My Journey into Librarianship: Career Mobility and Mentorship in an Academic Library

By Jennifer Olguin
New Mexico State University
Rio Grande Historical Collections Archivist
New Mexico State University Library Archives & Special Collections

Abstract

It is critical to understand the external and internal motivating factors that lead prospective library professionals into the field. This experience-based piece reflects on my journey into librarianship and explores how mentorship plays a pivotal role in recruiting and retaining prospective librarians. This personal narrative presents experiences at a doctoral granting state university transitioning from work-study student to a tenure-track faculty role. This article highlights the importance of mentorship within the academic profession as novices learn the ins and outs of librarianship and build toward a future career. Current librarians could use this insight as motivation to provide mentorship to assist in developing future library professionals and provide support for those eager for a career in the field.

Keywords: Career mobility, Mentorship, New librarians, Academic librarianship, BIPOC in LIS, Tenure-track faculty

Introduction

Ask a librarian how they entered the field, and you are bound to get an interesting and probably entertaining story. Some librarians may have found their calling early, during their high school or undergraduate student years, while others move into the field later in life by chance or by accident (Simon & Taylor, 2011). The numerous paths leading toward a career in librarianship are certainly diverse and rarely linear, as exemplified in my own personal narrative. Scenarios vary and, in some instances, individuals who ultimately decide to pursue a professional library position may not have envisioned taking that route when initially joining the workforce. Interestingly enough, studies have indicated that individuals most likely spend time in other career tracks before seeking a library degree (Oliver & Prosser 2017; Ard et al., 2006). Other studies note that previous work history in a library environment and mentoring by a librarian may serve to encourage, influence, and retain prospective librarians. This article will discuss mentorship and its correlation with recruitment and retention within the librarianship profession. Before diving into the concept of mentorship, I want to provide my brief definition of which I believe mentorship embodies. Mentorship is an established relationship in which knowledge, skills, and guidance are provided to facilitate career growth. In addition, my personal narrative will shed light on my career path and how mentorship augmented my transformation journey in the academic librarianship profession.

Mentoring Approaches

Mentoring the next generation of librarians is one of the most important contributions in which a seasoned librarian can partake within the profession.  The question might arise, how might one squeeze mentorship into their workload or what if the institution you are affiliated with does not have an established mentoring program in place. On the positive side of things, there are various forms of mentorships ranging from conventional to informal formats which can fit all needs and will be discussed in the article. Considering that there is a selection of mentoring programs to cater to the needs of potential parties involved, it is important to do research and select which mentorship program works for your needs. Regardless of the format, it is important that early within the mentorship program expectations must be established to reduce the likelihood of the mentorship relationship falling between the cracks.

Numerous articles exist in academic and library literature that discuss mentoring programs which focus on providing support to novice librarians. Typically, formal mentoring, such as the one-on-one mentoring format, is discussed at great length, but other models exist like informal mentoring. Informal mentorship has its advantages, for example, it is unstructured and may feel more at ease and, who knows, perhaps those who are reading this piece might be partaking in informal mentoring and might not realize it. For the focus of this article, I will share my experiences related to an informal mentorship program since this is the type of program I was involved in.

Speaking from personal experience, entering the profession and becoming familiar with new expectations was a learning curve. I can say that mentoring has definitely helped me along certain stages and has assisted me in progressing within my career path. Certainly, there were different expectations, but the casual informal mentoring environment assisted me to absorb the workplace culture and obtain a concrete understanding of expectations on the faculty level. Although I had years of experience and transferable skills, the onboarding process seemed to be a different process at the faculty level. For instance, at the informal mentoring level, colleagues shared with me the process of submitting articles to scholarly journals, navigating the tenure process (another topic of its own), and passed on their valuable institutional knowledge.

As one can imagine, mentoring has many benefits, and can assist in improving socialization and provide confidence for a newly graduated librarian. For the new librarian professional, engaging in a mentoring activity may lead to improved performance, instill a sense of belonging, and the possibility of attracting and retaining librarians of color which is in great need in the librarianship profession as studies have shown (Brillant et al., 2013). Studies have demonstrated that “minorities mentors who share common cultural background and serve as role models establish positive rapport and deeper connections; which increases retention of minority librarians in the profession” (Moore et al., 2008, p. 80). The possibility of establishing a mentorship relationship with a minority librarian is a pivotal step forward because it can foster diversity in the profession and it is “essential to establish programs for minority librarians that will increase both retention and job satisfaction” (Brillat, 2013 p. 485).  Speaking casually with librarians and having informal mentoring sessions can allow paraprofessionals, part-time employees, and student workers to explore the range of specialized career options within the librarian profession.

