Mentoring outside an organisational framework #mentors

There’s plenty of debate already about whether we say “the art of librarianship” or if we call it “library science”, and I am not really interested in actually debating it any further*, but this post is more a reflection on a long interesting conversation with a friend who is an artist. We talked at length about the differences of being inspired vs. being mentored in the context of individual art practice, and it clarified for me what the differences are between peer mentoring, Personal Learning Networks (PLNs) and teacher/learner mentoring.

Having a group of people who practice in the same field of art (e.g. photography, painting or sculpture), and who inspire & encourage you to develop your artistic practice is somewhat different to having a mentor in the same artistic field. While there is an overlap between the two groups, insomuch as having people in your world who truly believe in your art practice and who support & encourage you to develop your artistic practice, often the key focus of the teacher/learner mentoring relationship is the art practice of the person being mentored than of mutually developing each others’ art practices.

In stepping back from viewing this topic of mentoring through the lens of librarianship, I was able to see more clearly that, from my perspective, peer mentoring aligns more with PLNs and mentoring is more of the “teacher/learner” role.

However, what I am still struggling with is that much of the discussion about mentoring in the librarianship literature focuses on mentoring programs within an organisational framework. What I mean by this is, mentoring programs are often set up within an organisation, e.g. a new graduate is mentored by a more experienced member of staff or a group of staff members who are studying towards a LIS qualification are mentored by recent graduates working within the same organisation, and as such, these mentoring programs are still framed by the parameters of institutional expectations rather than the wider practice of librarianship. Don’t get me wrong, I agree strongly with the value of these organisational internal mentoring programs, but it’s not what I am wanting for my own mentoring relationship at this point in my career.

I am interested to find out more about mentoring relationships that don’t exist within an organisational or workplace framework. For example, I would like to know more about the LIANZA new graduate mentoring program, which is still in some ways surrounded by a framework of organisational expectations as it is mandated by the association, it should allow for the opportunity to discuss the bigger picture of librarianship practice.

So there is still much to unravel in this topic, but interestingly, I found it easier to see the differences that I was struggling with in the context of art practice than in staring at the topic through the lens of librarianship. Often stepping away from the mirror allows us to see more clearly. It’s tactic I have used in my own artistic practices, whenever I am stuck on something, I turn around to see what is behind me rather than always facing forwards. It’s trick a travel photographer once mentioned to me, when you are looking through the camera lens – stop, turn around, take the photo, so you’ll get a difference perspective to everyone else taking the same photograph facing forwards. It also aligns with the idea of reflecting on where you have come from rather than facing on the path ahead – journey vs. destination.

* personally I believe librarianship is both an art and a science.
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