Open Journal Systems
Information Professionals Go Global: Reflections on the International Librarians Network Peer Mentoring Program
by Cate Carlyle (Canadian Ambassador, International Librarians Network)
In late 2012 three innovative librarians living and working in Australia -- Kate Byrne, Alyson Dalby and Clare McKenzie -- conceived of a program allowing library professionals from anywhere in the world to meet virtually, share information and expand their professional network. What became the International Librarians Network (ILN) was informed by established professional development and mentoring practices; built upon the “principle of professional reciprocity," to quote its founders; and defined by the belief that all participants bring value to the program regardless of position, seniority or location.  While traditional hierarchical mentoring models focus on a senior to junior mentoring model, the ILN peer mentoring model pairs participants at various career stages on the basis of professional interest.
The founders began building ILN by establishing a basic website and using their own Twitter accounts to attract participants. A 2013 pilot program featuring six-month peer mentorships exceeded registration expectations. ILN now features four-month peer mentorships and is open to anyone working or studying in library and information management, archives or museums. All communication between peers takes place entirely online. Mentors may specify how they wish to be matched with their partner, with some mentors choosing to be matched by career stage or interest and others remaining open to any match. Mentors are given topics to discuss as a starting point and encouraged to be in contact every two weeks. After four months participants can choose to join the network for further rounds or continue their peer relationship independently.
ILN was founded as and remains a non-profit, volunteer-run organization. In addition to its three founding directors, ILN's leadership includes coordinators, consultants and content officers who manage the blog, content and behind the scenes work. In addition, 31 countries are represented by country ambassadors, including Canada, which is represented the author. At its inception in March 2013, the ILN included 92 participants representing 18 countries. By March 2016, the network boasted 1,162 current participants representing 95 countries. In the last three years, 4,500 information professionals from 133 countries have engaged in peer mentorships through ILN. Its founders were recognized as community builders in the Library Journal's Movers & Shakers Class of 2016. 
Ambassador and officer reflections
As country ambassadors to the ILN, we may never meet in person or hear each other’s voices, but we are a very cohesive and supportive group of international professionals. Ambassadors are either invited to serve or volunteer. Typically, one ambassador is appointed per country. We represent the ILN and promote the program within our own countries and organizations, both virtually and in person. We also represent our countries internally within ILN.
Ambassadors are encouraged to promote the program on social media using Facebook and Twitter, through their professional and personal networks, and at conferences and professional events. Ambassadors also communicate internally through a Google Group, sharing success stories, challenges and personal events. An Ambassador Handbook outlines responsibilities, a code of conduct, and privacy and security parameters.
I have been very fortunate to substantially expand my professional network through my role as Ambassador for Canada to the ILN as well as through my past participation as a peer mentor. As an ambassador, I respond to emails about the program, including enquiries about how to apply and what the program involves, while promoting the ILN and encouraging Canadian participants to register. The ILN enables me to stay engaged and current on international librarianship topics. I am proud of my small role within the organization.
My recent discussions with other Ambassadors have shown that they share my sense of pride. As Ambassador for Hong Kong, Leo Ma said he “is delighted to engage increasingly more enthusiastic and energetic professionals in this global LIS community.”
Karen du Toit, Ambassador for South Africa, said she loves making connections with fellow librarians in her own country, having "met many librarians in South Africa through the International Librarians Network which [she] would not have done otherwise."
"I love being an Ambassador to the ILN for China because it is such an interesting time in China’s history right now," said Kendra Perkins, a professional librarian working in China. "Libraries are beginning to move away from the traditional model of simple bookkeeping to being involved in creating exciting programs and services."
In his role as Ambassador for the Philippines, John Louie Zabala said he feels "a greater sense of professional fulfillment as it is one of my dreams to help improve the quality of LIS practitioners in the country in the littlest means that I could have. Given this opportunity to bridge fellow Filipino librarians to the wider international LIS community is a tick off my professional bucket list."
While Country Ambassadors may volunteer for various professional reasons, we all value the connections made through the network and are committed to supporting its growth.
Content officers work behind the scenes supporting the network’s social media accounts, writing blog posts and monitoring discussion topics. The ILN's team currently consists of three volunteer content officers, including Molly Brown, who told me that "having the privilege to be an ILN content officer has been an incredible experience – not only to share experiences as a librarian from the United States, but also to learn about the many creative and unique ways libraries around the world are serving their patrons."