Libraries are the sources of most recruits to the profession and to the graduate programs that offer the necessary master’s degree, the credential that transforms a library worker   into a librarian…the majority of these new recruits were convinced by that work and their contact with librarians to join the profession. (Berry, 2003 p. 38)

As there are many sub-fields and specialties in librarianship, having the opportunity to interact and have conversations with mentors and colleagues provides critical insight into the various specialized careers one may choose to pursue. In my situation, it was helpful to be in a position where I was able to cross-train and obtain firsthand knowledge from existing staff members about the diverse occupations within an academic library. The impact of existing professional staff reaching out to their paraprofessional, volunteer, or student co-workers and introducing them to a future career path cannot be overstated. Considering that NMSU is a Hispanic Serving Institution, it would be ideal in my situation to attract and groom prospective candidates and inform them about the countless opportunities within the profession. During my time as the first Latina archivist at NMSU, I have had the opportunity to discuss my career journey/experiences with two interns. In both separate instances, the interns approached me and asked me questions relating to the profession such as how does one pursue a profession in libraries, what is the duration of the program, is the MLS program offered online or in person format, what was my experience? These questions are some of the questions I was asked, and it was my pleasure sharing my experiences with the interns and possibly I made an impact and hopefully the librarianship profession is further considered a tangible profession. Through invaluable experience and scenarios such as these, I am glad to shed some light and provide my experience and my transition into the profession.

An issue that the profession has been experiencing for years is the fact that an overwhelming number of librarians are reaching retirement age. The library profession is experiencing a wave of retirement and it is critical that new librarians join the profession to replace those who are retiring. Over twenty years ago, as early as 2002, former American Library Association President John W. Berry stated, “in 2009 over 25 percent of librarians will reach or pass the age 65 and nearly two out of three current librarians will retire by 2017,” a trend currently experienced by the profession (Berry, 2002, p. 7). The downward figures in library employment are presently being experienced. The recruitment crisis and challenge of diversifying the workplace require all who believe in the mission of libraries to rise to the occasion. Librarians should not shy away from proactively recruiting the next generation of professionals into the field. The need to rejuvenate the librarianship profession is critical considering the diminishing library workforce population. Key to this effort are senior members of the field who have a variety of expertise and years of service who can provide valuable insight given through advice, support, and guidance. Mentors can attract and recruit prospective librarians to the profession because they can cultivate the next generation of future librarians.

Alluding to cultivating the next generation of future librarians, staffing concerns have been at the forefront for some time and research has pinpointed two major concerns for employment within the library profession: attracting individuals to a library career and increasing diversity within the workforce (Maxey-Harris et al., 2010). Establishing both formal and informal mentor relationships with student workers and paraprofessional staff during their employment may be an important opportunity to address these concerns. According to Maxey-Harris et al. (2010), libraries are among the largest employers on university and college campuses. Student employees make up a significant and vital portion of positions within the academic library. It, therefore, makes sense for librarians and other qualified library staff to take the time to introduce students to the profession and encourage them to attend library school to address diversification within the profession.

Current librarians may be in a prime position to sway and recruit current staff to directly address the dilemmas of the “graying” of the profession, building a more diverse workforce, and support ongoing staffing needs. Touching on recruitment, there has been movement within the American Library Association (ALA) and its related divisions “that have reported the low representation of minorities in librarianship and have responded to this issue be developing diversity-related initiatives, scholarships, and groups” (Brillat, 2013, p. 483). Along with ALA being proactive, other library and information studies programs have created resources such as residency programs to allure and offer hands-on instruction/guidance geared towards minority librarians. Diversifying the library workforce is not a new concept and research indicates that efforts to proactively recruit and retain librarians can be tracked back to the 1930s (Brillat et al., 2013). Increasing and supporting diversity within the profession is critical and there has been efforts to support the need to attract, retain, and advance minorities in the profession. In terms of attracting, retention, and advancing minorities with the profession, mentoring plays an influential role since it is valuable to have connections and network with other individuals and that is where mentoring comes into action. Mentoring can serve as a platform for library personnel to interact, learn from each other and establish a sense of community.

