I would not be exactly where I am today if it were not for the people who make up my support system. In particular, I have greatly benefitted from the guidance from my friend-turned-mentor as I have navigated my library school journey. Having a mentor in any field is highly valuable, but it is especially necessary in the LIS profession.
In fact, my mentor was the first person to help me truly expand the notion of librarianship and opened my eyes to the numerous and exciting possibilities librarianship entails through her example.
There are different kinds of mentors: academic, professional, personal, etc…And each brings a unique perspective. It is important not to limit yourself to just one mentor or one type of mentor because you would be limiting yourself to just one perspective. While the established forms of mentorship, such as an academic counselor while in school or an advisor at work, are certainly helpful, I have found it especially advantageous to have a peer mentor. By peer mentor, I mean an LIS student or a new LIS professional; someone closer to your level of experience, someone who has recently gone through what you are currently going through, someone with similar experience as you, but is one step ahead.
These mentors are not formally assigned, but someone you naturally gravitate towards. You can find your potential peer mentor by making friends in class or through extracurricular activities. Utilizing Facebook is also a great way to broaden your network. If all else fails, you could also reach out to your school and ask for a recommendations as well. A mentor should be someone you like and aspire to be like in some way. You don’t need to outright ask, “Do you want to be my mentor?” Don’t make it forced, feel their energy. Start a conversation, ask questions, solicit advice, and then maybe ask to continue the conversation over coffee or lunch.
I was fortunate enough to have a friend who I had previously worked with while in college complete an LIS program just as I was deciding on whether to venture into one myself. It started with friendly advice, to assistance with applications, and then naturally evolving into guidance through library school, and now job applications.
Having a peer mentor provides you with certain advantages you cannot really get from a formal mentor. Mainly, you can get a more relatable perspective from a peer mentor. An academic advisor can tell a lot about the class, but a peer mentor can tell you from a student perspective what it is actually like taking a class. With their expertise and big-picture perspective, a professional mentor can help you in so many ways, but a peer mentor can discuss challenges and offer strategies that they have gone through recently themselves while being in a similar position as you. You can expect to be less formal and more frank with a friend than someone you work with. You can expect to vent outside of business hours without having to worry about barriers or etiquette with a peer mentor.
Another advantage of having a peer mentor is developing a relationship with someone so you feel more comfortable collaborating with or traveling for LIS events and conferences. Having a peer mentor may also open doors for jobs by expanding your network. However, a potential challenge could be competing with your peer mentor for similar jobs. Another thing to keep in mind, with any mentor, is that they are speaking through their unique perspective and it may not always be fully applicable to your own reality. Ultimately, you should weigh everyone’s input but make your own decision. We are fortunate enough to be in a profession where folks genuinely like to take the time to help out, so take advantage of that. My positive experience with mentorship has inspired me to pay it forward by helping others.
Image Courtesy of flickr user tzejen.
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