I’ve been thinking a lot about mentorship lately. It can definitely fall into the realm of buzz words, but I think mentor-mentee relationships can be very valuable in librarianship and can take many different forms. As I have delved into my first year of professional experience post-grad-school I haven’t actually asked anyone: “Will you be my mentor?” But I have found myself in multiple relationships that feel very much like that of a mentor and mentee and most of them have been very rewarding and beneficial.
So this post goes out to other new professionals (as well as library students!). Here is my advice regarding mentorship:
- Recognize and cultivate mentor-like relationships you already have.
While some programs and institutions have formal mentorship programs, many of us are left to our own devices to find people who want to invest in us and help us grow. Sometimes this can take the form of looking around in your workplace and/or professional life and recognizing the people who have already shown interest and/or invested in you. It is worth contacting these people and trying to engage more. Take them out for an informational-interview-coffee. If they’re going to the same library conference as you, suggest meeting up to compare notes and talk about what you’ve learned and the applications. Mine these casual relationships for the potential of deeper, more meaningful connections.
- Recognize that mentors don’t always have to be within your specialty, or even your field.
Some of the people I have learned the most from, professionally, are not in the same type of librarianship I’m in. Some aren’t even librarians! But that doesn’t mean they can’t act as fantastic mentors. Sometimes their outside status can even be a benefit, as they are less entrenched in a particular organizational culture and can see situations from a new perspective. No matter what: a great connection is a great connection, whether or not they share your expertise/specialty.
- Don’t be afraid to seek out new mentors.
One of the parts of adulthood that I sometimes struggle with is making myself go talk to new people, especially in professional contexts. I get up in my head and think “no, they’ll think I’m ridiculous,” or “no, they don’t have time to talk to me,” or “no, this will just be awkward.” But guess what: as you long don’t offend them, you have very little to lose. Worst case scenario: you take a librarian out for coffee and you two don’t gel and it is a bit awkward. Oh well! On to the next! And it won’t take long before you find someone who is both wonderful and has time to give you advice and answer your questions. BONUS POINT: if someone you already trust/respect says “you should have coffee with this person, because they are a good person to know,” DO IT. Do it, do it, do it. Contact them, mention your mutual connection with the original person, and suggest concrete plans. Nine times out of ten it will work out and will be fantastic.
- Your peers are mentors too!
Turn to other recent hires and other new professionals for support! Stay in touch with friends from library school, even if they end up all over the country! These people understand most what you’re going through and can provide a much needed facet of support. In the words of some lovely GSLIS pals: “talk to people. talk to people who think differently than you. talk to people who challenge you,” and “You’ll find that your [library school] friends are your best mentors. Lean on each other. Confide in each other. Push each other.”
- Think about how you can mentor others – and do it!
It is NOT too early to start giving back to those who are newer to the field/professional than you. Find a way to connect with library school students (even if you have to go outside your institution). Talk to them! Help them figure out where they’re going, what they’re doing, what they like to do, what they want to do. Connect them with other librarians, groups, and opportunities! You don’t have to get all cheesy and talk about how you’re their “mentor,” but one way or another you should find ways to invest in the next generation of librarians and LIS scholars.