There is a multitude of library literature that covers the importance and value of mentoring and the success that goes along with such an initiative. As studies have shown, mentorship can have a valuable/positive impact and can result in addressing social justice, equity, diversity, and inclusion when recruiting prospective and retaining librarians. Being a librarian of color, I can hope that the act of mentorship may offer or bring some relief when it comes to addressing the well-below numbers of librarians of color that make up the profession. “The latest Association of Research Libraries (ARL) Salary Survey reports that 16.8 percent of professional librarians are from underrepresented groups,” (Reid & Sobczak, 2022, p. 23). After learning that librarians of color make up an exceedingly small portion of the profession, it is imperative that the librarianship profession unite and make it a priority to devote time to usher and retain librarians of color. “Professional associations such as the American Library Association, Medical Library Association, and the Association of Research Libraries are addressing the problem and are working to recruit people of color into librarianship” (Johnson, 2007, p. 407). Johnson continues to discuss mentoring is a game-changer and studies have illustrated that library personnel are twice as likely to look elsewhere for employment if their organizations do not offer mentoring. Evidence shows that retention and promotion of minority librarians is critical to developing a more inclusive profession.  As Chang (2013) states, “having had a librarian as mentors or role models was reported as one of most important reason or contributing factor overall for entrance by minorities into the library field” (p. 191).

“The act of mentoring can assist in navigating and assisting with culture assimilation struggles, develop a sense of belonging, and affirm steps to advancement” (Reid & Sobczak, 2022, p. 26). Reflecting on my first few months when I started my journey as a librarian, a formal mentorship program was not in place but rather an informal type of mentorship environment was the norm. Although a formal mentorship was lacking at my institution, I appreciated the informal mentorship environment since it allowed me to casually talk to my colleagues and it helped me feel a sense of community, navigate challenges and roadblocks in regard to entering a new workplace environment, and learned of potential professional development opportunities are among the benefits of this type of mentorship. The informal mentorship allowed for a more relaxed conversation atmosphere, which allowed me to establish connections with other librarians whom I might not have interacted with regularly. Informal mentorship allowed me the opportunity to view the act of mentorship in a different angle due to the self-directed nature of the type of guidance.

Again, reflecting on the first few weeks of my career as a tenure track faculty in the library profession, I met with a colleague who expressed the importance of representing as a role model to the Hispanic and other marginalized communities on and off campus.  To this day that instruction has resonated with me. Since meeting with my colleague and taking their advice, I have initiated and been part of various efforts to increase the Hispanic community footprint in the archival repository I oversee. Efforts include applying and obtaining funding to acquire rare and unique research materials that document the cultural heritage of New Mexico and the U.S.-Mexico borderlands region, being invited to serve as a grant reviewer for the National Endowment for the Humanities, and overseeing and assisting with two large-scale digitization projects that capture the region’s Hispanic community – all to augment and diversify the library’s holdings. In my personal instance, interacting with a seasoned librarian in an informal mentoring session allowed me the opportunity to interact and engage in conversation with another experienced colleague and bounce ideas off each other. A mentoring relationship can prove to be beneficial because it can instill confidence, increase employee retention, facilitate professional growth and development, and establish a sense of belonging for prospective minorities or for anyone that has an interest in the librarianship profession. As former ALA President John Berry stated in his 2002 Presidential Message, “in order for the profession to serve the increasingly diverse communities, we must build a workforce that reflects that diversity” (Berry, 2002, p. 7). Berry continues to indicate that a “need for more minority library professionals who can identify with people in the minority communities; who can assist in the necessary outreach efforts to serve as those minority residents; and who can serve as role models for minority children using the library” (Berry, 2002, p. 7).

To provide context for the discussion of my first-hand account of transitioning from a student worker to a paraprofessional position and, ultimately, to tenure-track faculty, a literature search was conducted to establish the connection between working in a library as a student or staff member, and then considering librarianship as a career through mentorship. Research terms utilized in the literature search included “academic libraries and employment,” “academic library and career development,” and “library staff and faculty.” Articles included in this literature review fall within the date range of 2002 through 2022.

