Friday, September 23, 2011

Help Is Out There: Finding a Librarian Mentor, by Jeff Scott

Knowing where to cross the river
I think everyone has had a point where they have been scared. Panic sets in, a bewildering feeling of the unknown. It’s times like these where you come across the rushing river not knowing where to cross safely. It’s at these points in life where it would be helpful to find an expert. Someone who can look at your problem more objectively, break down the problem from an un-emotional state and provide suggestions. More than likely, they will help you re-discover the tools you have always had. The answer is right in front of you, but it sometimes takes someone who has crossed the river before to emphasize confidence in your own abilities to succeed. It’s beneficial to have a mentor or to develop a network of mentors just for these times.

How to find a mentor?
Many library organizations have mentorship programs. ALA Connect and LLAMA both have full mentorship programs. I like ALA Connect since the connections are more informal. You can select a person and become as engaged or laid back as you need. Furthermore, the California Library Association is re-starting its mentoring program. Available on October 1, CLA members can submit an application and get matched by the CLA Management Interest Group.

Other ways to find a mentor
There are more information channels that may be more effective. One technique that many recommend is developing a personal board of directors (a recent article here can provide more detail). They can come from anywhere and it is recommended that some not come from your field to help with perspective. Each can become a confidant for a particular problem you are facing. Depending on what you are comfortable with, this board can give advice on the professional and the personal. Some variants of this are described as True North Groups (recently discussed on Huffington Post) which can be more formal. There is a great librarian example in the San Francisco area called the Information Amateurs Social Club covered by Daniel Ransom at his Pinakes blog.

Consider becoming a mentor      
A recent article from American Libraries emphasizes the many ways the mentor relationship is mutual. Everyone has knowledge or expertise in some way. There may be librarians in the field for quite some time and can provide wonderful advice on the career. Likewise, those may also benefit from the energy and perspective of someone new to the field. Mentorship can work both ways so it’s important to give back to the profession by becoming a mentor. The information and knowledge would be extremely beneficial to pass on.

There are a great many ways to get advice, commiserate, or develop strategy with those you trust. You don’t have to cross the river alone, help is out there.

Jeff Scott is currently the Deputy County Librarian for Tulare County Library. He blogs at Gather No Dust and tweets at jdscott50.

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