Thursday, April 10, 2014

The Power of Mentors, by Ryan Claringbole

photo by Niall Kennedy

In the beginning

After graduating with your MLIS, you might be a chaotic mixture of fear and naïveté. You just finished getting trained and taught on what to expect in libraries. You are ready to take those lessons, apply your own spin on things, and get things moving! Yay! And yes, you realize that getting a job will be very difficult, but you think once you get a job then the fun would begin!


Batman #404 (1940) by Frank Miller & David Mazzucchelli

This is not to say that actually getting a job in the profession is easy, because I’m pretty sure most of us realize the high degree of difficulty it is to go through the long, arduous task of applying, interviewing, and finally be offered a position. I was lucky enough to be offered a position a few months after graduating, and upon arrival I was raring to go, ready to take on the world. To my surprise, I found that working in a new job is like being thrown into the deep end of a pool (your new institution) that is located in the middle of an ocean (the profession)...and I didn’t know how to swim. The results are similar: lots of flailing about, gasping for air, and the doggie paddle works for only so long. The scariest thing about this to me? It’s that it is cyclical and happens with each new position. [Editor’s note: Cosigned.]

Who to turn to?

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles #1 by Kevin Eastman & Peter Laird

What saved me was going back and talking to those that used to supervise or advise me. My mentors. Not official mentors; they do not rock badges with “mentor” on them (I don’t think), but they provided me with the advice and steady counsel I needed. Mentors are those that I trust and offer me guidance; they provided context, strategies, tips, and access to more contacts that I should talk to. What’s more, they don’t judge me for ignoring their advice and support my decisions.

Over the years, I have been able to take what they taught me and apply it to other positions and situations. I have also added to the list of people I consider mentors. To this day, I still talk with the person that I consider my first mentor, and also talk with someone I recently started corresponding with to get advice. The thing is, many people I talk with are so generous in offering their guidance and advice. Maybe it has something to do with the profession. When you boil it down, a librarian’s job is to help others, right? All I know is that I’ve had a few different positions since that first one, and with each step those that I’ve consulted with have offered invaluable advice for me to follow. In fact, looking back I’ve learned the following: the positive parts of the product of my work are mostly a result of taking what I’ve learned from my mentors - either their offered words of wisdom or watching them work - and not a result of my formal learning. This is partly why I believe we should incorporate apprenticeship into library programs.

For those of you that are new to the profession or are planning on joining, please look for people you respect and talk with them. I don’t mean badger them relentlessly, because frankly many people are not able to help everyone. There are people that I’ve encountered that were not able to share their advice with me for one reason or another, and that’s more than fine... it’s expected. What you need to keep in mind is to not hesitate and not be intimidated by your own insecurity to reach out to someone you admire for the occasional question. You might receive an answer back stating that they can’t help you out at that moment, but possibly might share someone they know who can. Also remember that when you ask for an opinion on something (why didn’t I get this job, did you like the report I sent you, etc.) be prepared for an honest answer. Mentors are not meant to stroke your ego or be a “yes” person. They will offer you their honest thoughts, and often these are the thoughts we need to hear the most whether we know it or not. 

And then…? 

How to repay your mentors? I honestly don’t believe you can. I mean, common courtesy is always essential. You don’t call up a mentor, ask them for advice, and just slam down the phone without saying a simple thanks. But how does one repay someone for sharing their knowledge and experience? I haven’t found it yet. What I think, and I emphasize think, is that it is a “pay it forward” system. You can repay by taking the time and offering advice and counsel to those that ask it of you. We eventually fill up with knowledge and experience, and there might come a time where someone asks for your help on it and, gosh darnit, you might be the one that can help them! Eventually, there will be a network of professionals, each with their own wisdom and experience - their own skill set, if you will - and they can continue to pass down their advice to the future generations.

Batman #1 (2011) by Scott Snyder & Greg Capullo

tl:dr - Find mentor(s). Realize that people in this profession want to help others. Goal is to acquire enough knowledge, experience, skills, and patience to eventually mentor others in the future.

Ryan is a Digital Services Librarian at the Chesapeake Public Library System, and is always looking to learn more from others. This is his second post for LtaYL; his first was You Are Paid in Smiles.” Please contact and/or share your thoughts with him on Twitter @librarianry.

1 comment:

  1. As a mentor I can second your pay it on, if one of the folk I have helped and supported goes on to do great things fab, but better still they go on to help others, I have won :-) Thank you.