Literature Review

A significant number of publications exist on the topics of mentorship, staff pursuing a degree in librarianship and the external factors that lead one to pursue the terminal degree. Oliver and Prosser (2017) recognize that candidates entering the librarianship profession often attain undergraduate degrees in other disciplines. As such, it is safe to conclude that not all individuals who pursue a library degree had the initial intention to enter the profession. Further research by Oliver and Prosser (2018) indicated that a desire for a career change and current job dissatisfaction serve as motivating factors to make the switch, among others.

Another common finding within the literature is that prior work in a library is a strong motivating factor for those who pursue a career as a librarian. Several studies highlight that having work experience in a library strongly contributes to the chances of entering the field (Ard et al., 2006). Working in a library presents opportunities for informal conversations with a librarian, which are impactful to students and staff who decide to pursue a career in libraries (Maxey-Harris et al., 2010). Parallel to other findings, Berry (2003) indicated that 50% of recruits into LIS graduate programs had a background working in libraries.

Academic libraries hire many student workers with diverse backgrounds to help carry out essential functions behind the scenes, ranging from shelving books and processing materials to assisting at the circulation desk. Without their labor, abilities, and growing institutional knowledge, libraries could not provide many of their essential services to the campus community (Maxey-Harris et al., 2010). Accordingly, it is imperative that academic librarians and administrators acknowledge the value of these roles and leverage the time spent with these students to motivate and encourage their pursuit of a career in librarianship. For many student employees, while they may not have considered a career in librarianship while being employed on campus, later in life they may reassess their career choices and return to library work (Maxey-Harris et al., 2010). If students enjoy their work and are interested in building the skills to flourish – which can often be readily apparent – libraries should actively accept their influential role in the mentoring and career development of student workers and formally develop programs to assist and encourage the pursuit of library education. The same applies to staff within the library because there are certainly transferable skills that can prove to be beneficial to make the transition to the librarianship profession. In addition, the staff who ultimately decide to make the transition to greater roles in the profession can serve as advocates to encourage and provide mentorship to interested individuals which can result in recruitment with the profession.

This personal reflection and experience-based article aims to add to the conversation about how to effectively serve as a mentor to students and staff which ultimately could lead individuals to pursue a career in the library profession and assist with guidance, vision, and network building.

Personal Background – Librarianship Journey

An article of firsthand experiences and reflection requires that I share my personal background and journey relating to the librarianship path. With more than ten years of experience working in the library at New Mexico State University, I have occupied various positions in the organization. Taking on various positions has enabled me to grow professionally, understand how different units within the library function, and see how the various units comprising a library operate as a system to advance the mission and goals. My work experience has progressed from an entry-level student work-study position to paraprofessional staff, and currently as a tenure-track faculty member. At every level, I have developed an ever-increasing passion for the responsibilities of working within an academic library. The saying, “life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans,” certainly applies to my career within the academic library.

I was introduced to librarianship while an undergraduate student at NMSU pursuing a completely unrelated career path. As a freshman, I was new to the college experience and frankly new to job searching. As I browsed through campus job listings, I came across a student library aid posting and figured I would apply. Fortunately, I got the position, though little did I know the seeds were being sown for my library career. The student position was my first real job, and I was new to the academic library atmosphere. Granted, I had visited public and school libraries in my hometown in rural New Mexico, but I had never experienced an academic library. As months and semesters passed, I soon felt a sense of belonging as I became acquainted with the department where I was employed, technical services, and the people working there. I learned about the basic functions of technical services and the importance of this work in providing access to information resources to the research community. I was assigned several tasks, such as checking journals and periodicals into the library management system, adding the property stamp to incoming materials, checking various databases to ensure links were working properly, and many other duties. In doing this work, I acquired valuable skills, which followed me as I accepted new positions with greater responsibilities in the library. While working in the technical services unit for two years, I transferred into another student position to further my knowledge and cross-train as a student cataloger.  This position gave me more responsibilities, as I had to rely on my newly acquired skills to ensure accurate records were being entered into the library catalog.

I remained in the student cataloger position for two years of my undergraduate studies, and it was during this time that I began to think about my future after graduating from college. As I was finishing my criminal justice and Spanish degrees, the 2008 recession hit, and finding a job became difficult. My job search led to several interviews, but I had no success in landing a position utilizing my criminal justice degree. As graduation approached, I became aware of a full-time, entry-level cataloger position within the unit where I currently was employed as a student. I was delighted to hear about the job and immediately started crafting my resume. The position was posted, and I applied. Needless to say, my student cataloging experience proved to be essential, and I was hired as one of the four full-time catalogers in the department. After holding the cataloger position for two years, I decided I wanted a change of pace in the library environment.

