She was having difficulty deciding whether or not to take on a much different role in her company. “My mentors are telling me not to take it,” she said, “they think there will be better opportunities down the road if I stay in my current role.”
“My mentors?” I thought. “She has a mentor?…she has many mentors? And I don’t even have one?”

The more I thought about it (and the more I poked around on the Web), the more sense it made. My acquaintance had been to one of the prestigious business schools in town. Folks in the corporate world seem to have cornered the market on mentoring. A quick Google of mentoring yields a gaggle of hits from business schools — strong mentoring programs even appear to play an important role in the marketing schemes of the schools.

I didn’t think much more about the above exchange until I attended the most recent NAHSL board meeting (I was sitting in for MAHSLIN President Cara Marcus). During the meeting, President Gore led a series of exercises intended to stimulate ideas among board members about where the organization should be headed, and what kinds of activities might be of interest and/or helpful to the NAHSL members. Mentoring came up as a worthwhile endeavor in more than one instance. At one point I told the above story. As I was telling it, I realized that mentoring idea was something that I wanted to explore further. So I explored. Here are a few things I’ve learned so far.

1. An individual is likely to have more than one mentor throughout the course of a career and different mentors have different roles to play. Situational mentors, for example, may guide an individual through a trying time at work. A career mentor is probably what comes to mind when one thinks about mentoring. Business consulting firms advocate a model in which a mentee meets regularly with a career mentor.

2. A career-focused mentor-mentee relationship is a learning relationship, and the mentee is charged with being the driving force. The learning involves formal goals, objectives and activities. Feedback plays an important role in the process.

3. It is assumed that conflict has the potential to enter a mentoring relationship, as it does in any other kind of relationship. Mentors and mentees are advised to address this possibility in the beginning of a relationship, and to discuss ahead of time how they will address conflict should it arise.

4. Mentoring relationships are mutually beneficial; mentees aren’t the only ones who get something out of the deal. For example, a more seasoned librarian – acting as a mentor – would stand to benefit from the perspective of someone just coming out of library school.

Considering the constant state of change that seems to be the nature of our profession, I suspect that more formal – and just more in general – mentoring could improve our work lives. Just by doing a bit of exploration into this topic, I learned that I do have mentors out there (more of the situational type), but the idea of a more formal relationship is appealing. I’m aware that MLA has done a fair amount of work in an effort to encourage mentor-mentee relationships, but wonder if something on a regional level – not tied in any way to credentialing – might be of interest to the general membership. I’d love one day to find myself in the situation my acquaintance found herself in – knowing that someone was looking out for her, offering thoughtful advice, all the while keeping her best interests in mind.

As part of my exploring, I read the following:
Kram, K. E. (1985). Mentoring at work: developmental relationships in organizational life. Glenview, Illinois: Scott, Foresman and Company.
Overman, S. (August 29, 2011). Finding a mentor — with or without algorithms. Fortune, October 12, 2013.

Jane Ichord, MLIS
Research and Instruction Librarian
Hirsh Health Sciences Library
Tufts University

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1 Comment »

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  1. Having a clearinghouse for mentors and mentees to connect would be grand. Until then, I hope you’ll continue to be my mentor.


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