Career Strategies for Librarians
Mentoring: A First Step on the Road to Success
by Teri R. Switzer
The learning never ends, nor should it. Even though you have spent eighteen or more years in school,
have just received your graduate degree in library and information science, and are in your first post-MLS
job, there is still more to learn. Generally, your supervisor will provide you with the orientation and
training you need to be successful in your job. But what about being successful in your career and
profession? How can you ensure you will be a successful librarian -- one who may make a difference in
a child’s life by opening his world with a book, one who may earn tenure and promotion, one who may
become a library director, or one who may be an innovative teacher or professor? The answer is
simple. You need to connect with a mentor.
What’s a Mentor?
Mentoring has traditionally been defined as a relationship in which a more experienced person helps
guide the career of a younger junior member as he or she “navigates the world of work” (Kram 1985). It
has also been called academic socialization and a collegial process that helps shape the academic
community (Knight & Trowler 1999). However, a mentor is most commonly defined as someone who
guides you through a particular point in your life and/or career. A mentor is someone who gives you
support and encouragement as well as constructive criticism.
The Bright Side of Mentoring
To become successful and advance professionally, you must develop a network of people who can help
open doors (Moody 2004). You also need someone who can be an important resource in your self-
improvement. Entering into a mentoring relationship has many advantages, including higher job
satisfaction, greater career advancement, and less work conflict (Dreher & Ash 1990; Goodwin &
Stevens 1998; Nielson, Carlson, & Lankau 2001; Tenenbaum, Crosby, & Gliner 2001).
But it isn’t only the protégé who benefits. The organization also benefits from mentoring relationships
because mentors help create an atmosphere that is conducive to positive socializing. They also instill a
positive attitude toward the organization, which in turn improves productivity and fosters retention and
leadership skills (Browne-Ferrigno & Muth 2004; Goodwin & Stevens 1998; Goodwin, Stevens, &
Bellamy 1998; Lankau & Scandura 2002).
The Dark Side of Mentoring
Although its advantages are numerous, mentoring is not without its disadvantages. In fact, some
mentoring relationships can be characterized as dysfunctional or destructive (Johnson 2007). Of
course, one hopes that if a mentoring relationship does not produce the desired results, either the
mentor or the protégé will discontinue the association before it becomes harmful.
Disadvantages of a mentoring relationship can include:
Exploitation when the mentor uses his or her position to get something from the protégé. An example is
when a mentor uses the protégé to do his or her research for a publication and does not credit the
Frustration for the protégé if the mentor is not accessible or has not been an active mentor.
Jealousy on the part of the mentor when the protégé succeeds, whether as a result of the mentoring or
not (Scandura 1998).
What Does a Mentor Do?
The role of a mentor can be multifaceted. Some act as coaches, others confidants, while others are
more like guidance counselors. Look for a mentor who can do the following things:
Provide support by being an attentive listener, offering encouragement about your potential for success,
being willing to collaborate on projects, and creating a safe environment that encourages risk-taking and
provides the opportunity to develop professionally and personally.
Initiate sponsorship and share power by encouraging participation in professional committees, offering
to co-author papers or presentations, and endorsing your research.
Demystify the system by explaining how the library or organization works, who is who on the campus or
within the community, what skills and competencies are needed to excel, how to advance, and what to
avoid along the way.
Nurture your dreams and support aspirations by affirming your strengths and potential.
Foster networks by introducing you to others in the field and encouraging you to seek the advice of others.
What Makes a Good Mentor?
Interestingly, not everyone is cut out to be a good mentor. If you are going to invest your time and commit
to establishing a productive mentoring relationship, it is important to have a mentor who is committed to
being a successful mentor to you. Mentors need to:
Possess personal integrity.
Commit to collegiality.
Have a fundamental orientation to helping others.
Possess a positive emotional affect.
Be self-aware (Johnson 2007).
Tips for Protégé Success
However, simply having a mentor does not make someone successful. As the protégé, you have
responsibilities that will help the relationship be a productive and successful one.
Make sure you are comfortable with your mentor. Can you talk freely with him or her? Can you relate to
him or her as far as what your goals in life and your career are?
Be honest and straightforward with your mentor. Make sure he or she knows what you need help with.
Don’t assume your mentor will intuitively know what you need.
Conduct a self-analysis so you know what your strengths and weaknesses are. Then ask your mentor
to help you address them.
Do not expect your mentor to be your personal counselor. Expect advice and tips on what you can do to
advance in your career, your research, and your studies, but do not expect your mentor to counsel you on
your personal problems.
Beginning your first professional position can be a stressful experience. Don’t let your learning end
when you finish library school. Career success involves much more than having that MLS degree. Your
career is a constant journey; take advantage of as much help as you can to ensure you are successful,
happy, and productive.
Browne-Ferrigno, T. & Muth, R. (2004). Leadership mentoring in clinical practice: Role socialization,
professional development, and capacity building. Educational Administration Quarterly, 40, 468-494.
Dreher, G. F., & Ash, R. A. (1990). A comparative study of mentoring among men and women in
managerial, professional, and technological positions. Journal of Applied Psychology, 75, 539-546.
Goodwin, L. D., & Stevens, E. A. (1998). An exploratory study of the role of mentoring in the retention of
faculty. Journal of Staff, Programs, & Organizational Development, 16, 39-47.
Goodwin, L. D., Stevens, E. A., & Bellamy, G. T. (1998). Mentoring among faculty in schools, colleges,
and Departments of Education. Journal of Teacher Education, 49, 334-343.
Johnson, W. B. (2007). On being a mentor. Mahwah, N. J.: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.
Knight, P. T. & Trowler, P. R. (1999). It takes a village to raise a child: Mentoring and the socialisation of
new entrants to the academic professions. Mentoring & Tutoring, 7, 23-34.
Kram, K. E. (1985). Mentoring at work: Developmental relationships in organizational life. Glenview, IL:
Scott, Foresman and Co.
Lankau, M. J., & Scandura, T. A. (2002). An investigation of person learning in mentoring relationships:
Content, antecedents and consequences. Academy of Management Journal, 45, 779-790.
Moody, J. (2004). Faculty Diversity. New York: RoutledgeFalmer.
Nielson, T. R., Carlson, D. S., & Lankau, M. J. (2001). The supportive mentor as a means of reducing
work-family conflict. Journal of Vocational Behavior, 59, 362-381.
Tenenbaum, H. R., Crosby, F. J., & Gliner, M. D. (2001). Mentoring relationships in graduate school.
Journal of Vocational Behavior, 59, 326-341.
About the Author:
Teri Switzer is Interim University Librarian/Director of the Auraria Campus Library, serving the University
of Colorado at Denver and Health Sciences Center, Metropolitan State College of Denver, and the
Community College of Denver.
Article published Aug 2007
Disclaimer: The ideas expressed in LIScareer articles are those of their respective authors and do not
necessarily represent the views of the LIScareer editors.