Hand in hand: An informal mentoring pilot at VUW

 
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Hand in hand: An informal mentoring pilot at VUW
                                      Brent McIntyre
                                 E-Services Co-ordinator
                                  Parliamentary Library
                            brent.mcintyre@parliament.govt.nz
                                     Shauna Mendez
                                    Research Librarian
                                  Parliamentary Library
                           shauna.mendez@parliament.govt.nz
                                   Shannon Wellington
                             Senior Tutor, LIM Programmes,
            School of Information Management, Victoria University of Wellington
                             shannon.wellington@vuw.ac.nz

Abstract:
This paper discusses the initiation, development, implementation and review of the MLIS
Alumni Mentoring Scheme, developed by staff from the School of Information
Management, Victoria University of Wellington, and the Parliamentary Library.
Many library students have few opportunities to talk with other new professionals. This
year, students studying for the Masters in Library and Information Studies (MLIS) through
Victoria University of Wellington have been offered a unique opportunity to meet recent
graduates via the MLIS Alumni Mentoring Scheme. By linking with recent graduates,
students around the country can share their experiences and receive informal guidance
and advice from someone who has recently completed the same course. At the same
time, graduate mentors have a chance to ‘give something back’ and gain valuable
experience in mentoring. This paper and presentation are aimed at anyone interested in
mentoring or initiating similar mentoring programmes, and those with a passion for
assisting our colleagues on their way to becoming professionals.
Introduction
The Masters in Library and Information Studies (MLIS) Alumni Mentoring Scheme provides
current MLIS students with a way to meet and talk to recent MLIS graduates. This informal
scheme allows current students to discuss their course, career thoughts and aspirations
with someone who has recently completed the MLIS and is a practicing information
professional.
The MLIS Alumni Mentoring Scheme is informal in structure and was designed to facilitate
networking and communication. Rather than providing a formal mentorship with set goals,
the relationship is decided by the two participants (the mentor and the mentee).
Participation of mentors was limited to those who had graduated in the past five years.
This ensures understanding of issues affecting current students, as well as encouraging
recruitment of new mentors.
The scheme was created by alumni staff from the Parliamentary Library of New Zealand,
in consultation with the LIM (Library and Information Management) Programme Director
and Wellington LIM Senior Tutor at the School of Information Management, Victoria
University of Wellington.

Background
In February 2006, as part of LIM Orientation week activities, a new intake of MLIS students
toured the Parliamentary Library. These annual tours are hosted by recent graduate staff
members, who are considered best able to identify with the interests of new LIM students.
Following the visit it became apparent that during the MLIS course there were few
opportunities to have such contact with LIM alumni and the possibility of a networking
scheme was proposed. Library staff members Brent McIntyre, Katherine McKenzie and
Shauna Mendez received Parliamentary Librarian Moira Fraser's permission to undertake
initial work on the development of a scheme to help fill this perceived gap. They set down
some basic aims and researched appropriate schemes. These initial aims were to provide
networking opportunities and assistance during the course for students - assistance
beyond those offered by the LIM staff, classmates and workmates - from alumni with
recent experience of the course. An informal mentoring scheme seemed appropriate to
these aims, though there was not a lot of existing supporting material or research into
these schemes.
Contact was made with the Professional Programmes Director, Tony Hooper, and a
meeting with the relevant Parliamentary Library staff members, the LIM Programme
Director and the Wellington LIM Senior Tutor was scheduled. The purpose of this meeting
was to draft ideas for an informal scheme linking alumni mentors and student mentees.
There were no existing structures of this type, and the LIM staff were supportive in the
creation of a framework for a mentoring scheme. Over the next few months a number of
meetings were held and emails exchanged to document the format and scope of the
scheme, guidelines for the mentors and mentees, and discuss administrative and
promotional duties.

