In an effort to tap into my happy childhood memories of summer reading and perhaps to evade some adulthood stress, I’ve been re-reading Harry Potter. It’s been lovely comfort reading and a very welcome frame for some of my library-related thoughts. You see, I’ve been thinking a lot about mentorship. The power of a great mentor like Albus Dumbledore has had me thinking about how to seek out mentors and make the most of their advice and encouragement during library school. What do we look for in mentors? What lessons and inspiration can they provide? A mentor can be a powerful motivator and guide. But now, as I begin my second year of a two-year master’s program, I’m also thinking about mentoring from another direction: the peer leadership of Neville and Ginny, and of course Harry, Ron, and Hermione. How can we, as students and budding professionals, be effective mentors for each other? What does good peer mentorship look like and involve?
Peer mentorship is especially useful within the context of a master’s program. The relative brevity of library school means that we’re put in a position of being “in the know” pretty quickly; whether we feel it or not, we have lots of useful knowledge (advice on selecting classes, navigating work opportunities, directions to various campus locations, library policies) to share with fellow students. Furthermore, learning doesn’t just happen in one direction within mentorship—taking on mentoring roles gives us opportunities to reflect on values and goals, to hone interpersonal skills, and to think about professional and academic questions in new ways. Being a good mentor doesn’t mean having all the answers and providing perfect guidance (I mean, even Dumbledore made some big mistakes). I like the idea of a “let’s figure things out together” form of peer mentoring; it makes sense to me within the collaborative context of library school and librarianship.
I want to explore what I see as some of the most important aspects of being a mentor and to identify some of the ways in which we can make mentors of ourselves during school and as we look to future careers.
Showing up or being present—both physically and mentally—is where mentorship begins. It sounds simple: introduce yourself to new students and try to make them feel welcome, show up to class and participate in discussion, attend your program’s events. But I’ll admit that when responsibilities pile up and stress heightens, thinking about being emotionally and even just physically available to peers outside of my close friends can feel like one thing too many. Like anything, I think it’s a question of balance. I’m remembering how helpful and welcoming others were to me a year ago and trying to be mindful of the ways I can “show up” for my classmates and coworkers, whether that means asking someone how their day is going, responding to an email, or something more involved.
Moving beyond sheer physical presence, showing up as a mentor means sharing: generously sharing your time, thoughts, experiences, and expertise. During my first or second week of library school, a second-year student very kindly offered to show me around the library where he worked and to tell me about what he did there. That willingness to share is something I admire about so many of the library people I’ve met. I find it inspiring in and of itself and of course useful in the sense of learning from others’ experiences.
While mentorship requires sharing knowledge and speaking to past experience, it also involves listening and encouraging others to find a voice. If I had to pick one thing that I’ve appreciated most about my own mentors, it would be the ways in which they’ve encouraged me to develop a voice as a scholar, a pre-professional, and as a person. To me, finding a voice, means figuring out what you’re most passionate about, sharing it, and finding unique ways in which to contribute to or participate in it. I think that really listening to the things that someone else cares most about and helping them to build on and develop them is one of the most powerful things we can do. As NPR StoryCorps founder, Dave Isay, asserts, “listening is an act of love.”
A few weeks ago I had a conversation with one of my work supervisors that made me realize that mentorship is a really big part of what draws me to librarianship. I want sharing, listening, and encouraging voice-finding to inform not only my interactions with colleagues, but also those with patrons. I hope to be a mentor-librarian and to embody not just listening, but librarianship as an act of love.
What do you see as the most important aspects of mentoring? How do you mentor others?