Mentoring Musing

We are still in the winter intersession at the college where I work, and I’m trying to use some of these quieter January days to work on projects that take a bit more focus (though I admit that focus is definitely a challenge right now with so much Covid uncertainty). I’m working with several colleagues across my university on plans for a pilot mentoring initiative, which has got me reading about and thinking about mentoring in all its forms — formal and informal, peer and nonpeer, the roles of mentor and mentee — more than usual.

When I first started at the college where I work almost 14 (!) years ago as Head of Instruction, there was a formal mentoring program for new faculty in the Library and other departments. I participated in that during my first year — I was paired for a few lunches and meetings with a tenured faculty member in another department, and it was useful to learn from her perspectives on the college. While the college no longer has the same formal mentoring program, a new faculty orientation program has been developed that I think meets many of the same mentoring goals. Faculty in the Library and other departments move through a daylong orientation in late summer, and come back together for several additional meetings with more experienced faculty throughout their first year. This programming helps new faculty learn more about the expectations for their work, including service and scholarship, and also helps build a cohort of faculty from different departments in the college, which I think is especially valuable for Library faculty.

In my own work in the Library as a supervisor, mentoring is a huge component of my job and something that I really enjoy. We don’t have a formal mentoring program in the library, in part because there are many folx in our library who are a department of one, and it’s proven more useful for librarians in those roles to connect with colleagues at the other libraries in our consortial university who do similar work. My colleagues and I all engage in informal peer mentoring — I’ve written a bit in the past on the ways we try to support library faculty research and scholarship — and we discuss service opportunities (and challenges) both formally during my meetings with colleagues and informally in department meetings or otherwise. I try to plan a meeting at least once a year to check in and see where folx are at in their mentoring wants and needs, and to talk about changes we might make to help meet them.

As I draft these plans for the pilot mentoring initiative I’ve also been paying more attention to myself as a mentee or potential mentee. At this point in my career there seems to be lots of overlap between mentoring and networking (maybe that Venn diagram is trending toward a circle?). I have definitely appreciated colleagues in leadership roles who’ve discussed their and my careers with me, discussions that do have a mentoring feel to them. And while I admit that Twitter’s been more challenging than usual for me recently (see above re: Covid uncertainty), as a longtime Twitter user I’m so appreciative of Library Twitter which I think can also allow for informal mentoring (and mentee-ing). I try to be available on Twitter in that way, especially when jobs are posted at my college or university.

I’m excited about the pilot mentoring program my colleagues and I are planning, and am looking forward to moving it forward this semester. Have you had good (or even not so good) experiences as a mentor or mentee? We’d love to hear about them in the comments.

We Have Already Made It

I’ve spent the last few weeks of what has been an unusually hectic start to the semester thinking lots about Emily’s post from last month, Breaking the “Fake It” Habit. If you haven’t read it yet, I recommend that you head on over and do, I can wait. Emily writes about fear of not knowing at work, especially topics or workflows that it seems like everyone else knows, and feeling the pressure to present ourselves as knowledgeable and competent (imposter syndrome, for example).

Emily’s terrific post hit home for me, and I’m planning to share it with all of my colleagues in the library where I work. As the director I strive to create an environment where all library workers in all of our various titles and full-time/part-time status can feel comfortable asking questions, making mistakes, learning and adding to our skill sets. I also struggle with the embarrassment that I’ve felt and feel when I make mistakes, am asked a question I don’t know the answer to, or realize that others around me seem to know something that I don’t. In my best moments I can stall for a bit of composure-regaining time with that classic reference interview opener, “that’s a good question!” But not-knowing is hard: it can make us feel exposed and unworthy, which is an uncomfortable place to be.

In trying to build a habit of being gentle with myself when I’m in that uncomfortable space, I’ve found it helpful to remember that our patrons likely have these same experiences. When we don’t know something we are just like our students, when they come to the library for the first time and aren’t sure how to find what they need. Or our faculty colleagues, who may be newly-hired with prior experience at very different institutions from our own, or who are so busy with their work that they haven’t been able to keep up with announcements about library resources and services.