Format
Informal scheme
From the start, the group developed the scheme with a focus on networking between
students and graduates, rather than one-on-one formal mentoring. This would facilitate a

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wide array of contacts and relationships, ranging from rigorous goal-setting, through to
brief chats and catch-ups. The developers decided that mentorship would be a good fit,
but that the scheme would need to be informal in nature. The informality of the scheme
allowed mentors and mentees to set the boundaries of their own mentoring relationships
as they saw fit. It was anticipated that mentees may wish to form networks with a number
of mentors as they decided which areas of the profession might be of interest to them, so a
formal one-to-one or one-to-many structure was inappropriate.
The informal nature differentiated the MLIS Alumni Mentoring Scheme from others, in
particular the professional registration mentoring scheme recently established by LIANZA.
It was hoped the alumni scheme might provide an introduction to the benefits of mentoring
to new professionals, as well as appeal to students and new professionals who might not
be as comfortable with the structure of formal mentoring. It was thought that an informal
scheme may better fit the needs and desires of both groups for networking and sharing
experiences.
In addition, there were fewer administrative overheads in an informal scheme with minimal
guidelines, particularly around the initial contact between mentees and mentors, which
would be the responsibility of each mentee.

Administration and promotion
Administration and promotion of the scheme were discussed during the initial meetings.
After consultation, the Wellington-based LIM Senior Tutor was considered best placed to
undertake a number of the administrative responsibilities required to manage the scheme,
though promotion of the scheme was to be an ongoing and joint undertaking of the group.
These (ongoing) administrative and promotional tasks included:
   •   Communication and placement of the Mentoring documentation (guidelines for both
       mentors ad mentees and an overview of the scheme)
   •   Publicising and promoting the scheme to current MLIS students
   •   Publicising, promoting and over-seeing registration for MLIS alumni interested in
       mentoring
   •   Creating and updating documentation to record mentor details
   •   Making details available to MLIS students without compromising mentor privacy and
       vice versa
Initial communication about the scheme was sent via targeted email lists to prospective
mentors and mentees, these lists included LIM students and NZ-Libs. The NZ-Libs mailing
list was deemed to have the greatest coverage of prospective mentors and the most
effective way of reaching MLIS alumni. These communications were tailored to the
individual channels, provided an overview of the scheme, and directed interested mentors
and mentees to general documentation on the School of Information Management (SIM)
web space. General documentation pertaining to the scheme was situated on SIM web
space to facilitate visibility and to allow MLIS alumni to read about the requirements of the
scheme before registering. The initial response from MLIS alumni interested in mentoring
was greater than anticipated with fifteen respondents signing up in the first two weeks, (to
date there are twenty one registered mentors). Mentors are nationally dispersed with a
high concentration in the main centres and are representative of a wide selection of
information sectors.
Current administrative management of mentor responses involves creation and
maintenance of a formal list of mentor details. Due to the personal nature of the

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information supplied by mentors, placement of these details needed to be carefully
considered. The information supplied includes name and personal contact details, year
graduated from the MLIS programme, geographical location and a short biography of
professional interest. The LIM Communities module of the Blackboard online learning
environment is only accessible by enrolled LIM students and staff and requires
authenticated access. It was decided that the situating of mentor details and
documentation within this environment would ensure that levels of access and privacy
were adequately maintained.

Guidelines
Mentor and mentee guidelines were distributed to participants during February 2007.
These guidelines gave a brief introduction to the scheme, specifying to students that they
were expected to make the first contact with mentors. The aims of the developers were
discussed, focusing on the informal nature of the scheme and opportunities for networking.
Time commitments were recommended to be fluid, depending on the time of year and
other commitments of mentors and mentees. Mentor ground-rules were suggested, these
included:
   •   Inspire and offer encouragement
   •   Listen with empathy
   •   Ask critical questions
   •   Trigger self-awareness in the mentee
   •   Suggest other resources;
and ground-rules for mentees included:
   •   Ask questions
   •   Be open to suggestions and opinions
   •   Be respectful of the mentor's time and space
   •   Be enthusiastic and motivated
The guidelines also included a suggested path for the mentoring relationship:
   1. Create rapport, set level of commitment/boundaries of the relationship
   2. Mentee identifies goals/objectives they wish to achieve (or just chat about)
   3. Formulate activities/strategies the mentee will undertake to reach their goals
   4. Discuss/monitor progress towards goals, provide/listen to any feedback
   5. Celebrate successes, redefine or end the relationship
This development path was seen as suitable for anything from a brief chat about a
mentor's job description through to a more formal goal-setting relationship

Launch
After the initial registration of mentors, further promotion of the scheme was discussed and
it was decided that the best vehicle to officially launch the scheme was the 2007 LIM
orientation. The LIM orientation is an annual compulsory on-campus residency for all first
year students and is held in both Wellington and Auckland. Students from around the
country attend Orientation Week, creating a captive forum for information dissemination
and networking. As part of the Wellington LIM orientation programme, an initial overview of
the scheme was held at the Parliamentary Library and attended by Wellington LIM

