Real or subtle: the mentorship experience of University of Cape Coast library staff.

Author:Martin-Yeboah, Ebenezer


The ever-changing environment within which library and information professionals work has gained attention among both researchers and practitioners. Alemna (2001) observes that there is often the danger that today's prediction of future needs will be overtaken by events of tomorrow, as it is gradually becoming clear to the profession that the era when librarians and information scientists were merely considered as managers and operators of libraries and information services is gone, albeit, some core services still remain. Never has technology been so impactful in the history of the world than in this contemporary era, requiring that a new kind of approach to surviving in the profession be seriously pursued. It is in this view that Spencer and Ard (2006), consider it essential for employees to aspire for professional development by acquiring new knowledge and skills which relate to the job responsibilities or work environment. To them, it is instrumental in maintaining trained, informed and motivated employees irrespective of job classification. Mentorship, thus, has been seen as key to the survival and growth of information professionals, as it is considered to be the bridge connecting people from the land of little experience to the kingdom of vast experience. It is a professional activity, a trusted relationship, a meaningful commitment which entails formal agreements between expert and novice where each develops professionally through the two-way transfer of experience and perspective (Ellinger, 2002; Buell, 2004).

The concept of mentoring is relatively new to formal organizations. Having been a mere intervention in the past, mentoring has now become indispensable in schools and job places for youth and adults alike. According to Zachary (2005), the concept of organizational mentoring first became popular in the mid-1970s when it was realized that organizations needed a strong foundation of mentoring to build and retain a healthy workforce that can react quickly to change, and can develop, adapt, and regenerate itself over time.

Statement of the problem

Nkechi et al (2016) consider mentoring in librarianship as a process of learning and development based on a personal relationship in which an experienced librarian, called a mentor, helps a new librarian, called a mentee, to develop as a professional and achieve professional goals. They believe that mentoring is unique to all other forms of relationship because it is developmental and embedded in the career context. This is in sync with Ragins and Kram (2007)'s view that mentoring relationships are unique because they primarily focus on career growth and development. Alemna (1998) believes that the speed of social, economic and technological change is forcing corporate bodies to become "learning organizations" thus, librarians and information scientists have no excuse not to adapt to changes. To him, one avenue for the survival of the profession is for a transfer of experience or knowledge from the old to the younger generation of professionals (Alemna, 1998). This demands new kinds of competences and approaches in retrieving and disseminating information, in designing systems, decision-making, and in relating with information users as well as colleagues.

The University of Cape Coast (UCC) Library has been in existence to serve the teaching, learning and research mandate of the university. This, it does with the nearly two-hundred library employees made up of professional librarians, paraprofessional and non-professional librarians. Non professionals are employees with no formal library or information science-related training. That is, a library employee with no post secondary certificate and even those with diploma, degree, masters or PhD in a non-library or information science-related programme is considered a non-professional. A paraprofessional is considered to be an employee with a diploma or a bachelor's degree in library or information science related programme. Library professionals on the other hand are employees who have acquired a masters degree or higher in library or information science related programme. Since the university, like every community, is organic, there is always the need to ensure self-sustenance, especially with respect to the human resource. Librarianship has been seen to be complex and multifaceted. As such, a network of mentors makes it easier for employees to adapt to changes and gain a diverse portfolio of knowledge quickly.

Literature abounds with myriad of mentoring schemes and programmes as well as types in many libraries the world over (Robbeloth et al, 2013; Robinson, 2011; Buel, 2004; USWE, 1999). In these, the benefits of mentoring in the transfer of professional experience from a more experienced librarian to a less experienced have been established. However, these studies have often focused on professional librarians. Not many studies have been done in relation to libraries with paraprofessional and non-professional library staff who equally work together to meet the teaching, learning and research needs of the academic community. Despite the potency of mentorship to prepare people for improved capacity to render quality service, very little is known of the real or apparent mentorship schemes that exist in the University of Cape Coast Library. It is for this reason that the study sought to assess the mentorship experience of the University of Cape Coast Library employees.

Research questions

The study was guided by the following research questions:

What is the level of academic or career progression of UCC library staff?

What are the mentorship needs of UCC Library employees?

What is the mentorship experience of UCC Library employees?

What perceptions do library employees hold about mentorship?

Literature review

As a concept, mentorship is seen differently by different people. For some, it is the establishment of relationships based on trust and empathy (MacCallum & Beltman, 1999). Goldman (2011) contends that mentoring involves any activity which supports mentee's career growth by providing coaching, visibility, protection and challenging assignments as well as providing confirmation, counseling and friendship. Robbeloth et al (2013) also share the opinion that informal mentoring actually exists in many forms. They are however of the view that much difficulty arises as to how to assess or evaluate informal mentoring, suggesting that much as lots of support could be derived from informal mentoring, its approach shifts the responsibility of initiating and organizing the mentoring process largely to the mentee. Confirming this assertion, Lee (2009), states that when mentoring is formally structured and effective, it significantly impacts employee success and confidence, giving the newly hired library professional an orientation within the university, the library, and their professional position and responsibilities. Putting it aptly, Robinson (2011) opines that mentorship begets mentorship, and provides a mechanism for knowledge transfer.

Contributing to the diverse nature of formal mentoring, the USWE (1999) categorizes mentoring into four different types including:

(a) Highly-structured, short-term mentoring (a new employee paired with an experienced one).

(b) Highly-structured, long-term mentoring (when a successor is groomed for a new position).

(c) Informal, short-term mentoring ("off-the-cuff mentoring. There may not be an ongoing relationship).

(d) Informal, long-term mentoring (sometimes referred to as "friendship mentoring. Mentor is available on a casual basis over a long period of time).

On the other hand, Buell (2004) considers mentoring relationships as being developed under cloning model, nurturing model, friendship model and apprenticeship model as explained as follows:

In the Cloning Model, the mentor attempts to produce a copy of himself or herself whilst in the Nurturing Model, the mentor assumes the position of a parent figure, creating an open and free environment (Buell, 2004). Mentoring is conducted within the Friendship Model where the mentor and mentee...

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