To my fellow LIS Black, Indigenous, and People of Color [Series]: Mentorship

Mentorship – in any form – can be an effective way for LIS students of color to learn more about the field. We learn a lot outside the classroom through jobs, internships, and volunteer experiences, and mentorship is another aspect that can help increase your knowledge. Yet besides learning about the academic hiring process, dealing with negative workplace environments, or where to find job postings, mentorship of BIPOC students by BIPOC mentors can help us see ourselves in the field, learn how to navigate white spaces, and how to advocate for ourselves.

Before going into a mentoring relationship, think about what you hope to gain from it. Are you looking for support on applying for jobs, navigating conference proposals, or just looking for another BIPOC in the field to chat with about your/their experiences? Sharing these goals with your mentor will help both of you figure out the best way to proceed. It is also important to set ground rules before going into a mentorship relationship. This can include what is off limits and what to do if a problem or disagreement arises.

Where can you find more formal mentoring programs? ALA has a list of their mentoring opportunities as well as through their ethnic caucuses such as APALA. Rare Books & Manuscripts Section of ACRL also has its own mentorship program. Joining a mentoring program through one of their ethnic caucuses can be a great way to connect with a BIPOC mentor. Programs like APALA’s are highly structured and provide ample support throughout the mentoring relationship as well as resources for goal building. Other ethnic caucuses with mentoring programs include the Middle East Librarians Association (MELA) and REFORMA.

Also, consider looking into local or regional associations to see if they have mentoring programs. For formal mentorship programs, you are often asked to fill out a form. This can be the place to indicate the type of mentor you’re looking for, including someone who is a BIPOC and has had similar experiences as you. Even if the mentoring program is not through an ethnic caucus or association, you can always try and ask for a BIPOC mentor.

For those in Canada, has a list of mentoring programs. They also list benefits for both the mentee and mentor including improving skills and self-confidence for mentees and increasing opportunities to develop leadership skills for mentors. For BIPOC students, the Visible Minority Librarians of Canada (ViMLoC) Network has a mentorship program. Lisa C. also recommends that has a list of potential GLAM (galleries, libraries, archives, and museums) mentors and their contact information. You can filter by profession/interest as well as search by name. This can also be a great way to identify potential mentors for your specific goals or questions.

There are also short mentorship/buddy programs for some conferences, such as ALA Midwinter. The ACRL University Library Section has an “On-the-Fly Mentoring Program” where mentees can meet with a mentor for a 20-minute session. This can be great for quick questions or to hear a new perspective on a career-related issue or question you have. The New Members Round Table of ALA also has mentoring for ALA Annual. This program is meant to help new professionals or students navigate ALA Annual with someone who is a seasoned attendee. ALA Annual can be overwhelming, so having someone to help you choose sessions or even understand the different components of Annual can be helpful.

Finally, consider peer advising or mentorship. At the University of Washington, our MLIS program has second and third year MLIS students as peer advisors who can answer questions about professors, classes, and more. As one of the only peer advisors of color, I’ve also talked one-on-one with prospective BIPOC students to share my experiences in the program as a queer Asian American woman. Even if your program does not have something as formal as this, talking with other BIPOC students about their experiences can help with your own path. Through my ALA Spectrum Scholarship and ARL/SAA Mosaic Fellowship, I’ve met an incredible group of BIPOC students. It’s especially eye-opening to hear what they have to say about their own program and their own struggles and successes. 

What have I learned as both a mentor and mentee? As an informal mentor/peer advisor, I’ve learned how to talk about my experiences in a way that others can learn from. This has involved thinking more deeply about my own experiences, what I’ve learned, and how it has benefited me. How did I overcome a bad workplace or a difficult co-worker? How have I navigated my program as a woman of color and how can I help other students do the same? As a mentee, I’ve learned how to improve my CV and cover letters, how to prepare for interviews, what to expect in academic interviews, how to get more involved in professional associations, and how to better deal with imposter syndrome and finding my community. There’s been some bumps but overall, as a mentee, I’m grateful for the experiences and interactions I’ve had with my BIPOC mentors both past and present. It can sometimes even be reassuring just knowing that they’re out there.

Photo by Monica Melton

Kelli Yakabu is a MLIS student at the University of Washington focusing on archives. You can follow her on Twitter @kelliyakabu.

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