Analyzing la Cuna: New Approaches for Mentoring in Professional Associations

By Hicks, Alison | Collaborative Librarianship, January 2012 | Go to article overview

Analyzing la Cuna: New Approaches for Mentoring in Professional Associations


Hicks, Alison, Collaborative Librarianship


Introduction

According to frequently repeated statistics from the American Library Association, 58% of librarians now working will have retired by 2019. (1) While recruiting and retaining academic librarians with subject knowledge is a perennial challenge for administrators, libraries with specialized programs such as modern language and area studies face the double problem of recruiting librarians with strong language and cultural abilities as well as other skills that are necessary in the academic library. (2)

Within the field of Latin American Studies, the number of undergraduate, masters and PhD degrees granted has grown sharply since 1970. (3) Librarians reacted to the growth of these programs by developing broad multi-lingual and multi-regional collections as well as establishing the Seminar for the Acquisition of Latin American Library Materials (SALALM), the professional organization for Latin American and Caribbean studies librarians. Despite the growth in library specialization, training for Latin American studies librarians was either non-existent or developed haphazardly. It was not until 2008 that the University of Illinois introduced the first Latin American librarianship class, a unique course offering among library and information science (LIS) programs. Furthermore, anecdotal evidence from SALALM suggests that the number of positions is decreasing as some vacant Latin American studies librarian positions are never re-opened for recruitment. Thus, staff retirement and library reorganization mean that non-specialized librarians must increasingly take on area or subject responsibilities despite a lack of specific skills or language training. This is particularly problematic in fields such as Latin American librarianship that requires familiarity with the "unique characteristics" of the Latin American publishing industry and other collection development. (4)

Mentoring has often been used as a way to support these new librarians. (5) Mentoring programs vary considerably in their scope, but many are hosted at the librarian's home institution. While this is useful to help with the local tenure or promotion requirements, the local mentor cannot always advise on specific subject-related problems. Increasingly, professional associations also provide a mentor experience. Within the field of librarianship, recent examples of mentoring have come from the Western European Studies Section (WESS) of the Association for College and Research Libraries (ACRL) and the New Members' Round Table (NMRT) of the American Library Association (ALA).

In the field of Latin American and Iberian librarianship, SALALM offers a supportive network of local chapters and an electronic mailing list that encourage information and knowledge sharing. However, simply contributing to email lists really does not create the personal connections needed. From the author's own personal experience, an ethos of collegiality engendered by strong personal contacts also helps new librarians feel accepted into the field. Participation in professional association events can often be intimidating and it takes time to build professional contacts, especially for new librarians who are geographically or institutionally isolated. Given SALALM's memberships of around 200 members with varied collection foci and expertise, and it is not always possible to set up suitable or geographically proximate local chapter or, by implication, traditional mentoring pairs. (6)

In order to create foster collegiality and mentor-ships, the author established an online mentoring forum, La Cuna ("the cradle" in Spanish) using the social networking site, Ning. Designed to enable an informal "sheltered" discussion forum, it aimed to provide a space where new librarians could ask questions about aspects of Latin American, Iberian and Latino studies librarianship or where more experienced mentor librarians could lead a discussion on a topic related to the field. …

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