Academic Library Mentoring: Fostering Growth and Renewal

ACRL announces the publication of the three-volume Academic Library Mentoring: Fostering Growth and Renewal, edited by Leila June Rod-Welch and Barbara E. Weeg. This thorough work addresses the many dimensions of contemporary academic library mentoring and how best to engage in inclusive, effective mentoring.

Learn more about Academic Library Mentoring in this excerpt from the Introduction by the editors, licensed under CC BY-NC-ND.


Academic Library Mentoring: Fostering Growth and Renewal is a three-volume collection presenting a cross-section of mentoring thought and practice in college and university libraries, including mentoring definitions, practice fundamentals, models, program development, surveys, and analysis. Case studies of library mentoring programs and of the lived experiences of librarians, library staff members, graduate library and information science (LIS) students, and library student employees are included. Through the chapters, the many dimensions of contemporary academic library mentoring can be seen.

Mentoring in libraries implies a belief in the future of library employees; libraries, library systems, and consortia; library associations, societies, and institutes; the profession of library and information science; and, it can be argued, a fundamental belief in the principles libraries uphold, including the value of authoritative information. Mentoring in academic libraries also implies a commitment to the broader institution that the library serves, be it a college, university, or other higher education institution, and to higher education’s values of exploration, discovery, critical examination, and knowledge generation. The affirming dimensions of a mentoring interaction can enhance career development, whether that personal interaction occurs physically face-to-face or through telephone conversations, email exchanges, apps, and synchronous audio/video conferencing. Mentoring has been analyzed and defined by many. Our own mentoring scholarship and practice have been informed by W. Brad Johnson, Bob Garvey, Kathy Kram, Carl Rogers, Carol Gilligan, and others outside librarianship, as well as by those writing about mentoring in the library science professional literature.1

Academic library mentoring involves numerous components, including the mentee, the mentor, the mentorship (the relationship formed between the mentee and mentor), the library organization, the broader institution, knowledge, questions, interpersonal skills, reciprocity, time, and commitment. Intentional, effective, committed mentorships can help mentees understand their roles and develop their identities as librarians, library assistants, or library science students; understand and meet performance standards (including tenure and promotion standards in libraries in which librarians hold faculty status and rank); broaden mentees’ skills or enable a shift to new areas of specialization; acclimate mentees to the culture of the particular library; and discern options for contributing to the larger institution that the library serves and to the library and information science profession. Mentors and mentees alike employ interpersonal, emotional, and information analysis and sharing skills in their relationship. Through mentoring, mentees gain insights, answers to questions, and support, as well as challenges to meet performance standards and to grow beyond their current understanding or practice. Through mentoring, mentors may be invigorated by contributing to the discernment and growth of mentees and by encountering ideas, skills, and approaches different from their own.

I (Barb) also contend that at its best mentoring can lead to organizational improvementby holding up a mirror and magnifier to one’s own practice and to library functioning, values, and assumptions, mentors and mentees who have a desire to improve and who see themselves as change agents can improve our libraries, broader academic institutions, and profession. Mentoring can serve a feedback function. When mentors receive questions from mentees, those questions can signal the need for clearer transmission of information. When mentees express frustrations or concerns about meeting the full scope of their responsibilities, it can lead the organization to re-examine its performance criteria and standards and to modify them or to provide more support. And if the mentoring space is truly safe and confidential, it can provide an opportunity to learn of any problems or discrimination (including microaggressions) and the need for better employee growth and retention strategies.

Employees of academic libraries represent a variety of employee categories. This collection covers mentoring among, by, and for librarians, library staff members, and students. Academic librarians may be library faculty members who hold faculty rank and status in the higher education institutions. In other systems, academic librarians hold the job title of librarian in a library offering a series of increasing ranks, such as assistant librarian or associate librarian. The Academic Librarian Status website lists libraries at which librarians hold faculty status and earn tenure, as well as libraries using different systems, to enable librarians to find an institution similar to their own. The librarian statuses and the number of higher education institutions with those statuses are:

  • Faculty status and tenure – 236 higher education institutions
  • Faculty or academic status but not tenure – 53
  • Mix of professional statuses (tenure-track and non-tenure-track librarians, or faculty and non-faculty librarians, or a combination) – 22
  • Without faculty status but with status similar to tenure (librarians may have formal ranks and renewable contracts with continuing appointment opportunities) – 26
  • Without faculty status – 28.2                                                                                                                                                                                             

Note that not all higher education institutions are included, since in 2018–19 there were approximately 3,700 degree-granting higher education institutions in the United States.3

Mentoring of library staff members is included in this collection. Library staff members as a distinct occupational group includes library associates, assistants, technicians, aides, clerks, and more.4 Several chapter authors discuss mentoring programs designed for graduate library and information science students, library student employees, or other students. Programs are described that are designed to attract minoritized students to the library science profession, to help students discern whether academic librarianship and specific job specializations within academic librarianship are of interest to them, and to gain academic library skills.

In our view, mentoring is additive; it provides unique and significant functions. Mentoring does not alleviate the library and its broader institution from developing realistic performance expectations, standards, and criteria and from communicating them clearly. Mentoring does not alleviate supervisors or administrators from their roles in on-boarding employees, from securing resources needed for the work to be done, and from providing meaningful feedback and evaluation of performance. It does not alleviate library schools and professors from offering the educational and vocational preparation needed to work in libraries. Nor does it alleviate students from learning and preparing to enter the library profession.

Mentoring is not without its controversies. The expectations of those who engage in or organize mentoring may be unrealistic, the relationships formed in mentoring are subject to the failings of all human relationships, and mentoring itself may perpetuate systems of stagnation or dominance.

