Thursday, 29 September 2011

CPD 23 - Thing 11 - Mentoring

A mentor, a guru like figure to guide you through the mysteries of librarianship. What new library professional wouldn't want such a figure in their life?

That said CPD23’s implication that people should just go up to someone and ask them to take on this role out of the blue seems slightly odd. If you are going to have a formal mentor relationship than perhaps it should spring from some kind of formal process? Have you considered Chartership? Just to pick an example out of thin air.

Thing 11 involves thinking about our experiences of mentorship. Thanks to my attempts to work towards Chartership I have recent experience of being formally mentored. Working with a mentor is at the heart of the process. It's central to the whole ethos. Since this is an important part of my working life at the moment I will be very much looking at mentoring through this prism. I am sure other cpd23ers have looked at it in other ways and I look forward to reading their (your) thoughts on this.

Finding a Chartership mentor

Finding a mentor for Chartership can be a slower process than you might think. The list on the CILIP website is a good place to look but it is not strictly speaking up-to-date. Don’t be put off if you don’t get a reply or the potential mentor isn’t available anymore. Keep at it. You will find someone. I did find my mentor through the list so I shouldn’t really complain.

If you find the official list frustrating you could also try asking your colleagues or other library folk if they know anyone in your area who is registered to mentor Chartership candidates. Alternatively you could always try using one of these online professional networks we are all talking about so much.

The official advice is that it is best to have a mentor who doesn’t work with you because that will give them an outsider’s perspective on what you do. It will also help you to take a broader view of your profession, which is actually a requirement if you want to pass. By the same logic there is an argument for choosing a mentor outside your own sector of the profession.

While looking for a mentor I decided I didn’t want to stretch this too far. I wanted someone who worked in an educational library which would therefore have similar goals and similar challenges to my own workplace. I thought that would make our discussions more helpful. Partly in the spirit of adopting that broader perspective I was more than happy to look beyond further education though. That has worked out very well. My mentor is an Academic Liaison Librarian at a University so her role overlaps with mine enough for us to compare notes. We can talk about issues like building professional relationships with teaching staff and running induction sessions for students and so on. But in some ways she works in quite a different environment to me. For example higher education doesn’t need the behaviour management focus that is actually quite an important part of the job at further education level. On the other hand her libraries are significantly bigger, geared towards a higher level of the education system and they are ‘libraries’ plural which all clearly brings challenges that I haven’t had to face yet.

If you are looking for a Chartership mentor I wish you all the best with the whole process. Good luck finding the right person to guide you through it and good luck with getting all your evidence together.

Working with your Chartership mentor - Being mentored

I'm glad that being mentored is such an important part of the Chartership process. For those of you who are unfamiliar with the qualification it involves putting together a portfolio of evidence which has to prove that you meet certain criteria. This requires careful planning and an ability to step back from your day to day work and think about the wider context and impact of what you're doing. From there you have to reflect upon and improve your own performance. With the guidance of a good mentor this can be very productive. You start to feel that this is a qualification that is giving you new insight into your role and into the profession itself.

Without a mentor it would be very easy to feel that you are getting lost in the maze. I would advise anyone who is considering Chartership to get a mentor as soon as you can. It seems natural to try to get your head round it all and then get a mentor when you feel that you're ready to start. Don't. You can do some background research while you're looking for someone to guide you but start looking early on, if not straight away. You will feel much more comfortable with the whole process once you've talked it through with your mentor.

When I first had a look at the qualification I didn't feel that the criteria were immediately crystal clear. Attending a CILIP working towards chartership workshop was a huge help and all potential candidates should read the book but it was talking them through with my mentor that gave me the confidence to pin the criteria down. One to one guidance has the huge benefit of ensuring that you are confident about what you need to do.

Each mentor / mentee partnership has to work out how they're going to organise the practicalities. In my own case we meet up regularly and we email each other as and when we need to. We've been taking turns to host each meeting which is great because it gives us the opportunity to see each other's workplaces. Apart from simply being interesting that helps us both to put some flesh on our discussions by giving us a better understanding of the physical context of our respective working lives.

I enjoy working with my mentor and I've found it very useful. Most obviously I've relied on her to guide me along the winding paths that lead to Chartership but there have also been other benefits. Perhaps most importantly I've found our meetings very productive in terms of encouraging me to be more reflective about my experiences. That's a key part of the Chartership process but it has also helped me to be a more effective librarian. I'm better able to learn from my experiences at work and to incorporate training experiences into my professional practice. I recommend being mentored and indeed taking the plunge into Chartership.

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