The university system my college is part of is in the midst of our library services platform migration this year, which, while stressful in many ways, could give all of us the opportunity to build stamina around not-knowing. The system will be new to all of us and used by all of us, from the folx hired just this year to those with 30+ years under their belts, for public services and technical services and everything else our small but mighty library does. No one knows everything, and there are always opportunities for learning in library work. With the migration here I’m hoping we can all — myself included — ask questions when we need to learn more, ask for help when we need it, and be gentle with ourselves, our colleagues, and our patrons.

Emily concludes her post by discussing a new opportunity she’s taking on at her library, and vowing to ask questions and stand in the uncomfortable space of not-knowing. I’m drawing inspiration from her, pushing back on “fake it til you make it,” and reminding myself that we have already made it, because asking questions is part of the job.

Supporting Each Other as Librarian Researchers

We’re at an interesting stage in the library where I work. Retirements and folks moving on to other opportunities have meant that we’ve done a fair amount of hiring over the past almost-five years. The result is that right now we have more untenured library faculty than tenured, and most of our tenured library faculty are interested in seeking promotion in the future. With so many research-active librarians (myself included!), I’ve been thinking a lot about how best to support us all in our scholarly goals. We’re all at different stages in our scholarly work, some beginning to develop a research agenda, and others immersed in long-term projects; some of us working individually, and others in collaboration with colleagues in and outside our library, at our institution and others.

I’ve been interested to read about Angie’s and Hailley’s experiences at the Institute for Research Design in Librarianship, which have provided lots of food for thought about how to integrate research into our work as academic librarians. At my university we’re fortunate that library faculty have research leave available for the first 5 years of their tenure track (as do faculty in other departments), and all librarians have a fairly generous annual leave allocation and can apply for additional research time as well. While library faculty are on 12-month contracts and still don’t have as much time for their research as do faculty in other departments, the various forms of leave are super important for making progress on our scholarship.

Even with our leave, it can be a challenge to develop and sustain our research in practice. Over the summer I spent some time talking with my colleagues in small groups of folks who are at roughly the same point in their tenure or promotion track, chatting over coffee about what kinds of support they’re most interested in, and thinking on ways we might all support each other. Collectively our research is topically diverse: some of us work primarily in LIS, others outside of LIS, and some do both. We’re a small library — including me, we have 13 library faculty right now — and, combined with our varying degrees of experience in scholarly research, we’re in a good position to mentor each other both collaboratively as well as individually.

It’s been terrific to see the informal mentoring and support we’re all giving each other at the library where I work, and I’m actively working on ways we can keep that going and add more structure. Each week over the summer I blocked two hours in our library classroom for what we’re calling reading-writing-research coworking. Scholarly work can be lonely work, and while it’s expected that we’ll do our scholarship off-campus while on those various forms of leave, we wanted to make some space for that work together in the library as well. Everyone’s schedule is different, and of course folks were out for vacation over the summer, too, but we held that space and time every week for whomever was around and available (myself included!) to come in and get some work done on their research.

With the busy semester starting up soon (and our library classroom needed for instruction) we will probably reduce the coworking timeslots to once or twice a month, and I’m thinking on other opportunities for support. Earlier in the summer I pulled together an annotated list of research-focused resources, including long-time favorites like A Library Writer’s Blog and relative newcomer The Librarian Parlor, just to name two. I’ve shared this with my colleagues and left it open for editing so that we can continue to add to it. During our summer group chats I also heard that more informal opportunities for research conversations would be welcome, so I’m hoping to schedule some time for coffee and cookies and research conversations a few times during the upcoming semester, too. And I’ll keep asking my colleagues what they need to support their research; in my experience it’s completely normal for a research agenda and practice to evolve over time, and I expect we’ll need to change or add to our scholarly support strategies over time, too.

What are your best practices for supporting librarian research? Drop us a line in the comments and let us know.

More Final Reflections

Like Melissa, the time for my farewell post has come. I’ve greatly enjoyed my time writing for ACRLog—I’ve always found that writing helps me to process my thoughts and to reflect on my experiences. ACRLog has allowed me to do just that as I took my first steps into the life of a library professional. Looking back on it, the year has gone very quickly and, on the cusp of my second year, it feels like this year was a practice run. I tried some instruction, I tried some liaison work, I tried some purchasing, and now I’m ready to do it all over again in a more focused, organized manner.

