This post was originally published by Meg Westbury as part of the 2011 programme.
to Thing 11, where I discuss an often overlooked -- but quite
important -- part of professional development: having a mentor. By
‘mentor,’ I mean someone who takes an active interest in your career
either by sharing advice and knowledge or by facilitating professional
opportunities. A mentor is an advisor who is usually more senior than
you (ideally by 5 to 15 years), but does not have to be, and you can
seek one out at any time of your career. Everyone should have a mentor,
but circumstances often prevent many of us from having one.
A bit of personal sharing
have been lucky thus far in my career to have had two very good
mentors, one formal and one informal. These mentors have provided
advice about my career path, explained the political workings of a new
work place, provided professional opportunities, and have been a
sounding board when I had hard decisions to make. Though busy people,
they took an active interest in my work, and my career benefited
tremendously from them. In return, these mentors learned from me about
new technology developments in the field and (they said) were inspired
to try new lines of research by my enthusiasm. The mentoring
relationship has been so critical for me that I would encourage everyone
to seek one out, no matter where you are on your career path.
My formal mentor was someone I explicitly asked
to be my mentor -- something that admittedly was scary to do.
However, as many writers about mentoring in librarianship have noted,
reaching out like that is tremendously rewarding (and it was). Before
asking, I was worried my mentor wouldn't have time or, worse, wouldn't
see me as worthy of being mentored. Upon asking, I discovered that she
was actually flattered and thrilled to be asked, as it validated her
role as a leader in the library world and gave her a chance to give
back to the librarian community.
informal mentor was not someone I asked explicitly to be in a
mentoring relationship with me, but someone I chose to consult a lot
and to emulate early in my career ('What would so-and-so do in this
situation?' was something I would constantly ask myself). Having a
role model to aspire to gave my career path a clearer trajectory and,
even though she likely would not call me a 'mentee' per se, she did
indeed mentor me as I often sought after her advice.
Qualities of a good mentor -- and of a good mentee
If you do
ask someone explicitly to be your mentor -- highly recommended -- you
should choose someone you feel comfortable with and would like to learn
from. It's imperative to be clear about what you would like from the
relationship -- career advice, sounding board, professional
opportunities -- and then to ask about such things in particular. A
mentor/mentee relationship needs to be cultivated like any other.
Remember that your mentor is giving his/her time and energy so make
sure to reciprocate accordingly with gratitude and offers to share
information from your perspective and experience.
sorts of qualities should a mentor have? Not everyone is cut out to
be a mentor. For starters, you should look for someone self-aware,
respectful, and empathetic, with a strong sense of collegiality. After
all, you're asking someone to help you, so that person should enjoy
helping and understand the need to help colleagues network and find
As a mentee, your role
is not to accept the advice and assistance of a mentor passively, but
to try to give back in terms of gratitude, professional sharing, and
enthusiasm. You should be quite clear about your strengths and
weaknesses and be honest about what sort of assistance you would like
your mentor to provide. Such clarity and straightforwardness will lead
to a much more productive and successful relationship.
In short, do
try to find a mentor. At any stage of your career, reaching out to
people you admire and seeking their counsel is immensely rewarding and
beneficial. You will find that if you cultivate a good mentor, it is
likely that one day in the future you will in turn ‘pay it forward’ and
generously give of your time to a fellow librarian seeking advice and
traction in this rapidly changing world of librarianship.
literature on mentoring in and out of librarianship is voluminous. It
is not possible here to give a complete resource list, but a few good
starting places online include:
Mentoring page: http://www.liscareer.com/mentoring.htm
How to Find a Mentor
IFLA Journal June 2009 vol. 35 no. 2171-182
Sharing program: The Big-Boy Boomeroo of mentoring
Carrye Syma and Cynthia Henry
C&RL News March 2009, pp 178-180
Revitalizing a Mentoring Program for Academic Librarians
Diana Farmer, Marcia Stockham, and Alice Trussell
College and Research Libraries, July 2009, pp 8-24