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orientation students. At the conclusion of the overview a social event at the Backbencher
Pub and Cafe provided an opportunity for registered mentors to network with first year LIM
students. This proved a successful event and was well attended by both LIM students and
MLIS alumni mentors. Auckland based orientation students where given an overview of
the scheme by the Auckland LIM Senior Tutor and provided with documentation for follow
up.
Promotion of the scheme is ongoing and has been publicised in a recent issue of the LIM
Programmes Newsletter. MLIS alumni are still registering their interest to be mentors and
the results of a review of the scheme outlined below will help inform the future direction of
the programme.

Review
As part of the mentoring scheme, a six-month review was carried out to determine student
take-up of the scheme and to gather information about how it was received and used. The
results of this review will help inform any changes that may be made to improve the
scheme in the future.
The review centred on two web-based surveys: one sent to mentors and one sent to all
MLIS students. The survey questions collected information on the following topics:
   •   Demographics
   •   Use/take-up of the scheme
   •   Perceived barriers
   •   Reasons for use
   •   Opinions of the scheme in general

The Survey
The mentor and student surveys contained eight and nine questions, respectively. It was
not mandatory for respondents to answer every question and they were able to choose
multiple responses for as many of the questions as applicable. Some questions were free-
text only but all allowed personal comments. Due to the nature of the survey to allow for
multiple answers and written comments, the number of responses to each question varied
greatly. This impacted the ability to accurately analyse data across the survey or between
questions.
Links to the online survey were emailed to all registered mentors and current MLIS
students through existing administrative channels. Participants were given two weeks to
complete the survey before it would become unavailable. In this period, the surveys were
viewed by a total of 100 people, started by 61, and completed by 49; 18 mentors and 31
students. The completion rate was higher for mentors (95%) than it was for students
(73%).

Review Results
Survey responses indicated that there had been a total of nine students who had
contacted mentors, and at least 10 mentors had been contacted.
Most mentors (69%) were based in Wellington, while the geographical distribution of
students was more spread around the country: most residing in Wellington (29%), but also
in a number of other main centres and some overseas. As half of the survey respondents
indicated that they had met their mentors in person, this may have been a factor
preventing higher take-up of the scheme. However, many respondents indicated having

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made email contact (42% of students and 60% of mentors), showing that geography may
not have been as large a barrier as anticipated.

                                            Participant distribution

                       Wellington
                     Christchurch
                         Auckland
                             other
                 other main centre
                         Dunedin                                 mentors          students
                        rural area
                         Hamilton

                                     0%     10%    20%     30%    40%      50%     60%      70%

Mentors indicated that their interest in the scheme was mostly for professional reasons
(45%) as well as for the purpose of networking (27%). Through written responses mentors
also indicated a desire to encourage new LIM professionals and give something back to
the MLIS programme. Other comments centred on mentors’ own experiences of the
benefits of having professional contacts while studying and starting a career.
The students were mostly interested in the scheme for career advice and professional
reasons as well as having a forum for asking general questions (26% each). Students
were also interested in receiving academic assistance (21%).

        Reasons for mentor participation                                      Student motivation

                                                                      social   other , 9%
                                                                                                    academic
        academic                     networking                    networking,                     assistance,
           0%                           27%                            5%                             21%

                                                               professional
                                             socialising       networking,
                                                6%                 14%

    profession                                                                                       professional
        al                                                                                             / career
       46%                                other                                                      advice, 26%
                                                                      general
                                          21%                        questions,
                                                                       26%

Students were asked about barriers to their participation in the scheme. Most said they
were unsure what to talk about with a mentor (24%). Students also commented that they
were unaware of the scheme or had not received enough information about it. A number of
comments were made about the lack of mentors in their geographic area. Other barriers
included not having enough time (17%), not wanting to bother or waste a mentor’s time
(15%), and intimidation (11%)
Mentors commented that there was not enough information or promotion of the scheme
and that there could have been more regular contact and information between all parties
involved (mentors, mentees, and administration).