Michelle De Aizpurua, a content officer from Melbourne, Australia, said she finds satisfaction in being "able to give back to the peer mentoring program that provided me with so many networking and development opportunities, and to build lasting relationships with the library community from around the world. I have learnt so much from all the people involved, and from researching and writing about each discussion topic to stimulate discussion amongst our participants. As a new graduate it has been an invaluable experience and one I highly recommend to all information professionals."
The reasons peer mentors cited for joining the ILN as a peer mentor are as varied as the mentors themselves. Ninety percent of global participants cited the fact that they want to "develop their international professional network" as a reason for joining. Thirty percent joined simply to support the free program. New professionals may join to gain insight into the profession and add a professional program to their resume, while those in the later stages of their career may join to share knowledge and expertise. 
Dee Winn, a first-time ILN participant and academic library
professional from Quebec, Canada, told the author the following: "I am
interested in many aspects of international librarianship. I believe
the International Librarians Network can help me achieve my goal of
connecting and collaborating with librarians whose professional
experiences are vastly different from my own."
Emily Ruffell, a public library professional from Ontario, Canada, and first-time ILN participant, said she "decided to join the ILN mentorship program for professional growth, to connect with other library staff around the world, and to learn more about best practices in library systems."
Bhakti Ghala, from Gujarat, India, has participated in two rounds of peer mentoring and is now an ILN content officer. "[I've] experienced the magic that this program had unleashed -- the magic of connections," she said. "These connections not only brought the world of Library and Information Science professionals closer, but connected the global LIS community in terms of challenges and issues faced."
Once matched with a mentor, participants are introduced and can communicate with ILN coordinators via email. Mentors then mutually decide how often to communicate and the form that communication will take, with options including email, video conferencing and social media platforms such as Twitter and Facebook. One of the main challenges participants face is establishing trust and rapport via digital modes of communication. Ensuring that online meetings are as much of a priority as face to face meetings is also a challenge.
Time zones, cultural and language barriers, and competing priorities can also prove challenging for participants. During my initial round, when I was paired with a public librarian from Australia, I was challenged by the fact that our responses were on a 24 hour delay due to differing time zones. I also became frustrated a few weeks into the round because my partner had failed to respond to the majority of my emails. In this instance ILN coordinators served as a valuable support system, acting as liaisons to facilitate better communication between my partner and myself.
As the International Librarians Network continues to grow, so too do its participants. It offers invaluable opportunities for the sharing of knowledge, experience and information, and the creation of partnerships, professional networks and friendships. While international online communication may have its challenges, the ILN has developed and nurtured a group of dedicated volunteers who take ownership in the program and are committed to its success. Coordinated by volunteers and conducted entirely online, the ILN is a truly unique program advancing essential tenets of 21st-century librarianship: equality, openness and accessibility.
About the Author
Cate Carlyle (MLIS, B.Ed., B.A.) is the Curriculum Resource Centre
Coordinator for the Faculty of Education at Mount Saint Vincent
University in Halifax, Nova Scotia. A special academic librarian and
former elementary school teacher-librarian, Carlyle has also worked in
public libraries and volunteers internationally. Carlyle is the
Canadian Ambassador to the International Librarians Network, a member
of the Canadian Partnership’s Education Institute Programming Team, and
a member of the Atlantic Provinces (APLA) and Nova Scotia Library
Associations (NSLA). Carlyle has her Master of Library and Information
Science Degree, Bachelor of Education and a Bachelor of Arts Degree.
Contact her at email@example.com.
 Kate Byrne, Alyson Dalby and Clare McKenzie, "Rethinking Mentoring: Online, International Peer Mentoring with the International Librarians Network," International Librarians Network, last modified June 14, 2016, http://dx.doi.org/10.6084/m9.figshare.3413632. ↵
 "Kate Byrne, Alyson Dalby, & Claire McKenzie | Movers & Shakers 2016 – Community Builders," Library Journal, March 16, 2016, http://lj.libraryjournal.com/2016/03/people/movers-shakers-2016/kate-byrne-alyson-dalby-clare-mckenzie-movers-shakers-2016-community-builders/. ↵
 "Rethinking Mentoring." ↵
Copyright (c) 2016 Cate Carlyle