Mentoring for Librarians: A Student’s Perspective

Although I am no longer a student, I thought this blog would be a great opportunity to share my experiences of being mentored throughout library school. I’ll discuss briefly my experiences as someone who is mentored and then provide a list of traits students should look for in a mentor.

I can honestly say that I don’t think I would be where I am today in the field of librarianship without my mentors. Having the opportunity to seek direction and guidance from experienced librarians was potentially the most valuable thing I gained from library school. What I enjoyed most about the experience was that I was constantly pushed to be a better librarian and achieve more; asked to critically analyze my work on every level imaginable; and given the opportunity to share my concerns and anxieties about the profession openly in a safe environment.

With the privilege of having three mentors during my MLIS, each provided me with a different perspective on the world of librarianship — and this was a good thing. Even though having multiple perspectives may sometimes bring about conflicting ideas about your approach to the profession, I believe that these perspectives are important to hear so that you can evaluate them and make your own decisions. This ability to form your own conclusions is a major component of what mentorship is all about. Mentors can only guide you for so long until you need to start deciding how you want to work and where your interest lie.

Mentorship should also be reciprocal, where each party is learning from one another. I found that the best interactions I had with my mentors came when we were having an in depth discussion about library issues, sharing our views and listening to one another. This type of relationship is healthy and can often foster some great ideas for presentations or papers!

Here are some of the traits I think everyone should look for in a mentor:

TRUSTING - It is absolutely imperative that you trust your mentor and their advice. A mentor should be someone you can approach with any issue you have an feel comfortable doing so. If a mentor makes you feel like you are wasting your time or that your concerns are unimportant, then you should most likely move on.

ENCOURAGING This may be a matter of preference, but I am always interested in learning new things and enjoyed being introduced to new ideas and ways I can contribute to the field. A mentor should be willing to introduce these new areas and encourage you a little into trying them as well as let you know when you get complacent or lose direction. I would argue that it is a good thing to be pushed sometimes so that you are removed from your comfort zone and thrust into a new area of the field.

GOOD LISTENER – Being a mentee in library school can be a form of selfish exercise sometimes, where you have lots of questions and want them all answered. Mentors are excellent resources in this case. Being a student or even a professional at any time requires a certain curiosity; my mentors always encouraged me to ask questions from day one and I took their advice. They were always very patient with me and were willing to answer anything I threw at them. In another vein, stress may often come into play where you need to vent about something. My mentors were wonderful in that they took the time to listen to my problems and were always keen to offer advice. This is a sign of a great mentor.

OPEN COMMUNICATORMy mentors always encouraged open communication and I think that this is a trait that is absolutely essential. Being able to communicate in an environment where you both feel comfortable voicing your own opinions (even if you do not agree) is really a wonderful thing. I never once felt awkward or uncomfortable disagreeing with a particular idea or topic my mentor suggested. To have a healthy and supportive relationship, you need to be able to discuss your ideas openly.

SUPPORTIVEAnother very important trait in a mentor is that you should always feel supported by them. If a mentor ever belittles or demeans your ideas or goals then they are most likely not the right mentor for you, or anyone for that matter. A mentor should push you and have you strive to produce high quality work, but they should never EVER make you feel stupid or inadequate. Support aligns itself with trust, and therefore when considering someone as a mentor you must feel comfortable knowing that they will support your decisions and ideas and encourage you to excel in those areas.

The following are some traits I believe each student or mentee should have before they choose to be mentored 

BE ABLE TO HANDLE CRITICISM (CONSTRUCTIVE OF COURSE)One of the most important aspects of mentorship is that you must be able to handle a little constructive criticism once in a while. We aren’t perfect, and a good mentor should be able to correct you or provide suggestions on how you can improve certain skills whether it be giving presentations, writing papers, cataloguing, etc.. I strongly believe that egos need to be checked at the door in these relationships in order for you and your mentor to gain something from it.

BE WILLING TO COLLABORATE AND PARTICIPATEI was fortunate enough to have my mentors approach me with ideas on writing papers or giving presentations. My advice would be to say YES! to almost anything they throw at you. Having an opportunity to write a scholarly paper or give a presentation with library professionals is invaluable experience, so say yes and do your best to help.

ASK FOR PROJECTSI believe that one thing a mentor loves to see is that you have an interest in learning new things and want to try to apply these interests practically. Even if it is something as simple as reading a few good articles on the side and summarizing them, any project that you can acquire from your mentor will be great experience. There was never a time where I went without a project of some kind, as my goal was to gain as much experience as possible.

GIVE BACKAs I mentioned earlier, mentorship should be reciprocal where you give back to your mentor as much as they give to you. I would like to think that there are areas where I provided useful information to my mentors that they previously didn’t know about. Having the ability to share information with each other where you both are learning new skills and topics can be a wonderful thing.

BE OPENMake sure that you are open with your mentor. They are taking time out of their busy schedule to provide you with advice and guidance, so the least that you can do is show them the respect of voicing your opinions and your ideas. If something is bothering you about an interaction you had, speak up and address it so that you can come to a conclusion. Similarly, if you are working on a project that you are not particularly enjoying let them know. The last think either of you wants is to be wasting each other’s time.

Mentorships can be so valuable if you and your mentor establish a good relationship early on. I know that I benefited greatly from my mentors and that I am a better librarian because of it. I hope this post will encourage young library students to consider a mentoring relationship with a professional and ultimately prepare them to commit and invest in their own professional development. As someone who has benefited greatly from my mentors, it is my goal to give back and lend my own experience and guidance to keen emerging librarians in the future.