Library Leadership

57. The Mentoring Process with Ginger H. Williams

Ginger H. Williams

Have you ever had someone in your career that has helped you navigate your way through the profession? Whether yes or no, mentoring is a process that can benefit us all. On this show, I speak with Ginger H. Williams, Associate Dean for Academic Engagement and Public Services at the Wichita State University Libraries.

She shares how mentoring is a unique process that can be formal, informal, or even self-directed. Whether you’ve had a mentoring experience and want to think about the ways it works best for our profession, or are looking to engage in the mentoring process this information will prove invaluable. 

Transcript

Adriane:

This is Adriane Herrick Juarez. You’re listening to Library Leadership Podcast, where we talk about libraries, and leadership, and speak with guests who share their ideas, innovations, and strategic insights into the profession.

Have you ever had someone in your career who has helped you navigate your way through the profession? With a yes or no, mentoring is a process that can benefit us all. On this show I speak with Ginger H. Williams, Associate Dean for Academic Engagement and Public Services at the Wichita State University Libraries. She shares how mentoring is a unique process that can be formal, informal, or even self-directed. Whether you’ve had a mentoring experience and want to think about the ways it works best for our profession, or are looking to engage in the mentoring process, this information will prove invaluable. Enjoy the show.

Welcome to the show, Ginger.

Ginger H. Williams:

Thank you, I feel really honored that you asked me to be on the podcast.

Adriane:

Question #1: Oh, it’s so nice to have you. And, we’re here today to talk about the mentoring process. First of all, why is mentoring important in libraries? 01:11 

Ginger H. Williams:

Mentoring benefits everyone because we all need professional guidance from time to time. In particular though, mentoring helps us think outside of our day-to-day activities, and helps us connect with ideas and inspiration from other institutions. When a librarian has a mentor in their own library they learn more about how to do their job well and what to do to succeed in their current position. 

I think each of us also needs a mentor who works at a different institution to help expose us to ways we could do our jobs a bit differently. Or to show us other types of jobs, and other types of libraries that we may be suited for. 

There are so many different kinds of libraries, so many different sizes of libraries, so many different ways our libraries are managed, different resources and services we offer our users, and different jobs that just don’t exist at every library. So, you can’t learn about all of that through professional reading and trade publications alone.

For academic librarians mentoring is vital for our progression toward promotion and tenure, especially for those new to librarianship. Having a terminal degree at the master’s level puts us at a disadvantage when we’re working towards tenure because we don’t have as much experience with research and we’ve gone through the same process of adjusting to academic culture that faculty in other areas have.

Adriane:

Question #2: Those are such great points. I like what you say about looking outside of our own institutions. I know many of us have had people in our careers who’ve helped us navigate as we’ve worked our way through the profession, myself being one of them. So, how do you define mentoring? 02:40 

Ginger H. Williams:

One thing I’ve learned by researching this topic is that there are almost as many definitions as there are articles published on it. The simplest definition I’ve been able to come up with that serves a variety of types of mentoring is, a developmental relationship between two or more people, very simple. That works for formal, and informal mentoring, internal to your library, and external, peer mentoring, group mentoring, and so on. 

Adriane:

Question #3: Wow, so there are a lot of ways to do this, not a cookie cutter process. When you look at this, what would you say the benefits of mentoring are? 03:14 

Ginger H. Williams:

I think if you ask people to guess the answer to this they would probably all say similar things. Mentoring is a great way to get career guidance from someone other than your boss. It motivates you. You get promoted more quickly. You make more money. And anecdotally, all of that is true for some people, sometimes. 

Mentors can help expose you to leadership experiences by including you on projects. I think that one of the most important things they do is show you that people in leadership positions, or who have had lots of success in their careers are just people, too. They help you see yourself in a successful position.

From a research standpoint though, the benefits are a bit harder to pin down. Some studies do show that people who have mentors make more money and stay in their jobs longer. Research I conducted about mentoring in academic librarians showed no correlation with mentoring in either job satisfaction or moving into leadership positions. I think the jury’s still out, and the reason it might be is that mentoring isn’t done in a vacuum. It involves people, and we’re all very complex.

Adriane:

Question #4: Right, right. So, are they any challenges in getting involved in mentoring that people should watch out for? 03:52 

Ginger H. Williams:

Yes, definitely. Mentoring is a relationship, and you need to make sure it’s a healthy one. You need to be open and honest with each other. You’ll know it if you’re just not connecting with your mentor or mentee. And if you’re just mismatched it’s okay to look for a different partnership. 

