The Role of Mentorship Programs in LIS Education and in Professional Development

By Lacy, Meagan; Copeland, Andrea J. | Journal of Education for Library and Information Science, April 2013 | Go to article overview
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The Role of Mentorship Programs in LIS Education and in Professional Development

Lacy, Meagan, Copeland, Andrea J., Journal of Education for Library and Information Science

Although mentoring is widely valued and encouraged within librarianship, it has been conceived mostly as a professional relationship that occurs after one has obtained a position. Thus, mentoring among LIS students is not customary-largely because internships and field experiences are not universally required. To address this problem, the investigators wanted to distinguish the kind of education a mentorship program provides. This study identifies the kinds of knowledge academic librarians and LIS students gained after participation in a semester-long mentorship program. Data were collected through two focus group interviews, which were transcribed, analyzed, and compared for inter-coder agreement. The mentees gained knowledge related to the work life of academic librarians, job seeking, and workplace expectations. The mentors valued the experience because it promoted currency in the field, self-awareness, and reflection on practice. This research supports the need to emphasize internships and mentoring within the LIS curriculum.

Keywords: mentoring, internships, library schools, teaching methods, professional education


While all LIS programs place value on fieldwork experience and encourage students to complete an internship orpracticum, programs in LIS differ from other professional degree programs - including those in medicine, clinical psychology, law, and public administration - in that students are not required to participate in an internship to obtain their degrees. What else in the LIS curriculum guarantees this experience? At present, it is possible for graduates in LIS to complete their programs without having ever interacted with a professional librarian. Without the guidance of a professional, their perceptions of librarianship and their expectations of the workplace can become skewed - leaving them unprepared for the reality.

To address this problem, the School of Library and Information Science (SLIS) at Indiana University - Purdue University Indianapolis (IUPUI) and the IUPUI University Library partnered to create a mentorship program for LIS students who were interested in academic librarianship. SLIS faculty invited University Librarians to serve as mentors, offering them a stipend for their participation. SLIS students who had applied for a mentor, and who were accepted into the program, were matched with librarians who best complemented their professional goals and interests. In total, eight mentors participated, each meeting with their student throughout the spring semester of 20 1 1 . Informal rather than prescriptive, the mentorship program allowed students to personalize their experience, giving them the opportunity to address self-identified gaps in their knowledge or experiences.

The purpose of this partnership was not only to help students' transition to the professional environment, but also to explore how librarians and students benefit from the mentor-mentee relationship. While much has been written about the benefits of mentorship programs, these programs have applied mostly to newly hired or tenure-track librarians, not LIS students. Still, mentoring is the best means for socializing and acculturating these students into library careers - indeed, for helping them to obtain a career position in the first place. The tacit knowledge gained through mentoring cannot be delivered through a SLIS curriculum, yet it is necessary if students are to effectively apply and interview for jobs, transition from student to professional, and eventually lead and shape the future of libraries.

Literature Review

LIS schools cannot teach everything; some knowledge is particular, unique to the specific position, and comes only through on-the-job experience. Nonetheless, internships and fieldwork experiences help to resolve perceptions and expectations between new librarians and the existing workforce. Why, then, are internships and practicum experiences not required of LIS students?

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