I enjoyed working in the academic library atmosphere, so, as I became familiar with the library’s culture, I decided to venture out and apply for another position in a different department. I applied, interviewed, and was offered the library specialist position within the Archives and Special Collections (ASC) department. I had no clear idea of what this new position would entail, other than what I had read in the job posting. Considering that the librarianship field has many specialties, it would have been advantageous to have had some sort of network or mentorship with an existing librarian to fully understand the various niches of an academic library. It is important to convey that librarians and library staff are in the position to promote career advancement within the workforce and mentorship may lead to the retention of library workers because mentors quite often possess a mixture of experience levels that can often foster professional growth. Library mentors for example could provide advice, and support, assist with professional development, and provide feedback. In my situation, I was advised by staff members to apply for staff positions within the library and this validates the fact that library staff (mentors) could inform about opportunities to advance within the profession. In essence, librarians may encourage current staff or students to look into the librarianship profession by making them aware that it is a viable career option.

Circling back to exploring various niches of the library, working in the ASC department made me realize that there were other formats other than a collection of books housed in a library. Exposing myself to the archival realm of the library made me realize that there was a lot more to a library that housed unpublished, unique, and one-of-a-kind material. As I continued working in the archives, I realized that I enjoyed working with archival collections. The reason being first, and foremost, was that I had the opportunity to preserve and make historical collections available to researchers. Second, I was able to assist people and connect them with archival resources while having the opportunity to serve and assist my community.

I held the library specialist position within ASC for approximately nine years. While I held the library specialist position, on two occasions the faculty archivist position became vacant. While the archivist position became vacant and being the sole staff member in the unit, I knew that archival collections still needed to be processed, collections needed to be maintained, and researchers still needed to be assisted. I used the knowledge that I acquired over the years to keep the unit running efficiently. Working without a faculty member supervisor gave me hands-on experience on how it might feel to manage a unit within an academic library. As I gained confidence in taking on more responsibilities, the thought of pursuing a graduate degree in Library and Information Science crossed my mind.

In 2017, I began looking at distance education programs, since moving was not feasible. As McCallips (2008) noted, distance education programs are on the rise because of their convenience; it is no longer necessary to relocate to another state to obtain a degree in library and information science. McCallips (2008) further states that “as a result, it is natural for persons who really enjoy their work to desire to move into a professional position with the same library upon completing the library and information science (LIS) degree” (p. 287). I am a firm believer that things happen for a reason, and around the same time, I was looking into online library science programs. At that time, a former associate dean of the library sent out an email to staff about the establishment of a New Mexico cohort within the Department of Information Science at the University of North Texas (UNT). I applied and was accepted into the UNT program. Having worked in a library environment for so many years certainly shaped my decision to enroll in a library and information science program.

A few months after obtaining my degree, the vacant faculty position in the unit where I worked was advertised nationally. Without a second thought, I applied for the tenure-track faculty position and patiently waited for the posting to close. Applying to a faculty position was a new experience for me, as was the more rigorous interview process. I made the short list of potential hires and was invited to an on-site interview for the faculty position. A few weeks after the interview I was offered the position and began my transition to a faculty member. I earned my MLS with a specialization in archival studies in August 2018 while working in a full-time staff position in my library.

Transitioning into a faculty position

In January 2019, I transitioned from full-time paraprofessional staff to tenure-track faculty archivist with the rank of assistant professor. Transitioning was an adjustment in many aspects and in hindsight, obtaining some sort of mentorship would have been valuable to better equip myself for what a tenure track position entailed since it is a world of its own due to different requirements.

Learning the different requirements of the two positions was essential to moving seamlessly into the new role. The transition included familiarizing myself with the responsibilities and expectations of a faculty appointment. As I proceeded in my new position, library colleagues sent words of encouragement and supportive messages, which helped me feel more at ease and established a sense of community. As I mentioned earlier, the institution where I am employed does not have a formal mentoring program, the outpouring of support could be viewed as a form of informal mentorship.

