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Supporting the middle sag

Well, my last post triggered a lot of discussions: one big thing was that many people identified that they felt the same in regards to losing the momentum to push themselves, but that they didn't really mention it formally because they felt they couldn't give any input on how to fix the problem.

But then that's not right - if you feel you can only speak up when you can fix a problem rather than be able to just identify that the problem exists, then that means there's a lot of silent people out there, quietly hoping for someone else to see and fix what's wrong.

So, while talking about this feeling of a need for some sort of support, Bethan Ruddock (@bethanar) and Celine Carty (@cjclib) and I started to try and work out what we felt we needed, and what was possible. Beth said that she was hoping to implement some sort of one-on-one mid-career support within SLA Europe, and Celine said she had been working on something for her group High Visibility Cataloguing (@hvcats). Initially, the ideas were based around providing a personal professional mentor for all career stages, not just for certain situations, like attending a conference for the first time, or when going through a process like Chartership. But then, this relationship can put quite a burden on someone, who's almost certainly going to be fitting in this supporting around their normal life.

So, what would be more realistic than asking one person to support others? Well, maybe a group? Perhaps something along these lines:

  • A group of about 6 volunteers, which allows for a good spread on the demands of members time.
  • Making sure that they're a mix of people - in different sectors if possible, but in different workplaces for definite.
  • Providing a secure and private chat space, with the understanding that all discussions happening in that space are entirely confidential, to ensure free communication between group members (a "what happens in Vegas" rule).
  • Having the facility to allow any member to voluntarily leave any group without having to explain or justify the decision, as people and situations change.

In this way, informal relationships across sectors could be developed, without the expectation of more demanding one-on-one support. However, as relationships naturally form, certain people will inevitably gravitate towards each other, and these may become more personally supportive relationships.

As people's situations change, they would be likely to shift between supporting, and needing support, and back again.. A fluid system of a private professional group would be more likely to allow this switching back and forth between giving and taking more easily.

Also, being able to see how people in other sectors are working can allow you to look with a more realistic eye at your own workplace and career. Ideas about mutual issues and solutions could be exchanged - for example, if you're not experienced in giving presentations, but one of your mentor group is, perhaps you could pick up some more detailed and tailored-to-your-specific-situation information than you would if you just put out a general "I need help" email on email lists and social media?

What do you think? Is this something that could work, or that you would take part in?


An idea with potential, could be very useful. I like the idea of a less formal structure than for example the CILIP Chartership mentoring scheme which again tends to be fro warly careers
Sandra said…
I like this idea, on the right side of informal but with the potential to be really useful as it should catch individuals who would be engaged.
Jo Alcock said…
I think this sounds similar to an action learning set (though in those circumstances they tend to be for a particular goal of gaining a qualification). The rules about it being relatively informal, a private space, and somewhere people can offer advice on things they know more about so relationships are regularly switching from mentor to mentee seems very similar. I've never been part of one of these but have only ever heard good things from those who have.
Tina Reynolds said…
I think this sounds like a really good idea and I would definitely like to be involved.


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