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Student barriers
                                                          not enough time

                                    17%                   don't want to bother or waste a mentor's time
                      20%
                                                          intimidation (of mentors and/or having to make initial
                                                          contact)
                                         15%              unsure what to ask or talk about
                11%
                                                          don't think it would be beneficial to me

                                     11%                  no perceived barriers
           2%          24%
                                                          other

Benefits for mentors were mostly professional (29%), with a number commenting that they
had received some sort of recognition from their workplace. An equal number of survey
respondents indicated personal benefits from the scheme and a number also indicated no
benefits (17% each). Other written comments discussed benefits of reflection on mentors’
own career as well as some disappointment in not having been contacted or only
minimally contacted. There was a general feeling from mentors of excitement and interest
in participating in the scheme but then discouragement due to not being contacted and not
having enough correspondence from the administration.
Students were asked to identify what factors would have increased their participation in the
mentoring scheme. Many students wanted assistance making contact with a mentor -
either through the administrator or the mentor making contact (28%). Others wanted more
information about the library sectors and positions held by mentors (21%). There were an
equal number of students desiring more mentors in their geographic area and in their field
of interest (18% each). Comments documented in the web survey reflected this.

                           Factors to increase student participation
                       administrator           other , 4.9%
                                                                            more mentors in
                       pairs mentors                                        geographic area,
                       and mentees,                                              18.0%
                           13.1%

                      mentor makes
                      initial contact,                                             more mentors in
                           14.8%                                                   field of interest,
                                                                                         18.0%

                              more details                                      more personal
                             about positions                                  information about
                            held by mentors,                                    mentors, 9.8%
                                 21.3%

Mentor comments on possible future improvements focused on more communication and
information for mentors, especially those who had not been contacted by a student. They
still wanted to feel included in the scheme and be kept up to date with news. A few
suggested having additional gatherings for mentors and students (similar to the initial
social event during Orientation Week). Additional gatherings would help alleviate
intimidation of students and would partly meet the need for more information about the

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scheme and the mentors. Having only one event during Orientation Week limited the
number of participants who could attend. Additionally, information about the scheme may
also have gotten lost amidst the large number of events and information sessions during
the week, leading some students to forget about the scheme or not realise its intention.
Mentors were finally asked if they had any thoughts about this scheme in relation to the
upcoming LIANZA professional registration mentoring scheme. Comments were generally
positive, indicating that an informal scheme for students would not deter from the LIANZA
scheme and would provide a possible gateway to the LIANZA scheme. The informal
nature of this scheme and its aim at current students and recent graduates sets it apart
from the LIANZA scheme, and it was viewed as a possible interim step between the two
schemes.

Data Analysis
Active participants
Of student survey participants, nine had contacted (or planned to contact) mentors at the
time of the survey. This shows that the scheme had been used by some students and the
fact that more mentors were contacted than students made contact shows that some
students had contacted multiple mentors and likely found the scheme useful in some
capacity. Comments also indicated that a number of participants received professional
recognition through their workplace, this may have influenced the number of mentors
contacted per student as students may have contact mentors both within and outside of
work.
Throughout the survey, many comments focused on unawareness of the scheme,
indicating the survey alone may have served as a catalyst to even more students
participating.

Geographic placement
Responses showed that though both mentors and students were spread around the
country (and overseas), mentors were much more highly concentrated in the Wellington
region than students. This may be due to the fact that Wellington is a major area for
information studies job opportunities and many new professionals may start their careers
in Wellington (or possibly stay in Wellington after completing the MLIS at VUW). This
outcome was anticipated but was not perceived to be a major deterrent to participation in
the mentoring scheme, assuming that email would likely be the main mode of
communication. However, through the review, it seems that many students had met their
mentors in person (this may be related to students working with mentors), as well as made
comments about there not being mentors in their geographic area. This shows that the
ability to be able to personally meet may have been a hindrance to participation for some
students. Email was still a widely used mode of communication.

Reasons for participation
Both mentors and students indicated mainly professional reasons for participating in the
scheme, as well as professional networking. In addition to this, mentors indicated a desire
to “give back” or continue contributing to the MLIS programme through the scheme.
Students also cited academic reasons and general questions as fuelling their desire to
participate. An interesting point to note is that although only nine students indicated
contact (or intentions to contact) with mentors, the question relating to motivation to
participate received 43 responses. This shows that despite not having actively participated
in the scheme, most students saw potential benefits to participation. This is a good
indicator that there will likely be higher participation in the future.