While in my current position, I have benefited from informal mentoring in many ways. Informal has allowed me to exchange ideas and learn about various professional development opportunities, publishing prospects, and other questions/concerns related to the tenure-track process. Consulting with my colleagues who happen to be new librarians has been advantageous because it has assisted with acclimating and easing into the tenure-track journey. I feel that the informal mentoring structure has assisted in many ways and helped to fill the void of having no traditional one-on-one formal mentoring. Being part of the informal mentoring, has proved to be beneficial because it is a venue where junior tenure-track faculty can obtain support in various areas such as prospective publishing opportunities, obtaining feedback on works in progress, and increasing collegiality. It was helpful to have informal mentoring because it helped, knowing there was an opportunity to discuss with colleagues who are tenure-track and exchange information and issues about demystifying the tenure process.

By chance, if there is not an opportunity or momentum to establish a mentoring program at your institution, there is another alternative worth exploring such as remote mentoring. Since the COVID-19 pandemic, teleworking and working in a remote setting have made individuals realize the powerful capabilities of online platforms such as Zoom and Microsoft Teams platforms to connect with one another who might be facing a location barrier.  Remote mentoring has its benefits and can serve as an outlet for those who may have limited time when it comes to serving as a mentor or the person being mentored. Remote mentoring might be a good fit for those needing flexible meeting times, this option could be optimal for those with a busy schedule. The convenience factor could be an enticing factor along with the ability for both parties involved to learn from each other due to being exposed to new cultures and customs. As imagined, like with any mentoring program there are drawbacks and controversies relating to remote mentoring. Drawbacks relating to this type of mentoring could include communication barriers such as not being able to read body language and facial expressions, lack of chemistry due to not meeting in person, and of course technology issues. Regardless of the mentoring format, there are assorted options available to fit the needs of almost all. There is not one approach that suits all, and my recommendation is to test a mentoring approach which suits your needs.

Revisiting my time when I assumed the faculty position, it was certainly a big adjustment for a long-time staff employee. As a tenure-track faculty member, my daily schedule is quite different and is full of tasks ranging from physical processing of archival materials, teaching archival instructional sessions, and supervising others to university and professional service, publishing, and presenting at conferences. With these added responsibilities, time management is critical. As tenure-track faculty, I am expected to perform in the areas of librarianship, scholarship and creative activity, service, and extension and outreach. Allocating time to each area is necessary to keep on track for promotion and tenure. In addition, fulfilling the requirements of the tenure process will allow for growth as it presents new opportunities as I continue progressing in my career.

In retrospect, one of the biggest challenges for me has been trying to understand the tenure-track process and perhaps it would have been advantageous if I turned to a librarian for guidance immediately. Guidance is critical to assist and move seamlessly into any position and especially with navigating and attaining the tenure process. Junior faculty may turn to internal and external training programs that can provide career development opportunities to bridge the gap and develop promising junior faculty. With that in mind, a junior faculty may wonder, where does one start in producing a publishing record and which peer-reviewed publications to turn to? I took advice from other faculty members who have mentored me and provided guidance, and started submitting to local and regional publications to become acquainted with the academic writing and publishing processes. Trying to build a publishing record is daunting. One must learn what is editorially expected, become acquainted with the variety of potential publishing outlets, put in countless hours researching and writing, and learn how to tell a story to others.

Mentoring Opportunities – Professional Associations

Seeking external career development opportunities sponsored by professional associations on the national and local levels may assist junior faculty to cultivate relationships and advance within the profession. Professional associations play an active role and serve as a venue to receive mentoring. As mentioned previously, professional associations can be at the national, regional and local levels. These associations can provide valuable information for both new and seasoned librarians. For instance, the ALA is a great venue to start searching for mentoring activities. Within ALA there are several mentoring opportunities that can guide a wide range of library personnel such as newly graduated librarians to established librarians. ALA is one professional association, but there are many to fit the needs of librarians.

Mentoring within Academic Libraries

The concept of mentorship in an academic library, regardless of the format delivered is valuable since it provides instrumental guidance, knowledge and allows early career librarians the opportunity to engage with others within the profession. Effective mentorship in academic libraries is needed in order for new librarians to adapt and have an avenue to seek professional development opportunities and stay current with the profession. As implied earlier, no one-size fits all mentoring model can be applied to every librarian. Librarians have various needs and numerous factors come into play such as strengths and weaknesses one brings to the profession and background knowledge to pinpoint a range of factors. It is important to establish a mentoring program that could suit and adjust to one’s needs.

