Q: What is a mentor? And how do I find one?

Q: What is a mentor? And how do I find one?

Q: I’ve been reading a lot these days about mentoring programs. What exactly is a mentor, what will he or she do for me, and how can I find one?

Sincerely, Army of One

TA & SM: Involvement in a mentoring partnership can be beneficial to both you and your mentor. And, although the concept of mentorship in librarianship seems now to be thrown about liberally, both people involved need to be committed to the relationship in order for it to work. In its broadest sense, “mentorship refers to a developmental relationship between a more experienced mentor and a less experienced partner referred to as a mentee or protégé.”

Mentoring can be both informal and formal, and often it is good to be involved in both kinds of relationships. When you start a new job, you might be assigned a mentor, or a certain person may just fall into that role. This should be someone you can learn a lot from, someone who can devote some of their time to showing you the ropes of the job and of the profession.

David Hutchins, in his Mentoring white paper for the Society for Human Resources Management, describes the purpose of mentoring as “the professional development of the protégé through the counsel and guidance of the mentor.” He outlines several potential benefits of a mentoring relationship, including enhancing the protégé’s performance and self confidence, as well as improving organizational performance, communication, and creativity.

Mentoring arrangements can be formal or informal, so if no formal program exists in your school or organization, don’t lose faith. Sometimes the best mentoring relationships are those that strike up naturally. (You can also use the links to mentoring programs provided below to look for a mentor.) Look for a mentor who is interested and available, sensitive to someone else’s needs, an excellent listener, generous with coaching and constructive feedback, and, perhaps most importantly, able to keep confidences.

In librarianship, it would also be helpful to have a mentor who is professionally active. The field is both large in number and small in community; having someone to help you navigate this tight network – or even just your first ALA Annual Meeting! – is enormously useful.

You, as the protégé, must also hold up your end of the bargain. Hutchins’ qualities of a successful protégé include a genuine interest in personal growth, being receptive to feedback, and a commitment to learning. Your responsibilities include maintaining open lines of communication with your mentor, establishing clear goals, and effectively using and managing time.

The relationship between mentor and protégé is truly a partnership. While a great deal of work, time, and effort is required of both partners, the results (confidence, communication, creativity and the sharing of knowledge and institutional memory) are of great importance and benefit to the mentor, the protégé, and the larger organization. Be prepared to invest, but also be prepared to see great returns. Best of luck with your search!

Mentoring Programs and Guidelines:

EDUCAUSE Mentoring Programs

ALA NMRT / Mentoring Guidelines

NRMT Mentoring Program

Spectrum Scholar mentor through the ACRL Dr. E. J. Josey Spectrum Scholar Mentor Program

Reforma Mentoring Program

Australian Library and Information Association (ALIA) Information Kit for Mentoring Partnerships

Upstate New York Chapter Special Libraries Association


Hutchins, David B. Mentoring. Society for Human Resources Management, March 1996, reviewed July 2002, (members only).

LIS Career.com

Mentor, Mentor, Who’s the Best Mentor? by Joanne Oud & Angela Madden

Mentoring Students (Wired West)

Mentoring & Libraries: A Bibliography

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