Career Strategies for Librarians
Be a Proactive Protege'
(an excerpt from Jump Start Your Career in Library & Information Science)
by Priscilla Shontz

Don't wait for others to teach you things. Ask questions. Ask supervisors, coworkers, employees,
mentors, colleagues, friends, vendors, and others in your professional or personal circles - most people
will be glad to help you or teach you something new. Your supervisors will often not have a formal
training program and will rely on you to tell them what you need to know.

“Mentees need to feel comfortable asking for the mentor's time,” said Angela Horne (Public Services
Librarian, Johnson Graduate School of Management Library). “Too often the mentoring pairs fail to
establish guidelines at the beginning of their pairing (frequency of meetings, expectations of each other,
personal goals, length of the pairing, etc.), and this leads to misunderstanding and the potential for hurt.
Some mentees never realize they needn't wait for their mentor to call a meeting.

“My first job out of library school was a 2 month summer position, and at the end of the summer my boss
asked me to stay on and take responsibility for a project I thought I was unqualified to undertake. She
had no doubts that I'd be more than able to handle my new tasks, and I ended up both loving the position
and winning a major library award for my work. She always believed in my core abilities and never failed
to boost my spirits when I was feeling frustrated. After I left that organization she became a true friend,
someone I still consider a mentor but also much more than that label can ever signify.”

Ann Green agreed. “I was a paralegal in a large DC law firm when the librarians at that law firm
befriended me. They said ‘Why be a paralegal? With your research skills, you should go to library
school,’ so I did. I have never regretted that decision. I think the biggest mistake new professionals
make is waiting for someone ‘right’ to mentor them and waiting for someone to help them. Don't wait -
go out and listen to older and more experienced librarians. Make your own connections and go from
there! You only get somewhere if you do it yourself.”

Be proactive in finding out what you don't know. Attend conferences, read, continue learning, talk with
colleagues, etc - focus on a new area for a month or so, to develop new skills. Ask your mentors what
skills they find invaluable in an employee.

Marcia Keyser (Librarian, Texas A&M University Kingsville) said, “I was surprised to find, after I'd been in
library school for several months, that a close family friend was a librarian. Even though she's in a
different sort of library, she has lots of experience and technical knowledge that has been helpful, and
she was active in a professional organization. Also, retain contacts in your early non-professional library
positions, or practicums, if you do any of these. Finding somebody who has ever done what you are
trying to do is always helpful. Whatever project you need to undertake in your library, or to write and
publish about, etc., someone else has probably done something similar. And don't dismiss other types
of librarians. School/Public/Academic/Special – we all can share quite a bit. You may not be able to find
the perfect mentor who has the exact position that you aspire to.”

Let your mentors know when you are looking for a new job. They can often guide you, tell you about a
particular workplace, put you in contact with influential people, serve as references, etc.

Laura Sill commented, “My mentor has provided me with opportunities through ALA. She has also
watched my behavior and work, and advised me on how to improve myself professionally (this has
included telling me when I didn't act or perform as well as I could have).”

Associate with positive people, people who inspire you to do your best. Surround yourself with positive
people - people who are generally upbeat and have a positive, proactive attitude toward their work, life
and career. If you're around negative people, you will develop a negative or fatalistic attitude. Surround
yourself with people who are in control of their lives and careers. You will learn good habits from them,
and they will inspire and encourage you when you're down. Associate with people who work hard and
will push you to do your best. Even a competitive relationship can help you work harder, as long as the
relationship isn't a jealous one.

“Mentoring should be a natural offshoot of a good personality fit, and mutual personal and professional
respect,” said Bob Schatz. “When those elements exist, I think mentoring happens naturally. Of course, a
good mentor has to desire to help someone else on the way up. And a good mentee has to want to learn
what someone with more experience can offer. If those things are there, the mentoring process will be
artificial and will likely fail. As with other things in professional work, you can teach skills, but you can't
teach a person to be genuine and caring. Those that have those qualities will grow and help others to
grow. Those that don't, probably won't.

“First of all,” Schatz continued, “let me say that most mentoring takes place without either mentor or
mentee thinking of it as a mentoring process. You only discover that when you look back on the
experience. A mentor I had in my early work life was a great friend and someone who was well loved by
booksellers and librarians both. Through his friendship, patience, and advice, he taught me not to
become too full of myself, and to have a forgiving enough heart to give people who had erred another
chance to show their true colors. If they were worthy of forgiveness, it was worth extending it to them.”

About the Author:

Priscilla K. Shontz is a web designer and freelance writer and has worked in university, community
college, medical and public libraries.  She is author of Jump Start Your Career in Library & Information
Science and is a past president of the ALA New Members Round Table.  She is currently working on a
new book for Scarecrow Press.  

Article submitted Mar 2002

Disclaimer: The ideas expressed in LIScareer articles are those of their respective authors and do not
necessarily represent the views of the LIScareer editors.