Coaching and mentoring – Ulrike Lang, Almuth Gastinger

This blog post is part of a series of posts from the ninth Knowledge Café, held during the 87th IFLA World Library and Information Congress in Dublin, Ireland, July 26-29, 2022. 

The session was co-sponsored by the Knowledge Management Section and the Continuous Professional Development and Workplace Learning Section and was co-chaired by Monica Ertel and Maggie Farrell.

Several Standing Committee Members of Management & Marketing were involved as facilitators or rapporteurs.

Many of the discussions are connected to management and management skills, why we have decided to publish the content also in this blog.

You find all of the content at:

Coaching and mentoring

Facilitator: Ulrike Lang  Retired Head of Education and Training Department, State and University Library Hamburg Carl von Ossietzky GERMANY

RapporteurAlmuth Gastinger  Senior Academic Librarian, NTNU University Library NORWAY

Coaching and mentoring are an important part of managing your library staff.  Research has shown that mentoring and coaching improve performance.

We started the discussions with a short introduction of everybody around the table. The two groups were quite diverse with 14 colleagues from 9 countries U.K., Croatia, USA, Qatar, Sweden, Serbia, Ireland, Germany, Norway. Among them were several newcomers. People came from both public and academic libraries.

Discussion summary:

  • Some of the people attending had little or no experience with coaching or mentoring.  We started by explaining the difference between the two.
  • Some had experience with mentoring students, some with new staff.  In some organisations/institutions, new staff get a mentor who works as a contact person for the employee.
  • At one library, the director takes time to talk to new staff one-on-one.
  • In Germany, coaching is often used when there are challenges between staff and managers/leadership.
  • In countries (i.e., USA), where there is a tenure process (getting promoted in your career based on certain criteria), mentoring or coaching is often important as part of the formal evaluation process.
  • At some institutions, a person/coach from outside comes into the library/institution and talks about coaching and mentoring or offers coaching/mentoring to managers or staff. This is usually quite expensive and thus is rather rare.
  • Participants liked the following ‘definition’ of mentoring: “mentoring is when a mentor looks after a newcomer”.
  • Chemistry between people is more important in mentoring than in coaching. If there is a mismatch between mentor and mentee, the mentoring probably will not work.
  • Communication skills are very important in coaching, even more in group coaching.
  • In mentoring and coaching, trust is crucial.
  • As a mentor or coach, you also learn a lot from your mentee since they often have another perspective on things.
  • When coaching, it sometimes is helpful if the coach has no knowledge about the topic to be discussed. This can help avoiding giving advice.
  • Some institutions have a budget for CPD/training, but coaching training is usually very expensive.
  • Some institutions or universities have employed organisational psychologists who can serve as a coach and help when there are conflicts.
  • We also discussed a culture of failure and how this might be different in other countries. We also discussed how people cope with this. One person talked about how it may be helpful that one person starts talking about mistakes and the other might dare to do the same.
  • The discussion leader told us about a visual communication method she uses when thinking about successes and hinders. She draws piles for each success and each hinder. Small piles when they are small and huge ones when successes or hinders are big. The participants liked that visual method.

Some examples of programmes:

  • Medical Library Association (MLA):

Offers formal and informal mentoring. One programme is called “Colleague Connection”.  It is a great service they offer to new MLA Members and First Time MLA Meeting attendees.

See also here about mentoring within MLA:

  • CILIP (Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals) and Library Association in the UK:

CILIP gives support on the journey towards Professional Registration. A mentor can help take a fresh look at skills and experiences, discover new ideas and perspectives, and provide support through the process. All of CILIP’s mentors have completed the CILIP mentorship training programme and know how to support members to successfully complete the Professional Registration. See:

  • ALA (American Library Association):

ALA offers mentoring for members of the International Relations Roundtable (IRRT). Mentors/mentees are from various countries.

Following is a report from this programme:


  • There is a difference between mentoring and coaching. Mentoring is more about giving advice, while coaching is about the coach asking the right (open) questions so that the coachee reflects and solves the problem herself/himself.
  • Coaching and mentoring help people to reflect on challenges and learn a lot.
  • There are mentoring and coaching programmes offered. Ask your employer or Library Association what they can offer you.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: