May 8, 2021

Want To See More Women in Tech? Mentor Someone

coverI was not much more than a newly-minted librarian when my greatest professional mentor gave me a chance at something that would launch my career beyond the confines of my institution onto an international stage. It was in the early 90s, when the Internet was just beginning to take off at large research libraries around the United States. If you can, and I know it’s difficult, imagine libraries without the Internet. Imagine society without the Internet.

Anne Lipow was entrusted with developing and delivering technology and bibliographic classes to both staff and faculty at UC Berkeley, and she took the responsibility very seriously. She would prowl the halls of Doe Library looking for young turks like myself, to pull us in to developing and delivering courses on how to connect to the newly-online library catalog or how to use this new thing called Gopher. I almost started ducking into doorways when I spotted her coming down the hall. And now I’m really glad I was more stupid than cowardly. Because I could never have predicted what would come next.

Anne retired from Berkeley and started her own consultancy: Library Solutions Institute. She began planning her very first event — an all-day hands-on workshop on how to use the Internet timed to coincide with the ALA Annual Conference to be held in San Francisco in June 1992. She signed me up to help, as well as John Ober. Clifford Lynch agreed to be the ending keynote of one group and the beginning keynote of another, thereby allowing us to sign up two cohorts over two days.

We began work on a set of handouts that soon led to a binder to hold them all and the dawning realization that we had a book on our hands. Anne changed the name of her business to Library Solutions Institution and Press and we were off to the races. Crossing the Internet Threshold: An Instructional Handbook was published later that year and it took off, and my speaking career took off with it. Before long I was traveling to foreign countries such as Romania and Hungary, giving workshops based on that text. Between the royalties and speaking fees, my wife and I were able to financially weather the impact of twins born in February 1993. Without it, I shudder to think.

So you will not find a stronger advocate for mentorship than me. That’s why I have tried to focus on finding young female professionals interested in library technology to mentor, so as a profession we can increase the number of women in tech librarianship. I know that a diversity of perspectives, skills, and abilities is by its very nature a good thing. And the more of us out there increasing diversity of all kinds in library tech librarianship, the better off the entire profession will be.

Anne, I miss you. But your example and inspiration is alive and well.

 

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Roy Tennant About Roy Tennant

Roy Tennant is a Senior Program Officer for OCLC Research. He is the owner of the Web4Lib and XML4Lib electronic discussions, and the creator and editor of Current Cites, a current awareness newsletter published every month since 1990. His books include "Technology in Libraries: Essays in Honor of Anne Grodzins Lipow" (2008), "Managing the Digital Library" (2004), "XML in Libraries" (2002), "Practical HTML: A Self-Paced Tutorial" (1996), and "Crossing the Internet Threshold: An Instructional Handbook" (1993). Roy wrote a monthly column on digital libraries for Library Journal for a decade and has written numerous articles in other professional journals. In 2003, he received the American Library Association's LITA/Library Hi Tech Award for Excellence in Communication for Continuing Education. Follow him on Twitter @rtennant.

Comments

  1. As one of those women who has benefitted from your mentoring and friendship (though, in the end, I moved away from tech librarianship), thank you for your commitment to paying it forward. I’d never have had the confidence to do a lot of what I’ve done over the years without your encouragement. I’m sure your mentor would have been as proud of your dedication to helping others as I’m sure she was of your amazing career.

    • You are too kind. You needed no assistance to be successful. But if my encouragement helped get you there sooner, then great. It was a pleasure, as is seeing all that you have done and are doing for the profession. Rock on.