Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Book Review: Mentoring in the Library

Title: Mentoring in the Library
Author: Marta K. Lee
Verdict: Don't bother.  Not very useful.

This book wasn't at all what I expected.  Instead of how to's and advice, each chapter contained a brief review of the literature followed by a case study or two from the author's own institution.  There were a few useful tip sections in the book, but not many - maybe 2 or 3.

The use of case studies was excessive, unnecessary, and quite often irrelevant.  I'm sure for some readers, it's nice to see the applications of mentoring in various ways, but mostly it just felt like the author was tooting her own horn.  Readers do not need to know specifically which hours Regent University's newly hired librarian was assigned to the reference desk nor what hours the other librarians work the desk.  It may have been useful to note that they made sure not to schedule the new librarian at times when no one else was around to answer questions, but that much information would have been more than sufficient.  The author also included an appendix for a form used in her library by an intern working on a VHS/old video format project.  This really doesn't need to be in a book about mentoring.  More useful would be a sample application for a mentoring program, followup questions asked of participants, sample emails announcing these programs, etc.

Additionally, the case studies were all from the author's library.  I recognize that that's what she knows, but it was very repetitive.  The chapter about Mentoring for Promotion talks far more about the promotion process at her institution than it does about how one would go about mentoring someone through the promotion process.

In the chapter on other types of mentoring, the author devotes 3 pages (keep in mind, the book is only 99 pages long) to examples of questions posed to listervs and the responses they garnered.  How this is useful is beyond me. 

I also had high hopes for the chapter on electronic mentoring because I find that it holds many challenges.  However, there was almost no useful information in that chapter at all, let alone information on how to make an online mentoring relationship work well.

In the end, it felt like the author was asked to write a book about mentoring because she's a great mentor and has mentored many people.  While that much seems evident, very little useful advice exists in this book despite what the back of the book claims it includes.  For example, it definitely does not cover "How to establish formal and informal mentoring arrangements."  My advice?  Don't read it.  There has to be something better out there.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Librarians in New Orleans

One of the things for which I am very proud of librarians, and for which I can claim zero credit because I had absolutely no involvement (didn't even attend), is the decision to continue with the plan to hold the American Library Association (ALA) National Conference in New Orleans not long after Katrina.

Hurricane Katrina hit in late August 2005.  ALA held its national conference there in June of 2006, bringing 16,964 librarians to the city.  The decision was based on many factors, one of which was the desire to pump money back into an area that desperately needed it.

In the September/October 2011 issue of American Libraries, Molly Raphael writes in The Big Easy Revisited about that conference and about the most recent ALA conference, again held in New Orleans.  At this 2011 conference, many of the people in the city remembered the librarians descending upon the city in 2006 and thanked them for it.

Makes me proud to be a librarian.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Book Review: What They Don't Teach You in Library School

Photo by Barbara Slavin

Title: What They Don't Teach You in Library School
Author: Elisabeth Doucett

I read this book because I recommended it to a few soon-to-be librarians, and I thought I should see what it was all about before recommending it further.  I've been a librarian for 6 years, so I'm not necessarily the audience for this book. However, there were a few chapters that I really liked, and the rest were full of useful information for just about any librarian new to the profession.

My favorite chapters were:

Chapter 4: Making "Librarian" a Brand
For some reason, of all professions, people think it is just so funny to poke fun at librarianship. For example:
Ignorant person: "Do people still use libraries?"  OR "Oh, so you read books all day?"  OR "Isn't everything online?"
Kate (well, what I'd *like* to say): "I'm sorry, what do you do again?  I'd like to poke fun at whatever that is."  
However, that's clearly not a productive way to respond to that kind of question.  This chapter talks about creating an elevator pitch to use whenever someone asks you what you do for a living or makes a comment like one of the above.  With the elevator pitch, you can head off the ignorant comments because part of it is to throw in a brief description of how you spend your time.  For example, my elevator pitch (with the three parts recommended by the author in brackets):
[Job title] I'm a librarian, more specifically a reference librarian at a university, which means [brief overview of what I do] I spend a large part of my time helping students find the information they need, either one-on-one or in a classroom setting.  [What I love about my job] One of the things that's so great about my job is watching the transition from frustration to excitement when working with a student.  Students often try to muddle through on their own for a long time before seeking out a librarian, so they can be quite frustrated at first.  However, as I work with them and make suggestions, I see the connections happening, and they leave not only with the information they need but with the skills to find information in the future as well as a more positive outlook on research in general.
The idea is to fit it into 30 seconds, so the above may be a little long, but it gets the point across.

Chapter 11: Promotional Marketing
The importance of marketing to libraries simply cannot be overstated, but it barely comes up in library school.  The chapter is just a very short overview, but is enough to get you thinking about the topic.

Chapter 12: Thinking Like a Retailer
This was a chapter that I've kind of seen touched on in a few places but never quite so straightforward and succinct as this.  There are things about retail that are very intentional that we don't really think about - when you walk into a grocery store, you enter first into the fruit and veggies section.  This is a very visually appealing - neat and tidy stacks of shiny apples, sections of bright green lettuce, etc.  Also, in a grocery store, the end of the aisle displays are for things the store really wants people to buy - that's real estate that sees higher product turnover.  Bookstores are always so neat and orderly as well.  So now I'm rethinking the location of our current displays, the idea of adding a few more, and also trying to create a sense of ownership of the library among our student workers so that they'll straighten more often as they wander around the building. 

All in all, a good read. The short chapters give brief overviews of each topic with suggestions for further reading at the end so if you want to pursue them further, you can.