January 2017 Online Discussion Summary: Mentorships

The focus of the January discussion was on mentorship opportunities, especially for professionals new to the field of librarianship.  The discussion began by asking who had participated in a professional mentorship, where had they found the opportunity, and what had they gained or hoped to gain from the relationship.  Input was also sought from those who had been able to act as mentors, instead of just as mentees.  Finally, what makes a good mentorship relationship?

Based on the input in the discussion, mentorships seemed to fall into broad categories: formal mentorships, either short- or long-term, and informal mentorships.  Formal mentorship opportunities were often found through professional organizations, like the ALA, its round tables or divisions, or state-level organizations.  Joining a professional organization is a common first step for someone looking to build a professional network or seeking more experienced professional contacts.  Participants in formal mentorship programs were matched with volunteer mentors, often in the same field or region of the country, but not necessarily so.  Universities also often offer mentorship opportunities to recent graduates, pairing them with alums from previous classes.

Formal mentorships might be short or long term.  Long-term mentorships can be set for a certain period of time, say a year, or might be open-ended, to be concluded by the participants themselves.  Short term mentorships are frequently seen at conventions, where first-time attendees are paired with returning attendees.  The first-timer is able to benefit from the other’s prior experience, and be less overwhelmed by the size of the convention.

More casual mentorship-style relationships can arise between acquaintances.  Junior professionals might turn to more experienced librarians within their organization or institution.  Someone looking to go into management might work with a manager at their own institution in order to learn skills to use themselves someday.  These might never be formally labeled “mentorships” by the participants, but still provide the same benefits.

Overall, mentorships are considered very positive, helpful experiences, but also vary as widely as the people participating in them. Many participate in mentorships to build professional networks.  Others seek a mentor in certain areas of librarianship or within their own organization or institution. Some seek mentors specifically outside of their own institution or field, in order to have a broader perspective on things like resumes, interviews, professional development, or institutional politics.  The most successful mentorships appear to depend on the compatibility of those participating.  Similar communication styles are helpful, for example, or similar ways to approaching a problem.  Mentors and mentees both must be able to listen to the other well, and communicate clearly what they wish to share.

by Lara Harrison

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