It wasn’t until I started in my current role that I really started to understand the importance of mentors. When you become a Clinical Librarian, there’s no qualification or course that you can take to help you understand the intricacies of advanced literature searching, how to develop a rapport with potential and existing customers and how best to evaluate the impact of your service. A lot of this learning is ‘on the job’, meaning that experience in the role is invaluable.
In the early days, I learned a lot from a close colleague who had previously worked in this role. I remember listening to how she spoke with customers on the phone and aspiring to be able to speak so confidently and knowledgably with colleagues. She was my first informal mentor. When starting new projects I would always ask her advice and I’m not sure she ever knew how much I valued (and still do) her input. As my confidence grew, I started to shake off that feeling of “I’ll never be as good as that” and started to think that, actually, sometimes I might do things differently, in my own way.
I’ve developed informal mentoring relationships with several colleagues (and I’m not sure they’re even aware that they’ve been doing it!) and I’ve certainly learned a lot from them. I have a huge respect for library colleagues who have more experience than I have and I’m keen to learn from them, but that’s not necessarily to say that I’ll always agree with them. One of my most powerful mentoring experiences has been with someone outside of libraries but who has mentored me through a lot of career-related decisions. I’d argue that a mentoring relationship can be just as valuable when it’s with someone outside of librarianship.
My only formal mentoring relationship has been with my Chartership mentor, someone with a wealth of experience in libraries in a completely different sector. This has been a hugely interesting experience for me since someone at a distance from my own role can challenge me in ways that someone within health libraries might not.
I’d also say that I’ve been mentored by professional communities; there’s a really active and supportive regional Clinical Librarians group that I’m part of, that has inspired and coached me through several projects. I also find that I am more inclined to seek out support for specific problems via online communities.
So, I think I’m fairly lucky to have such a network of professional support. When I encounter a problem or reach a dead end I can usually think of someone who might be able to offer advice, even if it’s just my Mum!