I want to start this post with a few things I’ve learned along the way, or things that have surprised me.

You will be busy

My first few weeks, I had several different people tell me that I would probably feel like I had nothing to do for a good chunk of time, until suddenly I would feel like I had too much to do. They were right. This is exactly what happened for me. My first few weeks, I rattled around the library and filled my days with campus talks because I didn’t know what else to do. Then all of the sudden I had so much to do. I can’t pinpoint when that transition happened, but I know that it happened because, on top of learning more about what my job responsibilities really meant, I had also been saying yes to everything. Yes, I’ll go to that meeting, I have nothing better to do. Yes, I’ll write that book review, I have nothing better to do. These things eventually really do fill up your time.

This isn’t a bad thing, because I like to be busy, but now I’ve entered phase two: trying to figure out what I actually need to work on and what I can let go. Advice for those just starting out: you really can be picky. Your schedule will eventually fill up either way. Take that beginning time just to explore campus and explore where and how you really want to be involved.

Ask for things

Though it may be hard for the timid introverts among us, if there’s something you want, ask for it. You might be surprised. Whether you need something in your space like an extra bookcase or a standing desk, or you want time to pursue a new interest, or you need some extra professional development support, it doesn’t hurt to ask. I’ve been surprised at the help I’ve received when I needed it, but I shouldn’t be. Generally, people do want to support and help you.

Making time for research is hard

I was excited to start organizing my professional life and finally carve out some time for my own research. (Step one: figuring out what my research interests actually are.) It turns out, this isn’t quite so easy to do. As I already mentioned, it’s easy to get busy, and when that happens, it’s even easier for research to slip through the cracks, since it’s such a long-term practice and there are so many more time-sensitive things that need my attention.

I don’t have a good solution to this one yet. Yes, there’s always blocking off time in the schedule, but I’m not always disciplined enough to guard that time judiciously, so sometimes I don’t follow through. At least for now, though, this is my strategy.

How to learn?

It came as no surprise to me that there were things I would need to learn on the job: everything from library culture to how to subscribe to a new database to where donated books go. Generally, I’ve learned by doing. I needed to learn how to make a LibGuide, so I worked at creating one. I needed to learn how to write a book review, so I wrote one. However, I’ve also found that it’s very helpful to be taught things, or to follow along while someone else does something. Yes, I do like taking the time to figure things out on my own, but sometimes it’s more efficient and I learn more if I let someone know that I need help and they show me how they accomplish whatever it is I need to do myself. This way, I can see a good example and ask questions before I make my own attempt.

So, again, ask for help when you need it!


Despite learning some things and certainly feeling more comfortable than I did beginning this job, I still have a long way to go. Some of my goals for this coming year include really getting to know my faculty and their work. I want to be more engaged with the communities I serve, especially students, and I want to develop a deeper knowledge of the subject areas that I cover. This, in turn, will only improve my collection development. There’s also a buying trip in my future, which will be an entirely new challenge and another reason to turn to my colleagues for help and support.

And then there’s all the networking and conferencing that I have yet to learn to do properly. I’ve been working on building my online presence this year, while at the same time working on networking and understanding conferences. I can’t say I have figured everything out about online or in-person networking, but luckily I have more than year to learn and grow. I’m looking forward to everything this next year has in store for me, be it working more with others or getting deeper into librarianship.

Once again, it’s been a pleasure blogging this year and I want to thank ACRLog for the opportunity. Going forward, find me on Twitter or at my website.

Student Workers: What do they owe us, and what do we owe them?

Whether you want to start a new habit or break an old one, the new year is a popular time to reconsider our patterns. In the academic library, the switch between semesters gives us a chance to start over – in the classroom, with our colleagues, and with our student workers. The questions I’ve been asking myself have to do with my role as a student supervisor: What do I owe these students and what should I expect from them?

We owe them mentoring.