Challenges to mentorship in librarianship

Mentorship programs are powerful network opportunities and a great avenue to explore workplace expectations, but challenges may be experienced when trying to establish a successful mentorship program. Challenges may include a lack of library administrative support, no interest in participating in such initiative, lack of workforce diversity to generate minority interest in mentoring, and simply being stretched thin with a heavy workload to devote time to mentoring (James et al, 2015). It may take time to cultivate a mentorship program, but the result will be beneficial and fruitful. I urge my fellow seasoned librarians to consider serving as mentors and to those who are beginning their careers to pursue the idea of mentoring.

Acclimating to the Academic Library Culture

Transitioning from a staff to a faculty position within the same academic library has advantages. For example, being familiar with the workplace culture and possessing institutional knowledge was advantageous for me. I felt that from day one, I could jump in and tackle certain projects that needed attention that were beyond my reach as a staff member. During my first semester, I adjusted to my new role and early on I had an idea that informal mentoring would be the ideal format for me considering there were colleagues that could assist me along the way. To my advantage, I had the chance to present at conferences, teach instructional sessions to classes from various academic disciplines, and interact with potential donors.

In the librarianship profession, adapting to change is essential due to the constant evolution of how information is disseminated. Possessing the flexibility trait is key and finding the right mentoring program is important and one must do research when trying to locate the right fit for your needs.

Reflection

Reflecting back on my career journey, I encountered key challenges such as being knowledgeable about library career path opportunities and the need for clear mentoring and guidance. As discussed throughout this paper, librarians in the field can directly address the challenges mentioned and play a pivotal role by providing formal or informal mentorship – mentorship can impact someone’s career path.  Librarians are in the position to offer support and guidance to library staff and students through the act of mentorship, a role which I value and plan to participate in so that I can provide motivation, support, and development to help those just beginning their career path. Mentorship is critical as librarians in the workforce have on-the-job training/experience and therefore can build a foundation and a sense of belonging to others considering pursuing the librarianship profession.

Looking back upon my career thus far, I feel fortunate for the path I have followed at the NMSU Library. My employment at all levels taught me valuable skills, which I have transferred to my current faculty position. The knowledge I have gained at every step in the process has benefited me greatly and given me an advantage during the transition from one position to another. Being familiar with the structure, resources, goals, and culture of my library, not to mention the network of colleagues around me, has been extremely advantageous in transitioning into my new role. In addition, I enjoy the fact that I have the opportunity to serve my community and continue to work with researchers, and donors whom I have worked with in the past and in addition build new relationships.

Advice on being an effective mentor and summary

I never could have imagined that starting my library employment, as a student aid, would open the doors to a career in librarianship. Looking back, I am thankful that I applied for that student aid position.  It is the foundation upon which I have been able to build, step by step, each succeeding level of my library career. Navigating and becoming familiar with the librarianship profession can be challenging for some and without guidance and support from mentors, it can be difficult to consider moving up the career ladder. Needless to say, mentors are in a position to offer constructive feedback and, most importantly, share valuable knowledge and experience. I have noted some key elements of an effective mentor:

  • Provide assistance in career vision and setting goals
  • Provide support, guidance, and offer constructive feedback
  • Share institutional knowledge and experience
  • Offer support and serve as an active listener

These are a few key elements to consider serving as an effective mentor, not an exhaustive list by all means, but principal elements to keep in mind. Serving as a mentor as imagined requires dedication from both parties involved. Essentially, the outcome depends on the dedication spent and the time devoted.

I hope the experiences shared throughout this paper can increase awareness of the value of mentorship that existing librarians can instill to make a positive impact within the profession. In my new role as faculty, I aspire to mentor and usher in the librarians of tomorrow by introducing them to the profession. My hope while in my current position is to assume a role as a mentor to others who might make a similar transition, so their experiences are encouraging.

References

Ard, A., Clemmons, S., Morgan, N., Sessions, P., Spencer, B., Tidwell, T. & West, P.J. (2006). Why Library and Information Science? The Results of a Career Survey of MLIS Students Along with Implications for Reference Librarians and Recruitment. Reference and User Services Quarterly, 45(3), 236–248.

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