Another challenge that mentors should be aware of is that their definition of success and their aspirations may be different than their mentees. You need to listen to your mentees and be aware of what’s important to them instead of trying to mould someone in your own image. 

Also mentoring takes a lot of time and it’s often not time that your employer rewards or recognizes. So, you need to be careful to not overcommit 

Adriane:

Question #5: So, let’s say someone is interested in a mentoring relationship. How would one go about initiating that? 05:06 

Ginger H. Williams:

There are lots of different avenues for mentoring. I think the answer depends on whether someone is looking for a capital M mentor and a formal mentoring relationship. Or, if they’re looking to connect with peers and librarians a bit further in their careers for informal mentoring.

First of all they could ask their manager if their library has a formal mentoring program. There might already be something in place to help them find a mentor and guide them through some required activities like goal setting, or scheduling check-in. And if not, their manager might help them find someone within their library that would be willing and able to be a mentor.

Another way to find a formal mentor is to look to your professional association. The American Library Association website will connect you to mentoring programs within the different divisions. I know there are some for LAMA, ALFC, ACRL, SAA, SLA, and some others. They generally accept applications once a year for mentors and mentees. A committee pairs people up based on their experience and what they say they’re looking for.

Some people prefer informal mentoring because they’re more comfortable with it. It’s more effective for them, or they just can’t find a formal mentor. And formal mentoring opportunities are everywhere, basically. I would suggest finding them by engaging other librarians wherever you find them, that could be Twitter, Facebook groups, conferences, committees you’re serving on, etc. 

The key to finding good informal mentoring relationships is being communicative, and willing to help other people because that makes them more eager to communicate with you and to help you when you do have questions. So find those people you click with, and just keep in touch. Don’t only reach out when you have a problem or need advice, though.

Now if you’re looking to mentor someone, you could start with the same mentoring program’s I’ve mentioned. It’s a little more awkward to set out to become someone’s informal mentor. You might instead, try and find a group of peers that you can give and receive advice from. Then if you know you feel like you want to mentor and you have things to offer, just touch base and ask how things are going. Don’t even use the word, mentor. Just try and build a relationship and be there for them. And if they don’t want to talk about something with you, or they seem too busy, don’t pressure them. The good news is that if and when they do need you, and they are ready to ask for your guidance, they’ll know they can turn to you. 

Adriane:

Absolutely. I like what you’re saying about relationships. I’ve had both mentoring within our profession and also outside of our profession, and that’s been valuable as well. I imagine you could look at a lot of places and find benefits. Have you come across anything that talks about how the mentee benefits the mentor? I know sometimes we think of this as a wiser or more experienced person mentoring someone who’s coming up in the field. 

Question #6: But, is there anything you’ve ever heard about that relationship benefiting both parties? 07:54 

Ginger H. Williams:

Absolutely. There’s something called reverse mentorship that focuses more on that than it does on the top-down approach. Many of us, especially if you don’t move around much throughout your career, if you stay at one library–which I have not done, but kind of sounds nice because I wouldn’t have to move so much. You might get, not stale, but you might want some fresh ideas. Then you need to engage people that are just coming in from a different library or coming in fresh out of library school. They may have learned some really exciting things through their other experiences that you can learn from too—might have the latest trends to help reinvigorate your approach to your own job.

Adriane:

Question #7: You created a self-mentorship toolkit for librarians, what is this all about? 08:41 

Ginger H. Williams:

When I was a new librarian I was accepted into a formal mentoring program through one of ALA’s divisions. I was really excited to connect with a potential mentor and really get my career off to a good start. And then the mentor never reached out to me and never responded to any of my emails. So to put it into today’s terms, my formally assigned mentor ghosted me, basically. To be honest that was confusing and hurtful, but it’s what inspired me to think more about informal mentoring and to make connections with other librarians on my own.

I’m very driven, and I wasn’t going to let that person’s actions, or inactions set me back. The more I thought about informal mentoring, the more I wanted to make sure that other librarians realized they could do the same sort of thing. So, I did a presentation about my DIY mentoring approach that people found useful. So, I decided to start the website and share that information more broadly.

I should note that self-mentorship is a bit of a misnomer because the resources I left in the toolkit are blogs and podcasts like yours, created by other librarians, and I recommended interacting with other librarians on social media. 

So, by my own definition it’s not mentorship if it doesn’t involve two or more people, so maybe I should rename it, A Librarians’ Guide to Informal Mentoring.

Adriane:

I like that you took that initiative and that you engaged in different ways with various people who helped you, and it is about more than one person. So, that’s fantastic. 