Whether it’s in my job description or not, I’m more than a supervisor to our undergraduate student workers. I’m one of the main “adults” (by which I mean non-student, non-teacher) in their lives at school, a sounding board for homework questions but also the delicate issues of college social life. I can think of conversations from last semester where I thought, “Should I give my honest advice here, or let her make the mistakes I made and learned from when I was in college?” Mentoring student workers can be tricky and emotionally taxing, but it is very rewarding.

One of my colleagues says that part of our role as student managers is to be a campus ally, and I agree. Undergraduates face all kinds of real world obstacles during their time in college, from stress and mental health to poverty and family needs. Our student workers view us as a stable presence that can help them navigate campus resources and personal dilemmas. Even as I recognize the emotional labor cost of this work, I believe we owe our students a mentoring relationship, interest in their lives and their success. It’s worth our time, and absolutely part of our job.

We owe them meaningful work.

There’s been a conversation at my library lately about giving our student workers more meaningful work, beyond administrative and clerical duties. We’ve been brainstorming how to ask more of our student workers while still honoring their pay grade and what’s fair. But I don’t think we quite know what we mean by “meaningful work” yet – should we give away all the fun tasks like social media and event planning? Don’t our students expect to get homework done at the desk?

Recently I’ve encountered two models for student work that I found interesting. Hailley Fargo makes a good case for encouraging student employees to provide peer-to-peer reference services in her article for In the Library with the Lead Pipe: “Just like we value a librarian’s subject or functional expertise, we should also value our students’ expertise and the experiential knowledge they bring into their role as peer mentors/leaders…Just like we speak the language of library and information science, our students speak the language of their peers and this can be incredibly powerful.” Careful training and building student worker confidence so that they can handle more complex questions at the reference desk might be one answer to the meaningful work question.

I also had the privilege of meeting with the librarians at Gettysburg College and learning about their Peer Research Mentor (PRM) program, which was created to give student workers a high-impact learning experience beyond the traditional responsibilities of a library student gig. In both of these cases, the authors emphasize the importance of thorough and on-going training, and in an understaffed library that makes me tremble. But even if I am not sure how to find the time for this yet, I admire how the librarians at Gettysburg have worked to make the ongoing training fun and connected to real-world work responsibilities – from “research question of the week” activities to attending and running department meetings. Every library harnesses their student workforce differently, and comparing notes with other librarians will help our library find the way that works for us.

They owe us their labor – within reason.

If job creep bothers me in my position, then I should be a guardian against responsibilities sneaking up on my student employees as well. The librarian at Gettysburg who described the PRM program to me emphasized that these students are separately recruited, trained, and paid to reflect their additional responsibilities, and I think that’s key to harnessing student labor ethically.

I think that job descriptions should be as transparent as possible, regularly revisited, and created in collaboration between manager and employee. I don’t like the words “other duties as assigned,” because I think they crack the door for job creep, and I don’t want to exploit our student workers. And for good and bad, this is the first job of many of our student workers. It’s a good sandbox for them to learn professional norms like reliability, work attire, and taking initiative. It’s also a chance for their supervisors to demonstrate healthy management and boundaries.

We owe them respect.

In my tour of the library at Gettysburg, I was struck by how the staff worked to honor the contributions of their student workers. Student employees who work in rare book repair or the college archive are credited for their labor in archives publications and on the rare book containers themselves. The PRMs, with guidance from their librarian advisors, are trusted to design drop-in workshops and even help teach information literacy sessions. We should show that we value our student workers and their contributions to the library.

We often say they’re the public face of the library, and the assistance they provide makes a lot of things possible. At our library, student workers make regular shelving (and my lunch break!) possible. With great responsibility should come at least a little power – a say in programming or marketing materials, a voice at staff meetings perhaps, or their work memorialized by bookplates and other employee celebrations. Connecting the shelving, printer restocking, and front desk management to our larger mission makes those tasks meaningful too. It’s worth taking the time to help our student workforce see how they advance the mission of the library, and celebrating their contributions how we can.

As I conclude this blog post, I realize that I’ve been thinking out loud and I don’t have a simple definition for the give and take of the librarian/student worker relationship, but I’d like to continue this conversation. How does your library manage and/or mentor its student workforce?