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Barriers to participation
There were no explicit indications of barriers to mentors’ participation in the scheme. Any
actual barriers would likely be due to the scheme developers’ inability recruit enough
mentors in diverse geographic locations.
Barriers indicated by students were uncertainty about what to discuss with a mentor, not
having enough time, and not wanting to bother a mentor. Barriers indicated through
comments were mainly a lack of knowledge or detailed information about the scheme, and
lack of mentors in geographical areas. The barriers indicated that students needed more
information about the scheme, including: ideas for what to discuss with a mentor, details
on the nature of informal mentoring/networking, more information on individual mentors
and positions held by mentors.

Participation benefits:
Most mentors indicated experiencing some type of benefit through participation in the
scheme, even if they had not been contacted by any students, as the act of joining the
scheme lead them to re-examine their own careers, goals, and professional networks.
Many indicated personal benefits gained by being able to offer advice and assistance to
students, having had similar recent experiences studying in the MLIS programme.
Mentors also indicated their beliefs that such a scheme would have been helpful to them
while studying. Participation in the scheme was also an indication that there is an
important place in librarianship for new and young professionals and that they have ideas
to contribute to the collective. Many mentors were hoping to have been more actively
involved in the scheme and indicated a desire for more contact between mentors in order
to discuss their experiences and participate in additional professional networking.
Students were not directly asked if they had experienced any benefits from the scheme;
written comments suggest that students thought that the scheme was a good idea, would
like to see it continue, or that is had been beneficial to them in learning more about
different sectors and library roles.

Impacts on LIANZA scheme:
Only mentors were asked for to comment on any foreseeable implications of overlaps
between the MLIS Alumni Mentoring Scheme and the LIANZA professional registration
mentoring programme. Comments generally indicated the inherent differences and
individual merits of each scheme; informal vs formal and academic vs professional.
However, though the scheme was envisaged as being academically focused, its use has
been more towards professional issues and the transition from study to work. Despite this,
the merits and benefits of the scheme have showed that they have a distinct place in the
MLIS programme as well as the working lives of new professionals. Participation in this
scheme provides a good introduction to informal mentoring, helps guide students into the
professional world, and helps open avenues for networking to students and new
professionals alike.

Future of the scheme
Mentor training and networking
Some mentor survey respondents were unsure of their role as a mentor in the scheme and
requested firmer guidelines and training opportunities. There may be opportunities to
leverage off the LIANZA mentoring scheme, which is arranging training for new mentors in
the future. They also expressed a desire to receive more regular updates on the scheme
via regular events, and to be regularly contacted by the administrators via email

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newsletters. As this was the inaugural year, we will be better prepared in future to know
what to expect. We may also be able to distribute a more comprehensive literature review,
linking to relevant training resources. Networking between mentors was also mentioned in
the survey. Contacts between graduates are valuable to mentors and mentees alike,
especially for mentor referrals.

Promotion
Further events and the possibility of a mentor list or online community would be useful to
participants. A ‘mentor of the month’ profile in the LIM newsletter or the more secure
student web space could increase the visibility of the scheme and give more information
on mentors to students, as well as increasing the alumni profile to the profession as a
whole

Further recruitment
The scheme focuses only on MLIS students and graduates, and most of the promotion has
been through the library-focused list-servs, in particular NZ-Libs. In the future, it might be
beneficial to liaise with other training providers in the library and information industry, as
well as recruiting mentors in the records management and archives fields. It may even be
useful to offer the scheme to mentees not just in formal training but any library workplace,
increasing networking and information-gathering opportunities for future professionals. Any
such change would need to respect the unique nature of the present MLIS Alumni
Mentoring Scheme, and separate schemes would have to be developed to cater to the
different participant groups.

Continued support
Before the survey, the developers had some concerns that the MLIS Alumni Mentoring
Scheme would not have support from participants, or that it might fall into the shadow of
other schemes, particularly the LIANZA professional registration mentoring scheme, and
eventually be discontinued. The survey results, however, confirmed that there was current
interest in continuing with the scheme, particularly from mentors, and that the MLIS
scheme had a different focus to the LIANZA scheme, providing informal support at an
earlier stage of professional development.

Succession planning
At present the scheme is dependant on the work of a few individuals willing to organise the
events, maintain the documentation and run the reviews. This work is largely voluntary.
There has been a strong commitment to the scheme initially form the LIM staff, but a
succession plan will be required to ensure there are always mentors keen to help with
administrative duties. This will be a major focus for the administration going in to the next
year of the scheme.

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