Question #8: Do you have any case studies, or stories that you’d like to share about how mentoring has benefited individuals in libraries? 10:12 

Ginger H. Williams:

I hear a lot of case studies and stories anecdotally, but that’s actually what I want to look into more deeply in my next research project. Recently I did a survey of academic library leaders, and I asked about their mentoring experiences. Some of them shared anonymous responses about mentoring such as: I consider most of my professional interactions to be a form of mentoring, one way or another; peer mentoring has been a huge part of my mentoring process and social media groups, Facebook in particular have been incredibly beneficial.

I look forward to doing some interviews to learn more about how mentoring has impacted leaders. Specifically, mentoring has certainly benefited me. I feel really lucky to be an associate dean and to have been given the kind of opportunities I have. I know I wouldn’t be where I am without the mentors I’ve had. Some of them are informal, like library directors I’ve befriended as a young librarian who helped me realize they were just normal people and that I could be a library leader if I wanted to, as well.

Adriane:

Question #9: So, if you’re someone who’s a little further on in your career, what would be some of the challenges about finding a mentor at that stage? 11:18 

Ginger H. Williams:

The further you move up the ladder in your career, the fewer people can be your mentor in the first place, if you’re talking about the traditional top-down, more experienced person mentoring a less experienced person. There are fewer people who have management experience that can help guide you with some of the challenges you’re facing. And that’s when people, especially, need to look for mentors in different institutions—whether that’s another library, or maybe even just elsewhere at your university, or somebody else in city government. You have to broaden your idea of, Who’s able to help me and think of people that are at a similar level that may not do exactly the same job that you do.

One of the best ways I’ve done that is to just try and stay connected to other associate deans, and directors, and people at different libraries that I can just touch base with informally. Because we all have similar challenges and we’ve all approached them slightly differently, so we engage in more peer mentoring at this stage.

Adriane:

Question #10: Is there anything else you’d like to share? 12:20 

Ginger H. Williams:

I would just add that mentoring isn’t magic and having a mentor won’t make you successful and won’t make you happy with your career. You have to put in a lot of effort, and you have to have some good luck along the way, too.

Mentoring is worth it, though. If you have good mentors in your life you should follow their example and try to be a good mentee to other librarians, too. Even in small ways, like offering to be a conference mentor to first time conference attendees.

Adriane:

Question #11: Where will people go if they want to find out a little bit more about your self-mentoring program, or mentoring in general? I know you have a great website. Can you share that with us? And also, you’ve got a book coming out, right? 12:57 

Ginger H. Williams:

My website is just, gingerwilliams.me.com is a bit more expensive so I went with the cheaper ending there. And I do have a chapter coming out and in the next year, a book about mentoring. It’s just going to be about the different types of mentoring that academic librarians are experiencing.

Adriane:

Question #12: Do you have a favorite book or resource you can tell us about? 11:30 

Ginger H. Williams:

Yes. I recommend this to tons of librarians. It’s a book called, Managing to Change the World: The Nonprofit Manager’s Guide to Getting Results by Allison Green, and Jerry Hauser. It’s not specific to libraries but the guidance is very useful. It’s short enough to be read the whole way through, if it interests you or you can just refer to the chapters you think you need the most. It’s a great read for people who are interested in management or for people who are dealing with difficult management challenges. 

It offers very nuts and bolts guidance on evaluating people, budgets, dealing with problematic behavior, and most aspects of management, really. I moved pretty quickly in my career from supervising student workers to supervising a large team of tenured track and tenured faculty. This is the one book that’s helped me the most as I made that transition.

Adriane:

Question #13: Thank you. In closing, what does being a librarian mean to you, personally? 14:21 

Ginger H. Williams:

Gosh, being a librarian has been a tremendously rewarding career for me. I’ve made such good friends. I’ve helped people learn. I’ve had a lot of fun. I get to engage in intellectually stimulating work, and learn new things all the time. Those are all really important to me. I can’t imagine any other profession that would bring me as much happiness.

Adriane:

That’s wonderful, Ginger. Thank you for talking to us today about mentoring. I hope people will reach out and look at this for their own careers.

Ginger H. Williams:

Thank you so much. I hope it’s helpful.

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You’ve been listening to Library Leadership Podcast. I’m your host, Adriane Herrick Juarez. Our producer is Nate Vineyard. More episodes can be found at https://libraryleadershippodcast.com/, where you can now subscribe to have new shows delivered right into your email inbox. You can also find the show on Apple iTunes, or wherever you get your podcasts. Thank you for listening. We’ll see you next time.

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