Speed Mentoring: Why all the Rush?
by Kate Kosturski, Senior Editor and Volunteer Coordinator
The 2015 American Library Association Midwinter Meeting was quite an adventure – and this is outside of travel woes leaving Chicago, the Super Bowl, and the inevitable post-conference crud. One adventure I participated in for the second time of late was speed mentoring, sponsored by the Reference and User Services Association.
The first time I did speed mentoring was at the Special Libraries Association NY conference last fall. This event was focused on resume review – spending the brief time you have with each mentor reviewing and critiquing your resume. A great idea in theory, but in retrospect, I now wonder how much mentors and mentees got out of this. If mentoring is about building relationships, what kind of relationship can I build with someone when my task is to focus on what they are on paper? And what can a mentee get out of finding a mentor when the mentor is focused on that one task of resume review?
RUSA’s speed mentoring event got back to the heart of the mentor-mentee relationship. Mentors were paired up at tables where mentees circulated. We had five to seven minutes to talk to each mentee about their LIS career thus far, goals and expectations, involvement in ALA – in short, whatever professional topic we wanted. No script was provided to mentors or mentees (deliberately) in the goal that it would foster effective conversation in a short period of time, and this worked so effectively. A few mentees came with specific questions, but most looked to us mentors to lead the conversation. This helped us keep things organic, spending time on topics of most interest to our mentees, not forcing conversation.
Of course, mentoring is a two way street – the mentor can learn just as much as the mentee, if not more. For example, from talking to several Dominican University GSLIS students, I discovered that their MLIS program does not require any kind of practicum for graduation. In a profession where we drone on ad infinitum about the importance of work experience in finding a library job, this threw me. The reason for the decision has to do with saturation – too many students, not enough placements available. This speaks to the current issues we have in LIS programs perhaps accepting too many students, and I wonder if other schools and ALA’s Committee on Accreditation takes this into account during curriculum planning and accreditation review.
I was happy to see the number of mentees that embraced flexibility – in where they want to work, the kind of library they want to work in, and sometimes both! My rule has always been to remain open minded – you shouldn’t pigeonhole yourself in your job search unless you have a specific reason (my top four are spouse, mortgage, child, or ill parent), and I am very happy to see the latest generation of LIS students embracing the idea of flexibility with great enthusiasm.
I also learned from the mentors at my table, both public and academic librarians. As I consider the next steps in my career, I know I want to move from the vendor world back into an actual library, so I know what kind of job experience to get (important: if you are in a public library, it’s good to have your hands in a little bit of everything – reference, collection development, youth services, etc. – it makes you flexible for libraries with different types of structures).
The event also left time at the end for people to reconnect – whether that was finishing a conversation from earlier in the evening or introducing yourself to someone you did not get the chance to meet. Again, planning the program in this way goes back to the heart of mentorship – building relationships.
I collected a nice pile of business cards that will be follow up for me in the near future, relationships I want to build – after I get over this flu bug, of course.
Here is hoping you had a successful conference as well!