All parties to academic library mentoring may hold unrealistic expectations. Library organizations may not provide a solid foundation for mentorships, including ethical behavior standards, both for mentoring systems provided formally by the library organization or for informal approaches created organically by employees. Library organizations offering formal mentoring systems may not provide programmatic oversight or training in being a mentee and being a mentor. Mentees may believe that mentors are not only to guide or advise but to decide for mentees. All tenured library faculty and experienced librarians may think they must mentor. Library organizations may expect all to mentor, even when individuals may not have the aptitude, interest, ability, or time to mentor. The service of mentoring may not be recognized and mentors may receive no acknowledgment or benefit for mentoring, other than their own internal satisfaction. There may be hidden expectations, one being that all mentees will be excellent employees (e.g., that all tenure-track library faculty will be tenured and promoted) and that if the mentee does not succeed, somehow at least some responsibility rests with the mentor.

There is a shadow side to mentoring, just as there can be a shadow side to any interpersonal relationship. Mentoring relationships may be ineffective, inappropriate, dysfunctional, or even abusive, unethical relationships in which one party exerts greater power over the other. Mentors may not listen to the goals of mentees or may not discern the needs of mentees and may advocate that mentees follow the mentors’ path to success or to institutional loyalty. Mentees may offer false praise to mentors in order to curry any number of favors, such as recommendations for prized committee membership or research support. Mentors may promote mentees when the mentees’ work is not all that laudatory because, after all, one wants to succeed as a mentor. Conflicts of interest may be created when mentors are expected to evaluate their mentees’ performance, including fulfillment of the standards for continuing appointment and, where applicable, the standards for tenure and promotion. While conflicts of interest are distinct from mentoring dysfunctionalities, conflicts of interest can contribute to dysfunctional relationships. When professional relationships cross into unhealthy personal interactions where professional, institutional, and personal standards of conduct are abandoned and greater perceived power is exerted over another, abuse can occur. Library organizations must provide a mechanism for reporting unethical or illegal behavior and a mechanism for mentees and mentors to discuss their negative as well as positive experiences.

Mentoring relationships and the systems of mentoring provided by academic libraries, broader higher education institutions, or library professional associations may perpetuate the status quo. If this status quo is one of unequal power, dominance, privilege, entrenchment, and suppression of identities or differences, then mentoring may serve to perpetuate what exists. Several chapter authors encourage—no, challenge—us to examine our assumptions about mentoring, to view mentoring as an opportunity to create an environment for all where individuals are not only recruited but retained, to learn from new library personnel, and to design more egalitarian mentoring practices and systems. Intentional, principled mentoring can promote positive growth for all personnel and can renew libraries, institutions, and associations.

Academic Library Mentoring: Fostering Growth and Renewal was written during a time of social inequities and unrest, a worldwide pandemic, continued questioning of the relevancy of higher education, and continued constrictions of library material budgets. Cries for social justice sounded and echoed as author teams met together to write and edit. Even as academic libraries were pivoting their services and resources to meet the needs of faculty, students, and staff at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, authors were conducting literature reviews and reflecting on their libraries’ mentoring practices and their own mentoring experiences. The questioning of the value of higher education and of academic libraries continued in society and on our own campuses. Chapters in this three-volume collection reflect these calls and challenges.

Since current book design places a chapter in only one location in a book, this introduction is designed to help you navigate the volumes and chapters of this collection. Volume one includes chapters one through seven and focuses on mentoring fundamentals and controversies, while volume two contains chapters eight through twenty-one and concentrates on mentoring of library faculty or librarians. Volume three completes the collection with chapters twenty-two through thirty emphasizing mentoring of library science students, library student employees, and library staff.

A matrix of key mentoring dimensions has been used to create a guide to the numerous concepts or combinations of topics presented in and across the chapters (“Analysis of Mentoring Concepts Presented in Chapters,” immediately following this Introduction). The five dimensions of mentoring structure, organization in which the mentoring occurs, mentee characteristics, mentoring purposes and issues, as well as the methodology used to explore mentoring and to present information were used in indicating whether a chapter presented the concept. Can a book mentor? Most of us who work in academic libraries regard the written word as having the ability to transform lives and institutions. May this written collection and the words of the more than sixty contributing authors help you develop your knowledge of mentoring in academic libraries. May we be challenged to improve our practice.

Endnotes

  1. W. Brad Johnson, On Being a Mentor: A Guide for Higher Education Faculty, 2nd ed. (New York: Routledge, 2016); Bob Garvey, A Very Short, Fairly Interesting and Reasonably Cheap Book about Coaching and Mentoring (Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE, 2011); Kathy E. Kram, Mentoring at Work: Developmental Relationships in Organizational Life (Lanham, MD: University Press of America, 1988); Belle Rose Ragins and Kathy E. Kram, eds., The Handbook of Mentoring at Work: Theory, Research, and Practice (Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE, 2007); Carl Rogers, Client-Centered Therapy: Its Current Practice, Implications, and Theory (Boston, MA: Houghton Mifflin, 1951, 1965); Carol Gilligan, In a Different Voice: Psychological Theory and Women’s Development (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1993).
  2. Chris Lewis, “Academic Librarian Status,” updated March 22, 2018, https://academiclibrarianstatus.wordpress.com/2018/03/22/academic-librarian-status/.
  3. The Condition of Education 2020, U. S. Department of Education (Washington, DC: Government Printing Office, 2020), 146, https://nces.ed.gov/pubs2020/2020144.pdf.
  4. “Library Technicians and Assistants,” Occupational Outlook Handbook, U.S. Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics, accessed January 13, 2021, https://www.bls.gov/ooh/education-training-and-library/library-technicians-and-assistants.htm; “List of Support Staff Positions in Libraries,” American Library Association, accessed January 13, 2021, http://www.ala.org/educationcareers/careers/paths/listsupportstaff.